The Farmer's Wife (Alfred Hitchcock / United Kingdom, 1928):

The leisurely overture introduces the pastoral setting, the farmer (Jameson Thomas) gazes out the window while indoors the wife expires—his white pants are aired out (her final order) like flags flown at half-mast, a dissolve finds the bed now painfully empty. Alone after their daughter’s wedding, he goes looking for a new bride of his own only to have his male pride handed back to him. The widowed huntress (Louie Pounds) is "too independent for him" and laughs at the presumptuous proposal, the desiccated fusspot (Maud Gill) is agitated to tears, the "pillowy" bachelorette (Olga Slade) has a goosey giggle that turns into a shriek. At the end of this Goldilocks setup is the vivacious housekeeper (Lillian Hall-Davis), who’s just right as a good wife and, as such, "the next best thing to no wife." "There’s something magical about the married state," sighs the maid, though Alfred Hitchcock agrees more with the grumbling handyman (Gordon Harker) who describes it as "the proper steamroller for flattening the hope out of a man and the joy out of a woman." (Like most other social rituals it is a game of power, the farmer tellingly compares it to foxes hunting hens and a lamb being led to slaughter.) The only ordeal bigger than contemplating an empty household is trying to fill it in this fond comedy of humiliation, with a relaxed technique founded on facial expressions and body language, on the smile that slowly drops from one person’s face and emerges on another’s (Andrew Sarris correctly linked it to the Dreyer of Master of the House). The horse that peeks into the living room and the crotch patch that needs sewing are crucial Hitchcock jokes, Buñuel here locates his hanging meat carcasses (Illusion Travels by Streetcar); the Inspector at home with the missus in Frenzy has the filmmaker’s last word on holy matrimony. With Gibb McLaughlin, Ruth Maitland, and Antonia Brough. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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