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The Farmer's Wife (1928)

 
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director Alfred Hitchcock
producer John Maxwell
writer Eliot Stannard (adaptation)
story Eden Phillpotts (play)
starring Jameson Thomas
Lillian Hall-Davis
Gordon Harker
cinematographer Jack E. Cox
editor Alfred Booth
 
running time 97 minutes (8,731 feet)
colour black & white
sound mix silent with English intertitles
aspect ratio 1.33:1
studio British International Pictures
distributor Wardour Films (UK)
availability DVD
 

Synopsis

Farmer Sweetland is a lonely old widower. He is determined to marry again and he enlists the help of his housekeeper Minta to pick a wife from the local single women. (© IMDB)

Production

Eden Phillpotts' comic play "The Farmer's Wife", based on his earlier 1913 novel "Widecombe Fair", was originally staged in Birmingham in 1916.[1] When it eventually transferred to London in March 1924, it proved to be an enormous success and ran for 1,324 performances over 3 years at the Court Theatre.[2]

Pre-Production

Screenplay

Following "Downhill" and "Easy Virtue", this was the third and final play-based adaptation by Eliot Stannard for Hitchcock. Writing in "English Hitchcock", film scholar Charles Barr describes Eliot's scenario as:

...a textbook example of intelligent adaptation, combining boldness with sympathetic fidelity. [...] As he had done in adapting Easy Virtue, Stannard constructs a lengthy new opening section, compresses the time scale, and cuts out several supporting characters..."[3]

Stannard also wrote a second scenario based on original Phillpotts novel for British International Pictures around the same time as the one for Hitchcock. Directed by Norman Walker, this was released as "Widecombe Fair" in 1928 and starred Wyndham Standing, Marguerite Allan and William Freshman.[4]

Casting

Harker, Thomas & Hall-Davis

Established film actors Jameson Thomas and Lillian Hall-Davis were cast in the lead roles of Farmer Sweetland and his faithful housekeeper, alongside Gordon Harker in the comic role of the surly servant Churdles Ash. Prior to filming, it was reported that Cedric Hardwicke, who had played the role of Churdles in the stage play, would appear in the film.[5]

The only actor to be carried over from the London stage play was Maud Gill as the spinster Thirza Tapper.[6]

Principal Photography

Production began in October 1927 with extensive location shooting in the Devon, Somerset and Surrey countryside. In the weeks before filming commenced, local newspapers reported that Eden Phillpotts had "personally chosen the locations for the film".[7]

A few months later, Hitchcock returned to Surrey to buy a weekend country retreat, eventually settling on Winter's Grace in the quiet Surrey village of Shamley Green.[8]

filming on location

The Western Daily Press reported in early October that Hitchcock was filming in Minehead, Somerset, and had told their journalist that "more of the west country scenery would be introduced, and that beauty spots in the district would be visited to acquire the background for a film which would be representative of old English country life."[9]

With location filming completed, the production moved back to Elstree to film interiors. In early December, Mrs Lucy Baldwin, wife of the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, visited Elstree Studios and saw Hitchcock at work on the film.[10]

Some sources state that cinematographer Jack E. Cox fell ill during production and Hitchcock took over the camera for some of the filming.[11]

According to Donald Spoto, the end of filming was celebrated at a London restaurant where Hitchcock played a practical joke on the cast and crew — the waiters had all been replaced by actors who had been instructed to be as rude and clumsy as possible.[12]

Release & Reception

As Hitchcock and Stannard had been relatively faithful to the popular stage play, reviews of the film were largely positive.

The Stage noted that "Alfred Hitchcock, if he is not always entirely successful, has achieved an outstanding film." Although the reviewer felt that Thomas and Hall-Davis lacked something in their performance, "Gordon Harker's portrayal of the old philosopher Churdles is a thing of joy. It is one of the best and most natural studies seen on the screen."[13]

Whilst the Perth Western Mail praised the Devonshire countryside, the reviewer bemoaned the overuse of slap-stick, "for instance, the business with Gordon Harker's beltless trousers, which too frequently show signs of coming down".[14]

Hall-Davis & Thomas

Writing in 1936, Hitchcock said of the lead actors:

Incidentally, it has always seemed to me to be rather a waste of Harker's talents that he should almost invariably be cast as a Cockney. He is a brilliant character actor, and perhaps you'll remember that I gave him the role of a Devon farmhand in The Farmer's Wife. He made a very good job of it. This was in certain respects a tragic film, for tragedy came to two of the leading players in it.

