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Farmer's Wife, The (1928)

Courtesy of Studiocanal

Main image of Farmer's Wife, The (1928)
35mm, black and white, silent, 8875 feet
DirectorAlfred Hitchcock
Production CompanyBritish International Pictures
From the play byEden Phillpots
AdaptationEliot Stannard
CinematographyJack Cox

Cast: Jameson Thomas (Farmer Samuel Sweetland); Lilian Hall-Davis (Araminta Dench, Samuel's housekeeper); Gordon Harker (Churdles Ash,Samuel's handyman); Antonia Brough (Susan, Thirza's maid); Maud Gill (Thirza Tapper)

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A middle-aged widowed landowner decides to marry again. With the aid of his faithful housekeeper he draws up a list of all the eligible women in the neighbourhood, each of whom in turn rejects him.

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Alfred Hitchcock's fourth film of a very busy 1927 (though actually released in March 1928) belongs in a very small subset of his works: the rural comedy, where it sits alongside just one other film, 1955's The Trouble with Harry (US). Both films proceed from a death, but they are otherwise very different: where the later film features Hitchcock's wit at its blackest, the humour of The Farmer's Wife is often quite broad farce. This helps to explain why it isn't well known, but The Farmer's Wife is a deceptively subtle film and one of Hitchcock's most enjoyable early works.

Following the triumphant The Ring (1927), Hitchcock returned to a stage source for its follow-up; Eden Philpott's play had been a huge hit when it arrived in London in 1924. Around the simple story of a widowed farmer's search for a new wife, Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Eliot Stannard, built a finely judged battle-of-the-sexes comedy. In essence, it is the story of the humbling of an arrogant man - a theme that Hitchcock would return to in, for example, North by Northwest (US, 1959). But farmer Samuel Sweetland (Jameson Thomas, better known as the star of E.A. Dupont's Piccadilly, 1929) is far more kindly treated than is Cary Grant's hapless Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest, and The Farmer's Wife stands as perhaps the most warm-hearted of all of Hitchcock's films.

Each of the four very different women Sweetland selects as his prospective wife is in her own way wholly unsuitable. Indeed his first choice, the trouser-sporting, fox-hunting Louisa Windeatt, is strongly implied to be a lesbian (though Hitchcock could hardly have said so openly in 1927). The run of humiliating rejections Sweetland endures finally strips him of his self-defeating pride and allows him to see what we have long since understood: that his ideal bride has been in front of his nose all along - his clever and doting housekeeper, Minta (Lilian Hall-Davis, also of The Ring).

Minta's eligibility is elegantly introduced in one of many strikingly confident sequences, when she and Sweetland weigh up the "possibles and the impossibles". The farmer imagines each of his candidates in the empty fireside chair once occupied by the late Mrs Sweetland; as each image fades, Hitchcock cuts back to the ever-patient Minta. Finally Minta - in an act whose significance we can by now recognise - moves into the empty seat herself.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Time to remarry (7:00)
2. The third attempt (4:25)
Production stills
Hall-Davis, Lilian (1897-1933)
Harker, Gordon (1885-1967)
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
Stannard, Eliot (1888-1944)
Thomas, Jameson (1888-1939)
Silent Hitchcock
Silent Lovers