Farmer's Daughter, The (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1947 (September 25, 2018)
Studio(s)RKO Radio Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C
Fresh from the farm and ambitious to become a nurse in the big city, Swedish-born American Katie Holstom (Loretta Young) finds herself deceived and flat broke in The Farmer’s Daughter. Desperate, she takes a temporary position as a housemaid in the home of Congressman Glenn Morley (Joseph Cotten).
Katie has considerable common sense about how things ought to be. As she carries trays of refreshments and goes about her housework, she hears lots of political talk and can’t help offering her opinions. Longtime butler Clancy (Charles Bickford) tells her to go about her duties quietly.
Morley and his mother (Ethel Barrymore), an important backer of party candidates, decide to run A.J. Finley (Art Baker) as their candidate in a special election. At a rally for Finley, Katie confronts the candidate publicly with his poor voting record. The rival party (Democrats and Republicans are never mentioned) calls Katie in, sizes her up, and asks her to run as their candidate for Congress.
Naturally, this presents conflicts, but Katie sets out on an under-financed campaign as a dark horse. As time passes, her plain-talking speeches muster consistently-increasing support among voters and the polls show a significant shift, turning the upcoming election into a nail-biter. Meanwhile, a growing admiration between Morley and Katie blossoms into something more, complicating matters still further.
When the opposition attempts to spread false information about Katie on the eve of the election, Morley, his mother, and Katie’s strapping brothers (Lex Barker, James Arness, Keith Andes) pitch in to sort things out, not always in the gentlest way possible. Katie recalls the words of her father when she was about to leave the farm: look after yourself and don’t back down when you’re right.
Katie’s home state is never mentioned but it is likely Minnesota, which has a large Scandinavian population. The film is based on the Finnish play Hulda, Daughter of Parliament. David O. Selznick bought the screen rights and wanted to cast Ingrid Bergman, but she declined the role. He tried casting Dorothy McGuire, then Sonja Henie, and eventually sold the rights to R.K.O. Pictures. However, Selznick’s pre-production influence is evident in its art direction, cinematography, and casting. Many of the actors in the film had worked previously for or were under contract to him. The working title for the film, Katie for Congress, was ultimately changed to the racier-sounding The Farmer’s Daughter.
Ms. Young had a long professional career ranging from the silent era to her popular Loretta Young Show, which ran on TV for eight seasons. As Katie, she nails the Swedish accent and convinces us that her character has intelligence, integrity, and a clear career goal. As her lot changes, she never becomes a damsel in distress but deals with the situation and moves forward. She will not be defeated, no matter the obstacle.
Even in an assortment of plain clothes and maid’s uniforms to make her look like a farm girl, her beauty is pure movie star. Her chemistry with Cotten is palpable, even though Katie’s feelings toward her employer must initially be kept to herself. With her downcast gaze, sad eyes, and restrained body language, Ms. Young clearly conveys Katie’s growing romantic feelings for her boss.
Young won the Best Actress Academy Award for her role in The Farmer’s Daughter, beating out the favorite Rosalind Russell (Mourning Becomes Elektra), Susan Hayward (Smash Up: The Story of a Woman), Dorothy McGuire (Gentlemen’s Agreement), and Joan Crawford (Possessed).
Unlike many older black and white films released on Blu-ray, The Farmer’s Daughter has not been digitally restored. The picture quality is OK, but it doesn’t have the crispness or the brilliant contrast of a modern 4K restoration. The DTS soundtrack is disappointing. The volume had to be amped up more than usual for comfortable listening. Dialogue is refreshingly distinct, however, with all actors delivering their lines without mumbling. The unrated film is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, as it was originally shown theatrically. Optional English subtitles are also included.
Bonus features include an audio commentary by Australian film historian Lee Gambin and trailers for the film itself, The Stranger (also starring Loretta Young), Since You Went Away, I’ll Be Seeing You, Duel in the Sun, Portrait of Jennie, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn.
The commentary is standard, with Lee Gambin providing tidbits about the production but nothing particularly revealing. He discusses the pastoral title sequence that opens the picture and goes on to explain that Ingrid Bergman turned the film down because she was sought mostly for her Swedish accent and was trying to branch out into more mainstream roles. We’re told that when Katie is shown walking in the crowded city for the first time, she’s filmed from a high angle to make her seem lost, and that an ice skating scene was filmed with doubles.
Gambin compares The Farmer’s Daughter to Evita, in which a poor bastard child rises to become Argentina’s First Lady. The comparison seems tenuous, considering Katie’s humility and Eva Peron’s drive. There’s gossipy mention that Young often fell in love with her male co-stars and had an affair with Clark Gable during the making of The Call of the Wild that resulted in an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
Gambin also notes that Lex Barker, playing Katie’s brother Olaf, went on to star as Tarzan in five movies between 1949 and 1953, and James Arness, who played her brother Peter, starred as Matt Dillon on TV’s Gunsmoke for 20 years beginning in 1955. He mentions that filming locations included Petaluma, California and the Culver City Studios. He then closes by saying that the story of Katie is that of a self-made woman, a reflection of Loretta Young herself.
Advertised as a comedy – the trailer hails it as the “most enjoyable comedy of this or any year” – the film has its funny moments but the underlying story touches on corruption, smear tactics, and political accountability. These themes are intricately woven throughout the fabric of the screenplay, with Ms. Young’s Katie gently championing the basics of American democracy. With a screenplay reminiscent of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Farmer’s Daughter is notable for its portrayal of a strong-willed, intelligent woman who is thrust into a position she never imagined and sees it through.
- Dennis Seuling