Yes be a very short word, but there be a shorter…
It's 1928 and Hitchcock is on the verge of becoming a father. It's still a very fertile time for him as a director too as he continues to put out 2 or 3 movies a year during this prolific era of silent movies. Yeah… pun!
The Farmer's Wife was another film that was pushed on him to an extent by the production company and posed a particular challenge in that, as a witty comedy about finding love again in one's later years, it was originally written as a very dialogue heavy play. Of course there were always inter-titles, but then there's only so much dialogue you can display on screen before it distracts from the story, ironically. Hitchcock set about stripping out a lot of the text content so he could reveal the story through pictures in the way a silent movie should, and he's done a great job.
Since I've started writing notes whilst watching the films, in order to remember more and make more meaningful comments, I have noticed it is particularly easier to write notes whilst watching the silent movies. Perhaps because there is less sound distraction and they generally take a slower more methodical pace but also perhaps because, with the lack of dialogue, there is simply a lot more to comment on and discover about the characters that I wouldn't normally be looking for in a talkie…
The immediately striking thing about this film is that a lot of it is set outside in the open air and on location. Something that, on the face of it, shouldn't seem remarkable but, considering when this film was made and the limitations of the filming equipment, it really was rare to actually film outside when most of the scenes could have been replicated in the safe secure and reliable environment of the studio. My does it make a difference though! Everything seems to just open up in a way that a studio can't. You suddenly realise all these other films have been lying to you about how the world should look!
The plot itself seems to be more about partnership then it does love specifically. There is no rollercoaster of emotion or deep falling for one another experienced by Mr Sweetland, the farmer, and Minta, his maid, in the events after his wive's untimely death. It just seems they come to realise that they are two people who are in harmony with one another. Their eyes are opened up to the obviousness of a world they were both being too busy to notice.
Generally this is a fairly funny film and I was taken aback a bit with the amount of sexual innuendos that seemed to be littered throughout what minimal dialogue there was. Mr Sweetland works his way through his 'hit list' of potential 'replacement wives' most widows like himself, who all seem to be incompatible in one way or another. However they all serve to act as a mirror to the farmer's own flaws… his stubbornness, his self-importance and cockiness (along with far too much moustache readjustment) are all brought to light in one way or another and the whole experience seems to serve as some kind of learning process that eventually humbles him.
Minta herself doesn't seem to have as much of an adventure but there are some very clever moments brought to life on camera with her, most notably when Mr Sweetland is imaging his 'shortlist' one by one sat in his wive's old chair by the fireplace. After helping him construct a list, Minta then herself takes that very seat without realising. Also Minta is the last person that Mrs Sweetland talks to before she passes away as she gives her some final advice on looking after the farmers wardrobe, as though she is passing on the 'wifely' duties. It may not necessarily be fate that brought these two together, perhaps just common sense and inevitability. But regardless, it's still magic…
“Just because you know how magic is done, doesn't mean it's not magic.” (Terry Pratchett, RIP)