The Farmer's Daughter (1947)
Let me just start by saying that I've never been a huge fan of Loretta Young. I know she had a hard time balancing romance and Faith throughout her life (see this disturbing story about her "love" child with Clark Gable), but Young's particular brand of star quality never quite clicked for me. Her performance in The Farmer's Daughter, for which she won the Academy Award, is charming in the Loretta Young way, but the real beauty and light in that picture is Ethel Barrymore's. In less capable hands, the part of an aging political matriarch in a comedy could devolve into caricature, but Barrymore plays her like a real human being -- a quietly funny human being, but one you wouldn't want to mess with.
Young plays Katie Holstrom, the tirelessly cheerful daughter of a Swedish-American Midwestern farmer and sister to three strapping young men (two of whom turn out to be James Arness and Lex Barker). She cooks for all of them, cleans their clothes, helps their mother feed all the farmhands, and still finds time to milk cows and pitch in during harvest or whatever. The movie begins with Katie about to make an understandable break for it to Capitol City to start a comparatively less strenuous career in nursing.
Because Katie is a thrifty girl, she tries to save a few bucks on bus fare by accepting a ride to the City with a local sign painter called Adolph (Rhys Williams), a name which, in my opinion, should have been a big red flag in 1947. Along the way, Adolph gets drunk and cracks up the car, forcing them to spend the night at a motel (separate rooms, naturally) while the car gets repaired -- using up all of Katie's nursing school money. After Adolph strands her the next morning, resourceful Katie hitchhikes to Capitol City, tracks him down, and demands her money. He refuses, threatening to tell her family and the whole town that she spent the night with him at a motel* instead of getting on the bus like a good girl. Katie knows when she's licked and heads for the nearest employment office where she lands a job as a maid in the home of young Congressman Glenn Morley (Joseph Cotten) and his mother, political kingmaker, Agatha (Ethel Barrymore).
Katie soon becomes indispensable to the household, what with her hard working, girl-of-the-people, plainspoken wholesomeness and all. The butler, Clancy (Charles Bickford), sees a certain special something of a political nature in her and starts mentoring her in the ways of party politics. Glenn sees a certain something else about Katie and Agatha sees that Glenn sees a certain something about Katie too. She approves.
Meanwhile, the sudden death of a congressman in the Morley's party causes the local bosses to get together to pick a replacement. However, the person they pick, Anders Finley, is someone Katie dislikes. When she and Clancy attend Finley's rally, she gets up and asks him some difficult policy questions, which attracts the attention of the opposition leaders. Katie is then asked to run against Finley in the upcoming election, because she's pretty, smart, honest, foreign-ish (but not too foreign) and a lady: a shoo-in.
But she can't stay at the Morleys' anymore and Agatha, as the queen of the party, is going to have to pull out all the stops to win, no hard feelings. Glenn begins to help Katie with her campaign while Finley decides to play dirty. He finds nurse-money-thieving, drunken-lecher Adolf and pays him to spread the story about staying in that motel with Katie (if you know what I mean). Humiliated, Katie goes back to the farm where Glenn finds her, hoping to convince her to a) marry him and b) stay in the race and fight.
Speaking of fight, Agatha and Clancy dig up dirt of their own on Finley. Turns out he's a white supremacist and a bit of a drinker, so they liquor him up and get him to spill the beans not only about paying Adolf, but also cop to where he's hiding, whereupon Katie's three farm-fed brothers head right on over to beat the crap out of the painter. Happy that her son is finally going to marry Katie and not wanting to back a creep like Finley, Agatha throws her support behind her future daughter-in-law, who probably wins. We don't know; the picture's over.
The sweetest relationship in the film is Agatha and Clancy's, but don't take my word for it. Watch The Farmer's Daughter streaming here!
This post is my contribution to the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
Happy 136th, Miss Ethel!
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