The star of the picture was Jameson Thomas. He had, of course, been in numerous films before this, and he was undoubtedly one of England's most popular players. He is in Hollywood today, playing supporting roles. He left England to take his wife to California. She was very ill. The Californian sunshine seemed to offer the only hopes of a cure. So Jimmy Thomas packed up everything in this country and moved to Hollywood — in vain. His wife died in spite of the sacrifice.

Thomas's leading lady in The Farmer's Wife was Lillian Hall-Davis. She was an amazing girl. On the set she suffered from acute self-consciousness. She had an acute inferiority complex in regard to her ability to play certain parts, and I remember that she turned down an extremely good role because she wasn't sure she could do it well enough. Actually, she could have played it with ease.

Yet, in private life she was an altogether different person. She possessed a terrific personality, and amazing vivacity. It was with the deepest regret that, two or three years ago, I read of her death in tragic circumstances.

— Alfred Hitchcock - "My Screen Memories" (1936)

In 2002, Thomas M. Leitch summarised the film as having a "warmth and sweetness unprecedented in Hitchcock's work and unrivaled in any of his later films before The Trouble with Harry, whose tone is also softened by its rustic setting."[15]

Preservation

As part of the "Save the Hitchcock 9" campaign, started in 2010, the British Film Institute undertook a full restoration of "The Farmer's Wife". The original camera negatives no longer exist and acetate duplicating positives made in the 1960s from the negatives are now the earliest-generation sources.[16]

See Also...

For further relevant information about this film, see also...

DVD Releases

released in 2008

1008.gif Laquelle des Trois (1928) / Manxman (1929) - Studio Canal (France, 2008)
R2 PAL 1.33:1

released in 2007

1007.gif The Farmer's Wife (1928) - Optimum Releasing (UK, 2007) - part of a box set
R2 PAL 1.33:1

...view older DVD releases

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Cast and Crew

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References

  1. Archive.org: Widecombe Fair
  2. "English Hitchcock" - by Charles Barr, page 223
  3. "English Hitchcock" - by Charles Barr, pages 52-53
  4. Internet Movie Database: Widecombe Fair (1928)
  5. Western Morning News (16/Sep/1927) - The Farmer's Wife
  6. "Alfred Hitchcock's London: A Reference Guide to Locations" - by Gary Giblin, page 100
  7. Western Morning News (16/Sep/1927) - The Farmer's Wife
  8. "The Dark Side of Genius: Life of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Donald Spoto, pages 101-2
  9. Western Daily Press (04/Oct/1927) - Somerset Scenery for the Films
  10. The Times (07/Dec/1927) - The Film World
  11. "The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Thomas M. Leitch, page 101
  12. "The Dark Side of Genius: Life of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Donald Spoto, page 110
  13. The Stage (1928) - British films: The Farmer's Wife
  14. Western Mail (Perth) (19/Apr/1928) - Film Flickers
  15. "The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Thomas M. Leitch, page 102
  16. Journal of Film Preservation (2012) - London - Restoring Hitchcock
Hitchcock's Major Films
1920s The Pleasure Garden · The Mountain Eagle · The Lodger · Downhill · Easy Virtue · The Ring · The Farmer's Wife · Champagne · The Manxman · Blackmail
1930s Juno and the Paycock · Murder! · The Skin Game · Rich and Strange · Number Seventeen · Waltzes from Vienna · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The 39 Steps · Secret Agent · Sabotage · Young and Innocent · The Lady Vanishes · Jamaica Inn
1940s Rebecca · Foreign Correspondent · Mr and Mrs Smith · Suspicion · Saboteur · Shadow of a Doubt · Lifeboat · Spellbound · Notorious · The Paradine Case · Rope · Under Capricorn
1950s Stage Fright · Strangers on a Train · I Confess · Dial M for Murder · Rear Window · To Catch a Thief · The Trouble with Harry · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The Wrong Man · Vertigo · North by Northwest
1960s Psycho · The Birds · Marnie · Torn Curtain · Topaz
1970s Frenzy · Family Plot
( view full filmography )

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