Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Farmer's Daughter, The (1947)

Director: H.C. Potter


It is an unsuspecting motion picture that delivers moments of poignancy for contemporary audiences. To critics of the time it would be the proud recipient of an Academy Award considered one of the great upsets in its category and in the coming decades a motion picture that would fade quietly in the background of cinema. Starring Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten, this comedy entered production with promise, but ended as only a small footnote in American movie history.

The Farmer’s Daughter is dramatic comedy of the grown daughter of immigrant farmers who through her good nature and common sense rises to become a political champion of the common man. Katie Holstrom (Loretta Young), a daughter of Swedish American immigrant farmers, moves to the Capital City to pursue nursing school, taking employment as a maid at the residence of political leader Agatha Morley (Ethel Barrymore) and her Congressman son Glenn (Joseph Cotten) to raise the money to put her into schooling. Her down to earth common sense and forward thinking attracts the romantic attention of Glenn, despite disagreeing on certain politics.

Katie’s brash outspokenness during a political rally organized by Glenn gains her the respect from the opposing party, who select to nominate her for a recently opened seat in Congress. Despite their fondness for each other Glenn and Katie are forced to separate due to her opposing political affiliation in her race. However, when Glenn witnesses the rise a smear campaign constructed from false information to deface Katie’s name Glenn abandons his party for love and what is right. With Glenn’s aid Katie’s campaign is saved as she wins her seat in Congress and in a romantic celebratory gesture he carries her over the threshold of the US Capital Building.

The movie is rather simple in nature, borrowing many similar notes one may see in another Hollywood political classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Most of the picture is rather forgettable, but under the right light it is wonderfully progressive and refreshing. Despite the romantic fantasy of the overarching plot, it shares glimpses of the political process and government without making any ties to any actual politics. To see a Hollywood movie revolve around the idea of a female politician, and second generation immigrant at that, is highly reformist for its age and, unfortunately to say, even today.

In focusing on the fairer sex, the film brings attention to the mistreatment of women as Katie’s tale of being taken advantage of by a family friend named Adolf (Rhys Williams) who suggests driving her to her metropolitan destination only to attempt to manipulate her into spending an evening with him in a hotel room. Her refusal leaves her stranded and swindled out of all her money, which leads her to her employment under Glenn out of need to raise back the money to put her through school someday. Adolf reappears later on as the key witness in the scandal to smear Katie’s name with his claims that she, a young single woman, did spend that night with him painter her as a floosy and near prostitute. For a motion picture to focus on such issues was very ahead of its time. However, political plot and romantic story looms much larger in the whole aspect of the film, but it remains quite important to point out how this film stands for women’s views.

The production of The Farmer’s Daughter began with David O. Selznick as one of his many prestige pictures under his Vanguard Films banner. Casting Joseph Cotten as a the male lead Selznick was unable to land star actress Ingrid Bergman for the lead, and decided to sell the film while in pre-production to RKO who cast Loretta Young as Katie. Cotten’s performance as the strong yet compassionate young Congressman helped to strengthen the performance of Loretta Young who would go on to win an Academy Award for her role as the Swedish-American farm girl that becomes a political figure. The Oscar would be a bit of shock for Young who saw her performance in a later 1947 picture, The Bishop’s Wife, as a superior performance, but she would accept the honor all the same as her motion picture career was reaching critical peak in the late 1940s.

The film features the performance of Ethel Barrymore as Glenn’s politically influential mother Agatha. From the famed Barrymore family, her name carried great prestige mostly on the American stage, with a brief stint on the silver screen during the days of silent pictures, and the more recent post-World War II return to motion pictures, beginning with an Academy Award performance in 1944’s None but the Lonely Heart. Here Barrymore plays a character whose respect in the political community equaled that of hers in the universe of acting. Merely a supporting player, Barrymore carries with her the stature that this film initially was to display, performing a delicate line of a person with great power, as well as kindness in her role.

One of the finest performances of the feature is provided by Charles Bickford as the stern yet overall likable butler to Agatha and Glenn, Joseph Clancey, the character that allows Katie into the fold. A distinctly tall figure, the once leading man turned character actor is one of the most imposing characters in the feature, but quickly wins your heart with a little softening from the help of Katie’s influence. A minor performance in a minor role, Bickford’s character represents the perception of how Katie changes the hearts of those that surround her, turning his stoic demeanor into one that can be more lighthearted and caring, becoming one of her greatest fans throughout her story.

Despite the Academy Award attachment and the refreshingly progressive nature the film takes towards social issues, The Farmer’s Daughter would fade in presence. With its simplified mature tale, the picture pokes fun at modern politics. Perhaps its best example of political humor comes in the form a rally crowd cheering for anything, mocking these empty gestures by randomly spouting out “fish for sale” and listening to the crowd’s hugely positive reaction, oblivious to the words even spouted. The film is clever and witty, but is a fantasy for a comedy/drama, perhaps this is why it fade into the cinematic background. In time it would receive television airings and a home release on VHS, but would fail to find any further distribution, making it a particularly difficult picture to come by.

Despite being difficult to find and being a rather simplified political/romantic tale, the film is beautifully shot and well made. It’s does little in terms of standing out from the pictures of its day, but contains the rare nuances from Young’s performance and shares with today’s audience with how American society in some respects, sadly, have not changed too much. I was happy to discover and view the feature and would recommend it, but it is not picture that stands out artistically, but rather can serve as an interesting social study of America coming into the mid-20th century.

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