Directed by H.C. Potter
Screenplay by Allen Rivkin and Laura Kerr, from the play by Hella Wuolijoki
Starring Loretta Young, Joseph Cotton, Ethyl Barrymore, and Charles Bickford
Here’s a new thing: let’s start this entry by just carrying on the discussion from the last entry on Mogambo. But don’t you worry – I promise it will circle around to being about this entry’s film, The Farmer’s Daughter. But first, let’s take a sidetrack into yoga.
The wife and I were doing yoga recently. Picked a random video from Youtube and followed along to it – you might not know it, but Youtube has a large subcommunity of Yoga videos/users. Anyway, the video ran us through a practice like many others – there were lots of sun-salutations, down-dogs, forward-folds, half-way lifts, and the vast array of warrior poses. One pose new to us wasn’t really a pose at all, but just some ab thing where you expel all the breath from your body and hold your lungs empty for several seconds. Sounds easy, I know, but it’s surprisingly difficult. And part of the difficulty is doing it multiple times in a row such that, by the fourth time around I dreaded the fifth.
In a sense, that’s how I felt about trying to finish Mogambo – dread. Every time I contemplated trying to finish it, I dreaded the process. But just as you learn in yoga – you have to listen to your body and say ‘no’ to what your body won’t do. So naturally, I eventually declined to go on with Mogambo.
Now, just as there are poses and things you do in yoga that you dread, there are poses to look forward to: I personally like the pigeon pose, and am HUGE into corpse pose/guided relaxation. In essence, those two things are the whole reason I do yoga.
Following the metaphor then, if Mogambo was the terrible dread you feel when expelling all breath from your body and holding it out, The Farmer’s Daughter was the refreshing feeling of sinking down into the pigeon pose, then following it up by laying on the floor like a corpse.
Let’s dig in!
What’s It About?
Katrin (Loretta Young) is fresh off the form to study nursing in the city. Unfortunately, a shady man essentially swindles her out of her money and leaves her high and dry and unable to pay for nursing school. As a result, Katrin winds up hired into the Morley home, serving the matriarch, Agatha (Ethel Barrymore) as a maid. Turns out the Morley’s are a political family, with mama Agatha running the machine started by her long-dead husband, the Senator. Also in the family business is her son, Glenn (Joseph Cotton), who’s doing a stretch in Congress. Katrin turns out to be the bright light the Morley’s need – even their humorless right-hand-man, Joseph (Charles Bickford) is charmed by her. When another Congressman suddenly dies the Morley’s put forth their own man, who Katrin objects to. Turns out she’s more than a little bit of a proto-AOC – more on the later – while the chosen candidate is not. Well, in that way that things happen in the movies but never do in real life, Katrin winds up running against the chosen candidate, who also turns out to be a fascist or KKK member. In the end Katrin wins the seat, marries Glenn, and they go off to Washington together.
To be clear, The Farmer’s Daughter is a slight movie, and almost naïve, about a woman going from maid-to-congresswoman in the blink of an eye, while also managing to marry another congressman in the process. Far-fetched and silly are also appropriate ways to describe it.
Yet, none of those things should be read as criticisms. Calling the film far-fetched and silly misunderstands what this movie is. It’s failing to understand these are features, not bugs. After all, this is basically a romantic-comedy, which is the silliest of the serious genres, and in this one the stakes are mostly low, there isn’t a great amount of conflict, and it’s got such a light and friendly touch you can’t help but love it. Yes, it’s slight and naïve and far-fetched and silly, but it’s also refreshing, like a popsicle on a hot summer day.
But if we’re honest, calling The Farmer’s Daughter slight ignores the film has serious political underpinnings, and presents a fairly liberal worldview. After all, though she aspires to be not much more than a nurse, Katrin is bright and forthright, and does not back down from challenging anybody intellectually when she disagrees with them. Moreover, she does not challenge them in a facile, or pat way – she doesn’t merely recite talking points. No, she presents actual arguments and reasoning. For instance, at one point she debates the value of paying people a living wage. As somebody who’s worked in lower-pay jobs up to that point, it won’t surprise you that Katrin has a different conception of what a living wage is than a trust fund chicken-heir might. To put a fine point on it, she argues that what makes a living wage usually “depends on whether you’re getting it, or giving it,” which is certainly as true today as it was then.
