Alfred Hitchcock is known for his psychological thrillers, such as Vertigo, Psycho, and Rear Window. Many people over look his earlier silent films he made while he was with British International Pictures (BIP). His early works would be unrecognizable to those who only associate Hitchcock thrillers. During his tie with BIP Hitchcock filmed a number of comedies. One of those comedies being The Farmer’s Wife a play written play Eden PhillPotts, what can be described as an early romantic comedy about a widowed farmer in his search for a new bride. Samuel Sweetland is a widowed farmer.
The film starts with his wife’s death. As time has passed the film moves to Sweetland’s daughter’s wedding day. Even though the wedding is a happy affair Sweetland cannot help but feel sad. He is flooded with memories of his wife. After the festivities are over and he as said goodbye to everyone Sweetland decides it’s about time he remarried. He calls in his housekeeper Minta to consult with him about his prospects. They both make a list of the four eligible women who live in town; Louisa Windeatt (a widow like Sweetland), Thiza Tapper, Mary Hearn and Mery Bassett.Order now
With his list in hand Sweetland eagerly rides to Widow Windeatt’s house to make his proposal. When Sweetland makes his proposal she simply tells him that she is too independent a women for him. Sweetland quickly goes from hopeful to angry at the rejection and leaves the house. Moving on to the next name on his list Sweetland then proposes to Thiza Tapper. Invited to her house for a party he arrives early to make his proposal. Tapper rejects his proposal as well. Just as he did with Widow Windeatt his anger comes out at the rejection.
After that transpired the guests start to arrive, and among them is Mary Hearn. Jumping at the opportunity he proposes to Hearn. Following suit Hearn rejects him as well. In a last ditch attempt to save his pride Sweetland goes to the last woman on his list, Mery Basset. Failing a fourth time Sweetland then reveals to Minta that he is giving up on his search for a wife. Concerned for him Minta takes a seat opposite him in his wife old chair trying to come up with more possible women to marry. Seeing Minta sitting in his wife’s chair Sweetland realizes that he is in love with Minta and proposes to her.
The film’s set had a very innovative design compared to the other films made at the time. The interior set was a composite set built comprising practically the whole of the Sweetland’s farmhouse. (Philips, 43) This allows the filming in the house to feel very fluid. The actors move about the house as if it were real. In the beginning of the film while Sweetland and his daughter are getting ready for her wedding Minta is moving through the house to help the both of them get ready. Sweetland is dressing in his room upstairs while his daughter is preparing to leave downstairs.
The shots tracking Minta throughout the house flows together effortlessly. The set “allow the camera maximum fluidity of the scenes from taking on a static quality. Hence the film’s adroit camera work, both in the studio and on location, testifies that The Farmer’s Wife is much more than the filmic record of a theatrical talk piece it’s director mistakenly labeled it to be,” (Philips, 44). It can be difficult adapting a performance that was meant for the stage to film. There is no exterior when it comes to a stage production. Hitchcock has plenty of exterior shots of the English countryside.
The scenes in which Sweetland is traveling in the quest for his bride carry’s over well from the confining play’s setting to the vastness of film (Phillips, 43). Even at the very beginning of the film we are exposed to beautiful exterior shots. Everywhere we follow Sweetland there are some stunning shots of his surroundings. When he goes into town for his proposal to Merry Bassett there is a foxhunt that is about to start. While he makes his proposal the film cut to the beginning of the hunt. The character of the handyman, Churdles Ash, serves as comic relief throughout the film.
The film is not heavy with serious dramatic scenes but his scenes add a slapstick comedy element that is not present with any of the other characters. After every rejection Sweetland receives there is a scene with Ash and his antics. During his daughter’s wedding Sweetland had volunteered Ash’s services to Thiza Tapper. On the day of the party Ash is there to provide more physical humor with his facial expressions and physicality. Hitchcock makes full use of the camera. He uses the camera to show the viewpoints of the characters. He does this by having the actors face the camera directly and perform their action.
