Loretta Young won an Oscar for her lead role in the 1947 romantic comedy, now out from Kino Lorber
RKO’s The Farmer’s Daughter (1947) is unoriginal enough in some ways that the film stuns when it veers away from formula. Loretta Young stars as Katrin, daughter of Swedish immigrants in an unnamed state (it’s like a generic representation of Minnesota), heading to Capitol City for nursing school… until a creepy painter takes advantage of her niceness and she has to use up her savings before she makes it to the big city. Soon after she arrives, she takes temporary work as a maid for a congressman (Joseph Cotten) and his mother (Ethel Barrymore).
Gruff butler Clancy (Charles Bickford, The Song of Bernadette, Johnny Belinda) is won over by her charms and becomes a sort of mentor to the naive woman. Mr. Morley (Cotten) falls for her accent and straight-talk and she’s attracted to handsome face and sense of humor, I guess? The less-than-convincing romance of the film pales in comparison to the political story that kicks in midway through.
Morley and mom are part of their state’s party political machine — the film names no specific parties, but we’ll assume they are Republicans. After the sudden death of a colleague, the small group (a few white men plus Mrs. Morley) picks their candidate, a politician whose agenda bothers Katrin. Instead of having a primary where voters choose the party’s nominee for Congress, the group throws a campaign event where their pick is announced. Katrin nervously asks upfront questions of the man & so impresses a rep from the more progressive party that they ask her to run against him.
The filmmakers of The Farmer’s Daughter hold a tenacious optimism towards politics that stands out to a modern viewer given our current fragile circumstances. After Katrin’s campaign hits a roadblock and she loses a bit of her fighting nature, her father tells her, “Woman or man, if you don’t want to fight for the truth, then you shouldn’t be in Congress.” This statement touched my slightly cynical soul, already impressed by the post-war film — made at a moment when middle-class women were being persuaded back into the domestic sphere after holding wartime employment — matter-of-factly showing a woman running to represent her district in office. Like it’s no big deal!
We (still) rarely are provided representation of women politicians in media. Even 70 years after the release of The Farmer’s Daughter, how refreshing it is to hear a female character recording a campaign speech in favor of basic human rights. For these reasons one can look beyond the faults in the formula and appreciate the ingenuity of the work.
The Farmer’s Daughter is now available on BluRay from Kino Lorber. The package includes trailers for other classic Kino Lorber releases, as well as a commentary track from film historian Lee Gambin.