Hitchcock-a-thon: The Farmer’s Wife (1928)

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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.

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A tragic loss

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.

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Well….mostly

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:

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I CAN’T STAND IT, IT’S TOO ADORABLE

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Hitchcock-a-thon: Downhill (1927)

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Reunited with leading man Ivor Novello (who also penned the original stage play), Hitchcock gives us a tale of false accusation and the loss of innocence with Downhill.

There’s also a bit where Novello takes his top off to appeal to the teenage girl fanbase. No, I’m serious. He was a huge sex symbol. The Ryan Gosling of his day.

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Women got their ankles all kinds of naked for him

This sexy lump of man-meat plays Roddy, a schoolboy who’s best friend Tim (Robin Irvine) knocks up their mutual friend Mabel (Annette Benson). Shockingly, she falsely names Roddy as the father-to-be because she thinks his rich family can provide for the unborn child better than Tim’s. Not wanting his pal’s Oxford scholarship chances to go down the drain, Roddy takes the bullet. He’s immediately expelled and cast out by his parents. Now he has to make his own way in the world and I’ll let you guess how well that goes…

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“I’m tripping balls, bro”

It may be lacking in murders, but Downhill is one of Hitchcock’s bleakest films. Polite society is depicted as untrusting, uncaring and unrewarding, particularly when it comes to the women, all of whom betray Roddy’s trust in some vile and deceptive way. There’s also an especially mean-spirited “old-spinster” stereotype towards the end. For anyone already put off by examples of misogyny in Hitchcock’s works, Downhill isn’t for you.

Novello, well into his 30s, isn’t going to convince anyone he’s a schoolboy but he sinks his teeth into the emotional range of his role with aplomb. He makes a believable journey from bushy-tailed rapscallion to a broken, haunted man the likes of which we saw him play in The Lodger. Speaking of familiar, Ian Hunter makes a return as another love rival. Sleazier this time. And he sneezes on a toy dog. Sleazier and sneezier.

Downhill is one of Hitchcock’s clunkier films. Symbols of “descent” are pushed to a breaking point, the villainesses are crude caricatures and the final resolution is absurdly quick and easy. There are a couple of truly stand-out moments such as the accusation in the headmaster’s study which is a master class in How To Inject Tension Into Your Scene. On its own, it may be one of the most suspenseful moments on Hitch’s resume so far. It’s a shame the rest of the movie goes downhill (ho ho) from there.

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Well that escalated quickly