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September 20, 2018

The Farmer's Daughter

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H. C. Potter - 1947
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

The Farmer's Daughter is one of those films that straddles that sometimes thin fence that separates the classic from a film that is simply old. Certainly, the title has lost its meaning, originating from a series of jokes from the period, usually regarding a naive country girl taken advantage of by a salesman from the city. And there is some reference to that in the initial set-up that takes Loretta Young's Katie from the mid-western family farm to Capital City. For myself, until I saw the blu-ray, the film was only known as the basis for the television series from the early Sixties, with an actress of Swedish origin, Inger Stevens, as the Swedish-American title character.

With her resolution to be totally self-reliant, Katie hitches her way Capital City virtually broke, still hoping to attend nursing school. A one day temp job as a fill-in maid becomes an offer of full time employment based on her talent for making coffee served to a group of politicians. The widow of a famous senator, Mrs. Morley, is the unnamed political party's kingmaker. Her son, Glenn, is a congressman. While this is the Morley home, it is Clancy, the majordomo, who is in charge of operations within the household. Katie's blunt political opinions raise some eyebrows, but she endears herself to the Morley's, at least until her public questioning of a congressional candidate gets her recruited to run as the opposition.

Politically, The Farmer's Daughter has its heart in the right place. In one of her campaign speeches, Katie talks about representing all citizens regardless of race and religion. The bad guys, led by the unctuous Anders Finley, are revealed to be members of an unnamed white nationalist group. When Finley reveals his true agenda to Mrs. Morley, Clancy bodily tosses him out of the mansion, throwing Finley's hat with message, "Take your hood with you." And while some of politics can still be considered timely, what feels missing is some of the satiric bite of a filmmaker like Frank Capra or Preston Sturges.

Loretta Young won an Oscar for the title role. I can only assume that this was more for career recognition, and that her character was more likable than the competition made up of flawed characters portrayed by Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward and Dorothy McGuire. Maybe the slight Swedish accent helped. It is worth noting that Ingrid Bergman turned down the role, not wanting to be typecast based on her accent. Both actresses were about ten years too old for the role. If Loretta Young was going to get an Oscar nomination for that year, her role as the wife caught between earthbound husband David Niven, and heavenly Cary Grant, in The Bishop's Wife is of greater interest.

The commentary track by film historian Lee Gambin mostly concentrates on the career of Ms. Young, and how The Farmer's Daughter fits in with the history of female led films of the Forties. Ethel Barrymore and Charles Bickford, Mrs. Morley and Clancy respectively, are given short shrift here even though they provide the true heart of the film with their slyly knowing performances. Joseph Cotton is barely acknowledged as well, although this is in-between some more memorable films as part of David O. Selznick's stock company.

Of some historical interest are several of the supporting actors. As Katie's brothers, James Arness, Lex Barker and Keith Andes would achieve varying degrees of future fame. The Swedish born silent film star, Anna Q. Nilsson is seen briefly as Katie's mother. Virginia, the conniving journalist with an eye for Glenn, and the stink eye for Katie, is played by Rose Hobart, the actress immortalized in the experimental short by artist Joseph Cornell.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 20, 2018 10:11 AM