11 September 2016 | lugonian
"Fight For Your Lady"
THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE (Fox, 1935), directed by Victor Fleming, stars Janet Gaynor in one of her finer film roles of her latter-day career at her home studio. Often teamed opposite Charles Farrell in as many as twelve feature films that began in 1927, the role of the farmer didn't go to Farrell this time, now that Farrell's career has already past its prime, but to a newcomer to the motion picture screen by the name of Henry Fonda (1905-1982). An appropriate choice considering it was Fonda who starred in the original stage production in 1934, a role that earned him recognition, enough to be selected the lead for his movie debut. As much as Fonda didn't receive any special screen introduction in the opening credits, a common practice that would occur in later years, at least he did have his name placed below his leading lady and above the title, which is an honor in itself.
The setting takes place in New York State around the year 1850, where the Erie Canal is the most important means of transportation route through the area. Yet there is new means of progress that's to change all this, and that's the railroad rumored to become its rival force. Molly Larkin (Janet Gaynor), an Irish-spirited girl who comes from a long line of fighters, works as a cook on the boat "Emma" for Jotham Klore (Charles Bickford), known to many as both "the bully of the canal" and roughneck who's never lost a fight in his life. Entering the scene is Dan Harrow (Henry Fonda) who arrives in time to stop a fight between two men on the street, much to the dismay of Molly. Eventually Molly becomes acquainted with the quaint but soft-spoken Dan, who's come looking for work on the canal in order to earn enough money to buy a farm. He is soon hired as a driver boy of the "Starsey Sal" boat for Samson Weaver (Roger Imhof). After Klore becomes drunk and unruly towards Molly, she quits his employ and goes to work on Weaver's boat. Now sober, Klore learns about Molly leaving him, thus becoming violent enough to go after Dan. Before carrying on his threat, Klore is taken to jail for where he spends three months to think things over. After Weaver wins a $5,000 lottery, he makes Dan captain, offering him half interest on the boat, which would help him earn enough money to buy a farm within the year. Because of his good fortune, Dan, who thinks of nothing but Molly, proposes marriage to her. Her reply is that she will marry him in due time on the promise she not talk about the canal while he not talk about farming for an entire year. As the year passes, Dan goes against her wishes by buying a farm from Mr. Butterworth (Frederick Burton). While this upsets Molly, nothing can further get her Irish blood boiling when she comes to believe Dan is a coward for leaving for his farm rather than fight with Klore, who's come looking for him to settle a score.
Other members of the cast include: Andy Devine (Elmer Otway); Sig Rumann (The Blacksmith); Margaret Hamilton (Lucy Gurget); and John Qualen (Sol Tinker). Slim Summerville, then a new resident of Fox Films from Universal, offers some comedy relief as Fortune Friendly, a dentist, who, in his opening sequence with the apple on a stick eating Della (Jane Withers), explaining through the map of the process of the railroad, allowing himself to pull the wrong tooth from Ivy (Kitty Kelly), one of his first patients (or victims). There's even one moment of amusement where he's seen examining the teeth of a horse. Summerville comes in and out of the story with some more comedy relief, even to the point of getting Dan to break away from his farm to fight for Molly's honor.
Leisurely paced and traditional Fox Films production of early America with songs and background music as "Oh, Susannah" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad" to reflect the spirit of the times. Because Fonda has worked his way to a long range of motion pictures that ended shortly before his death in 1982, earning a Best Actor Academy Award for his final motion picture of ON GOLDEN POND (1981) indicates how such a performer had the rare distinction of starring in both his first and last movie in the span of 45 years. Even if Fonda made this this his one and only movie, somehow there would be something about his presence that would continue to stand out, even today. With Gaynor and Fonda being a good combination, this was to be the only time they worked together.
Remade as a Technicolor musical by 20th Century-Fox (1953) starring Betty Grable and Dale Robertson, the remake was fine but didn't seem to have the lasting appeal as the 1935 original. Regardless of its then success, the original THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE, never distributed to video cassette during the home video era of the 1980s and 90s, has become one of those rarely seen products, at least not until cable television resurrected it briefly in 1983 on Cinemax, and decades later on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: August 1, 2009).
This is where the legend of Henry Fonda begins. It's also a look back into the near forgotten career of both Janet Gaynor back in the days before the old Fox studio converted to 20th Century-Fox the year of its release. (***)