Monday, September 16, 2013


It's not often I get the chance to say that I've seen an Alfred Hitchcock film for the first time. But that was exactly the case last night as the Turner Classic Movies channel showed THE FARMER'S WIFE (1928).

THE FARMER'S WIFE is one of Hitchcock's earliest features as a director, made well before he earned his sobriquet as "The Master of Suspense". The story details the attempts of a lonely widower (Jameson Thomas) to find a new wife. It's a simple tale, and at 97 minutes the movie is a bit too long for such slight material. But even here Hitchcock is already accomplished enough as a director to make the plot interesting.

Because this is a silent film, Hitchcock has to tell everything visually, which he does with a dexterity that enlivens what most would consider one of his minor works. The opening sequence, for example, shows the passing of the farmer's first wife. Hitchcock does it almost entirely without titles--the expression on the actors faces, and their body language, tells us just about all we need to know. In fact Hitchcock uses very few titles in the movie at all--the characters are introduced by their actions instead of words on a screen.

In several instances Hitchcock has the camera follow the actors as they go down a hall or across a room--and because of this we see bits of business that another director would have missed. These scenes have a natural quality to them, and they're somewhat surprising given Hitchcock's reputation for planning everything in the most minute detail. There's a lot of extra "business" that the actors perform while the camera lingers on them--an example of Hitchcock letting his players add detail to the story.

Since this movie deals with a farmer living in the English countryside, we also get a number of outdoor pastoral scenes. Most viewers would not expect this from a Hitchcock movie, but in fact most of his silent films have a few scenes like this. There's a quiet beauty in these scenes which proves that Hitchcock's visual intuitiveness would have been effective in any type of setting.

The actual story is best described as a light comedy. The middle-aged farmer assumes he can get any woman he chooses, and he winds up being made a fool of. Hitchcock gets a fair amount of humor out of the widower's way with women, but the director makes sure the character doesn't come off as totally unlikable. Most of the comedy revolves around the farmer's rustic handyman, especially during a disastrous tea party. All's right in the end, though, as the farmer finally realizes what the audience has known all along--the real match for him is his devoted housekeeper.

THE FARMER'S WIFE is certainly far from the typical Alfred Hitchcock picture that most people have come to expect. But it does show that if Hitchcock had not become the Master of Suspense, he still would have gotten some renown. Hitchcock's visual inventiveness was already in full force here, and any director who has a creative gift like that can make just about any type of film he or she wants to.

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