Saturday, April 14, 2012
The Farmer's Wife
The Farmer’s Wife, a 1928 silent from Alfred Hitchcock, is an almost terminally quaint romantic comedy about a pompous jackass who learns the only woman who could ever love him is a salaried employee. Or is that too harsh a description for a film that strains so desperately to be merely innocuous? It all starts innocently enough, when a widowed farmer goes into mid-life crisis mode and begins propositioning the local bachelorettes willy-nilly before eventually settling for his long-suffering, remarkably patient maid. At times, the humour is surprisingly raw—a fact not helped by its general lameness—giving the film’s ambling, pastoral pacing an occasional jolt of crass energy. “You know, her back view’s not a day over thirty,” muses the farmer of one prospective bride, in what amounts to fairly representative dialogue. Later, he insults another potential mate’s millinery with such force she collapses into a hysterical fit. Understandably, the man has good reason to believe he will die unloved and alone.
I remain confident in my belief that even lousy Hitchcock has its charms, and The Farmer’s Wife is surely not without its merits. Shackled to a weak script—based on a stage play, as is common with so many of his weakest early efforts—Hitchcock adds a bit of life to the proceedings by setting his camera loose to nestle in strange corners. The director pokes and prods this little world to life through sheer cinematic brio, if nothing else. Too bad his efforts are saddled to so much plodding slapstick and all of these dull, emotionally stunted characters. At every rejection, the farmer descends into a rage that turns him into a kind of human blowfish, his cheeks puffing up as if he were allergic to the word, “No.” Worse yet is his manservant, the improbably named Churdles Ash, who offers wincingly broad comic support. Groaning and grimacing, he lurches stiffly through each scene on a desperate hunt for the slightest sip of liquor to ease his unending torment through a waking hell of servitude and humiliation. Ha?