The Farmer’s Wife might be the lightest film of Hitchcock’s entire career. It is a simple, amiable romantic comedy that trots along with no urgency, taking it’s time to enjoy the view.
After the death of his wife and the marriage of his only child, Mr. Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) begins to feel lonesome and resolves to find a new bride. “A female or two be floatin’ around in my mind like the smell of a Sunday dinner,” as he puts it.
His supportive housekeeper, Minta (Lillian Hall-Davis), helps him compile a list of eligible singletons ready for courtship. Hall-Davis turns in a more delicate performance than her previous collaboration with Hitchcock in The Ring and gives Minta buckets of likability. Sadly, this proved to be one of her last film roles. Her career didn’t survive the shift to the talkie era and she committed suicide in 1933 after a nervous breakdown.
The subjects of Sweetland’s romantic pursuits are unflattering spinster stereotypes, but it plays out with tongue-in-cheek comic absurdity, rather than the bitter cruelty we saw in Downhill. But even if these caricatures aren’t mean-spirited, they’re still not funny. Apart from one inspired scene with a manic jelly.
If there are chuckles to be had they comes from Thomas’s performance as Mr. Sweetland who’s twitching moustache and eyebrow raises make for some amusing mannerisms while not letting them become over-the-top.
But I’d be lying if I said any of comedy had me on the floor. Especially Gordon Harker’s wacky, gurning handyman, Churdles, who is far more tiresome than funny. Unless you really, really like gurning.
Where the film does have appeal is in its rustic, melancholic tone that underpins the shenanigans. The scene where Mr. Sweetland gazes wistfully at his late wife’s empty seat, brushing the remnants of confetti from his daughter’s wedding off his jacket, has real poignancy.
It’s a gentle, slow-moving film that stretches the story and characters too thin for its running time, but has an endearing charm. While not in the least bit suspenseful or even particularly funny, I found myself warming to it.
And how can you top that ridiculously cute dog from Pleasure Garden? Two ridiculously cute dogs: