15 May 2001 | Snow Leopard
Charming Semi-Romantic Comedy, From ... Alfred Hitchcock!
"The Farmer's Wife" is a charming rustic, semi-romantic comedy from the silent picture era. Without seeing the credits, you might never guess that it was made by the "Master of Suspense", Alfred Hitchcock - but if you know who the director was, it is easy to see the masterful touches Hitchcock was known for.
The story is a simple one. Farmer Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) has lost his beloved wife some time ago, and comes to decide that he should marry again. He methodically evaluates, and plans to propose to, all of the eligible women he can think of. But all the while he overlooks the best, and obvious (to the audience) choice: his devoted housekeeper Araminta (Lillian Hall-Davis, who is charming in the role). "Minta" is far wiser, sweeter, and prettier than the other candidates, and she also cares for Sweetland in a way they never will. The plot, therefore, revolves around whether he will figure this out before he gets stuck with an unsuitable mate instead.
Hitchcock applies the creativity and attention to detail that he would later use in his great suspense films, and makes out of a simple plot a movie that is very funny, and also at times quite touching. A great deal of the characters' feelings and thoughts are communicated without dialogue cards, through masterful silent camera work. The most powerful recurring image is a pair of chairs near the fireplace, where Farmer Sweetland had obviously spent many happy hours with his dear departed first wife. Early in the film, as he hosts a wedding dinner for his daughter, he begins to look longingly at the chairs, and we know what he is thinking even before the dialogue cards tell us. As the film proceeds, we occasionally come back to the fireplace, and eventually "Minta" begins to sit with him by the fireplace, sympathizing and helping with his disappointed matrimonial projects. The suggestion is obvious to everyone but Sweetland.
In the lead role, Thomas responds to Hitchcock's direction, sometimes making his character appear somewhat ridiculous in his miscalculated plans, and at other times evoking our complete sympathy and pity for his loneliness. The rest of the cast works very well too, especially Gordon Harker, whose expert comic timing plays wonderfully in the role of Farmer Sweetland's handyman.
There is one long, hilarious comic sequence, at a house party hosted by one of Sweetland's prospective mates, and you have to watch it two or three times to catch all of the detail Hitchcock packed into the sequence. The rest of the movie is filled with lighter comic touches, and concentrates on giving us a surprisingly tender look at the characters' lives.
Hitchcock fans should take delight in seeing how the master used his talents in such a different genre, and any fan of romantic comedies who is willing to try a silent film should also enjoy "The Farmer's Wife".