Doing this makes the spectator identify as the one viewing the action (Spoto, 16). This is used throughout the film. After his daughter’s wedding celebration when Sweetland is bidding his guest farewell, as he does this, the camera does a close up on Sweetland and each of his potential future wife’s. Doing this demonstrates the importance each of the woman have on Sweetland’s life at the moment. This camera style continues throughout the film every time Sweetland makes a proposal. Having the camera positioned directly in front of the actors combined with the close up, Sweetland’s anger and frustration at rejection is clearly evident.
While each possible mates reaction to his anger is viewed as well. There are two brief montages in the film that stand out. The first one is a series of shoots where Minta is airing out Sweetland’s pants. It was one of the last requests that Sweetland’s late wife had made of Minta. This montage is symbolic of that promise. It also represents the passage of time. The shots alternate from Sweetland’s pants being aired outside on a warm day, inside on a rainy day, and by the fire during the winter. The next montage is when Sweetland is getting ready to make his proposal to the Widow Windeatt.
There are a series of shots of him doing his hair, brushing his mustache, putting on his clothes, and admiring himself. This sequence conveys Sweetland’s excitement, confidence, and a bit of his arrogance. He is so certain that all of the women on his list would be more then happy to marry a man of his status and wealth. Only later to have his pride trampled. Hitchcock did a good portion of the films cinematography. There was on extended period of time on the film where his cameraman Jack Cox was ill. During Cox’s absence Hitchcock had to fill in for his cameraman.
Sometime Hitchcock would be so focused on the lights his assistant director had to remind him that he hasn’t directed his actors yet (Philips, 43). Hitchcock believed form to be more important then content. He would show the concrete details, but knew hoe to communicate the intangible. When Sweetland leaves to make his last proposal that camera stays on Minta. It is then that Hitchcock reveals that Minta is secretly in love with Sweetland. She goes over to his wife’s chair by the fire and sits down, imagining a life where she was Sweetland’s wife. In that moment the pain and longing that Minta has for Sweetland clear on her face.
Hitchcock did not use many intertitles in this film despite all of the dialogue that seems to be going on. “Considering how talky the Eden Phillpotts play, it is doubly impressive that there are so few intertitles. Instead – visual storyteller that he instinctively was – Hitchcock found images to convey emotions,” (Spoto, 16). Having only used the dialogue that was important, the rest of the script is not necessary. What can be perceived as an uncompelling narrative from the original stage production, Hitchcock fashion a wonderfully funny that is not afraid to be tender (Spoto, 15).
When Sweetland makes his final proposal to Minta. This last proposal is the only one that is genuine. All of the other Sweetland made were very impersonal. He went into each proposal as if the answer was guaranteed to be a “yes”. After he has been humbled by so many failed attempts Sweetland finally makes an honest proposal to the one woman who has taken care of him since his wife passed. Towards the end of the film when Sweetland is reflecting on his possible prospects, he imagines each of them sitting in the chair that used to be occupied by his wife across form him.
This technique was done by double exposing the film with each woman in the chair rejecting his proposal. Interrupting his thoughts Minta sits in the chair trying to offer him some comfort. It is at that moment Sweetland realizes that Minta belongs in that chair with him. Hitchcock manipulates the images so that we identify what the person thinks or imagines. This provides the audience with the point of view and the subjective mental state of the character, (Jensen, 53). At the end of the film you see the development that Sweetland has made as a character. He starts off his venture full of arrogance and pride.
He foolishly believed that his prospective mates would automatically say yes without consideration to their thoughts on the subject. To a slightly softer compassionate man who no longer views himself as the most eligible bachelor of his town. Hitchcock’s use of camera really gives you a sense of the perspective of the characters. The film starts out a little heavy with the death of Sweetland’s wife but picks up immediately after. Through all of the antics in the film, “The Farmer’s Wife transcends its origin in the bucolic comedy to become an examination of marriage,” (Jensen, 54).
Jensen, Paul M. Hitchcock Becomes “Hitchcock”: The British Years. Baltimore, MD: Midnight Marquee, 2000. Print.
Phillips, Gene D. “The Twenties: The Silent Years.” Alfred Hitchcock. Boston: Twayne, 1984. 43-44. Print.
Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Print.