Rich and Strange [1931]

Essentially a one-joke story line based on Eden Philpotts's comic play, the 1928 silent film The Farmer's Wife makes up for its lack of substantive material with a noticeable leap in Alfred Hitchcock's cinematic skills. Jameson Thomas stars as a rustic farmer named Sweetland whose recently deceased wife has left a hole in his home and life. The subsequent marriage of his daughter inspires Sweetland to contemplate the altar again, and he enlists the aid of his lovely housekeeper, Minta (Lillian Hall-Davies), to draw up a list of available if ill-considered candidates. One by one, Sweetland proposes to the ladies and is rebuffed, then huffs his way home to a warm reception by the woman he should obviously be with: Minta. In almost anyone else's hands, this slight and silly tale would instantly evaporate, but Hitchcock takes it as an opportunity to make a lively, good-looking film full of delightful transitions (this is the kind of movie where a wordless exchanged glance leads us from one world and into another), at least one early experiment with a rapid dolly shot (all roads lead to Vertigo, don't you know), and a remarkable amount of suggestively grim humor. One paving stone on the path to Hitchcock's full, brilliant career, The Farmer's Wife reveals a great talent still growing. Tom Keogh

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