Tuesday, January 19, 2010

THE HITCHCOCK PROJECT: #7 - The Farmer's Wife

Well, this is embarassing. I just finished watching #28 from the Hitchcock oeuvre, and since I haven't updated the project for ages, I wanted to check quickly to see how far I was backed up. And I look to see...5??? I haven't posted an entry since #5? Holy crap.

So anyway, these might get a little shorter for a while.

My endeavors on The Hitchcock Project are unavoidably doomed. We've already had to skip The Mountain Eagle on account of it not existing anymore. Now I've had to bypass #6 on the list, Downhill, because I can't find a copy of the thing anywhere. The closest I've come is a 5-minute clip on YouTube, and that clip doesn't make me very optimistic about the quality of the film as a whole. So I won't see them all. But that's okay. And you know why it's okay? Because I DO get to see movies like The Farmer's Wife, and that's more than enough punishment to make up for what I've missed.

The Farmer's Wife is ostensibly a comedy. It's a very Hitchcock kind of comedy in that it opens with someone on their deathbed. This somebody is the wife of farmer Samuel Sweetland, who urges him, before breathing her last, urges him to remarry. Sweetland, being a taciturn and very country-English sort of fellow, doesn't even want to be in the room, let alone contemplate taking a new bride. But anyway, she dies, and once Sweetland realizes that his wife is really gone, he resigns himself to making the rounds of his small village and hunting up a new wife.

Now, remember that this is supposed to be a comedy. Well, naturally, a sad widower isn't going to do the trick. So in order for this to work, our farmer is going to have to make a complete ass of himself. Well, goal achieved. After a rather charming little piece of filmwork in which Sweetland imagines each of his potential suit-ees sitting in his wife's chair, he rushes off to each of them, pretty much demanding that they marry him on the spot. This, needless to say, does not go the way he anticipates.

So Hitchcock's got a real uphill battle going here. We can't sit around feeling bad for the hero, because then we won't laugh. The flipside, though, is that he turns into a domineering bonehead, which means we end up feeling more sympathy for his dead wife because she doesn't have to deal with him anymore.

There is someone else we feel sympathy for, and that's Sweetland's housekeeper, Minta. It's pretty obvious to anyone watching that these two are meant to be together, but Sweetland can't know this, or else there's no movie. So we have to watch him consistently overlooking what's right in front of him, and once more, it's hard to find it funny.

This is best exemplified by the film's climax, when Sweetland has been rejected by all the women in town, and he finally figures out his maid should be his wife (since she's cooking his food anyway), and he's forced to go to her hat-in-hand, saying that if he he rejects her too, he'll understand. This is our arc: our protagonist starts emotionally-stunted, quickly develops into a big jerk, and finishes pathetic. Comedy, ladies, and gentlemen. Comedy.

The past couple movies serve as a harbinger for things to come in The Hitchcock Project. British cinema of the 1920s and early 30s is obsessed with class, and cheerfully sexist. These are the movies people wanted to make, and evidently that people wanted to see. So it's wrong for me to judge these movies too much on this basis. But I'm going to anyway, because it's an attitude that really makes them -- well, not unwatchable, per see, but definitely tiresome. And if The Farmer's Wife has anything going for it, it's that the movie is trying to have a laugh at attitudes which will soon become outdated. But I still didn't like it, and McGilligan can call it "charming" in his book as many times as he pleases, but he's not changing my mind.