An introduction to silent Hitchcock: The Farmer’s Wife

The Farmer's Wife (1928)
The Farmer’s Wife (1928)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. And every schoolchild knows that statement is never more true than when the gent in question is a farmer.

Jameson Thomas, whom you you may not recognise under his bristly facial hair as the dashing lead in Piccadilly, plays Samuel Sweetland, a widowed farmer whose thoughts turn to matrimony. Samuel surveys the village women and sets about wooing potential Mrs Sweetlands, with hilariously disastrous results. Disastrous, but not in the usual vein of Hitchcock calamity. Samuel isn’t a perverted sex killer bumping women off in the dead of night. The Farmer’s Wife is a comedy, a broad one too, and the only injuries sustained are bruised egos and spoiled dinners.

LIllian Hall-Davis and Jameson Thomas in The Farmer's Wife
LIllian Hall-Davis and Jameson Thomas in The Farmer’s Wife

Comedies are meant to have happy endings of course, and when I tell you Samuel is assisted in his quest for a new spouse by his sweet-faced and good-hearted housekeeper Araminta (Lillian Hall-Davis) perhaps you’ll be reassured that all will end well.

So how well does Hitchcock, acclaimed for his urban thrillers, succeed in staging a rural comedy? With flying colours. It’s not all down to the director, of course, this is an Eliot Stannard adaptation of a very popular play, but Hitchcock shoots The Farmer’s Wife as if it were a thriller, which somehow emphasises the poignancy of all these lonely people and their missed connections. His brisk economic style also ensure that the horseplay mostly doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Not exactly what you may expect from Hitchcock, but the silents rarely are, and there’s a huge amount to enjoy here.

Synopsis: 

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.  (BFI Screenonline)

Hitchcock moment: Never mind the jelly and ice-cream, nor the awkward trouser situation. This proposal looks like one of Hitchcock’s murder scenes and features a very bizarre intertitle

Watch out for: The empty chair by the fireside. And what Hitchcock does with it.

Links worth clicking:

The Farmer’s Wife screens this summer as part of the BFI’s Genius of Hitchcock season. More information here.

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