But Katrin doesn’t merely stop there, because she goes on to chide another for closing breadlines, and stopping other services to help the poor. At a time when women were only about three decades removed from getting the vote, she’s not thankful to be given the vote, she’s a woman who votes as birthright. Like it wasn’t your’s to give her. In it’s own way the film presents a fairly feminist story for it’s times, and which would still likely be labeled dangerous by the Fox News crowd today.
At the end of the day, this is a film in a genre that depends on the chemistry between the leads, and their relationship, to sell the story. If they can’t put it across with any degree of believability, the whole thing fails. And while the film is very low-key, Lorette Young and Joseph Cotton make it feel real and lived in. In their hands it’s the story of two people working near one another who come to the realization they love one another, without needing any grand gestures to prove their point. They sell the concept so smoothly it might as well be selling itself.
Loretta Young – Oscar Winner
Loretta Young won best actress for her performance here, her only Oscar and the first of just two lifetime Oscar noms for her. This year she was up against Joan Crawford (Possessed), Susan Hayward (Smash Up, Story of a Woman), Dorothy Maguire (Gentleman’s Agreement) and Rosalind Russell (Mourning Becomes Electra). Against that competition, Young’s victory was said to be an upset, with Russell favored. I’ve only seen one of the other nominees – Dorothy Maguire – so while my view of things is obviously colored by ignorance, I can’t help but defend Young’s win. After all, while it’s not the sort of performance we usually expect to win Oscars, because it’s comedy, and sometimes broad, that does not mean it’s unskillful. Just as you need a charming set of performers to sell a love story with each other, they each have to be able to sell the story to us. To that extent, Young succeeds. Her Katrin is no dummy, and when given the right nudge by a supporting partner, she is a force to be reckoned with.
While Young would have just one more Oscar nom in her, she would eventually be nominated for eight Emmys in a row, winning three, for starring in/hosting her own 1950s TV anthology program, Letters to Loretta.
I’m sure I’ve said it before, probably in the pages of this blog, but there’s a thin line between good-humor and menace. That’s usually what makes villains so effectively villainous – their ability to lure us in, only to stab us right in the ribs when we get close enough. Sure, some of the best villains are just straight-up villainous at all times – Darth Vader – but think about Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. What makes him work so well is he’s so likeable.
This is all to bring us around to Charles Bickford, who plays here what the Wikipedia editors call a majordomo. He’s the Morley’s jack-of-all-trades right hand man. Which means he has to be both hatchet man and bagman alike. To make this sort of role work an actor has to walk a really fine line, especially in a comedy, and if you’d asked me before this film if I thought Bickford had the juices to pull it off, I’d probably have said no. I mostly remember him as the straight-ahead hateful, menacing figure in The Big Country, who would stop at nothing to destroy his rivals. There he was pitiless and merciless.
Well, it was a bit of surprise to find him in this movie as a loveable and charming figure, even as he remains imposing. One suspects that’s why you hire a guy like Bickford for this sort of film – because he carries a certain amount of preconceived weight that does half of your character building for you. He shows up on screen, scowls once, and you know exactly who he is. Of course, this also means he has to be able to depart from that and look natural at it, and Bickford does, showing us that while he’s capable of being a hatchet-man, he’s just a big loveable softie underneath it all. And though Bickford received two other Oscar noms in his life, you have to believe most of what got him the nom for this movie was being able to show a little twist on his usual look.
It’s A Wonderful Life
It’s been many entries since we last saw a movie with an It’s A Wonderful Life tie-in, but here we finally come to one again. If you will recall, in It’s a Wonderful Life a rent collector working for Potter comes to chide the man for basically building slums that nobody wants, while the Bailey’s are building houses. “Your Potter’s Field is becoming just that!” is the kicker to the conversation the rent collector delivers, which is a mega-burn once you know what a potters field actually is.
Anyway, the rent collector is played by Charles Lane, who died in 2007 at 102 years old, and had 374 acting credits in his career, according to the IMDB. Which is an artificially-low figure, given the IMDB does not really account for the multiple appearances he made in various TV shows.
Anyway, Lane also appears in The Farmer’s Daughter as one of the reporters covering the congressman and the election.
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 Anybody who does any amount of yoga knows that what I just said means my favorite part of yoga is being done with it.
 Alexandria Ocassio-Cortz
 The film never really says which, but he’s at least half one, 50% of the other. Or, to put it clearer, he’s Donald Trump.
 It’s technically defined as: a burial place for paupers and strangers. Which is a nice way of saying it’s a dumping ground for things nobody wants.
 Let’s have an argument here: is it fair to say he has 374 credits when so many of his credits are listed as ‘uncredited’?