“What’s the matter with you hicks? Don’t you people ever fall in love out here?”
In my recent write up of No Man of Her Own starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, I wrote how usually in films and books a small town girl dreams of being taken away by a big city man back to the city he came from. The 1930 silent film City Girl takes that plot and wonderfully reverses it.
Lem Tustine (Charles Farrell) is a farm boy from Minnesota heading to Chicago. He is traveling into the city to sell the wheat from his father’s farm. His father is hoping to make $29,000 selling his wheat at $1.15 a bushel. He is depending on Lem to make the sale so he can make even on his farm.
In the city Kate (Mary Duncan) is a waitress in a very busy restaurant. She dreams of getting out of the crazy city and living a quiet life in the idyllic country. Lem walks into the restaurant. Kate notices him praying before he begins to eat his food. She goes over to him and they talk. Kate notices he is from Minnesota and asks what it is like living on a farm. Compared to the other men around her Lem is a nice guy and Kate likes that.
When Lem leaves the restaurant he reads in the paper that wheat prices are falling because the price of corn is going up. He decides he cannot wait to sell the wheat and sells it at three cents lower than his father wanted.
His parents are worried about him because he has not called or written to them. The scene cuts to Lem’s punch card for the restaurant. He has been there quite often to see Kate. He tells Kate that he has to go back home. At the station Lem waits for Kate to come. While he is waiting he goes up to a machine that claims it can reveal his fortune based on his weight. The fortune he receives reveals that if he marries the one he is thinking about all will be right. Kate comes to the station. She sees the fortune card. Before the next train comes Lem and Kate get married. Lem sends a cable home to his parents that he has married a waitress and that they will like her. The father thinks Kate was after his son for some reason and roped him into marriage.
Lem and Kate are very much in love with each other. They run happily through the wheat on the farm. Their happiness is short lived though. Lem’s mother and little sister like Kate but the father does not even acknowledge her. He is a miserable man who immediately becomes furious with his daughter for playing with stalks of wheat and demands his son go to change so they can start harvesting the grain. The father wants to speak to Kate alone. He asks her what she expects from his son. Kate replies that all she expects is Lem’s love. The father lets her know he thinks she is just after some money. Kate becomes furious with the father for what he has just said. When she talks back the father grabs her and lets her know he is the master of the house and Lem will do what he tells him to do. In self defense Kate bites the father’s hand. Lem comes downstairs. Kate informs her husband about what had just occurred. Lem goes to fight with his father but the mother stops him. Lem looks at his wife and says he cannot hit his father. Kate is more upset that her husband does not stand up for her than what his father said to her.
Kate just winds up being a waitress all over again at the farm. She serves all the farm hands working for the father. At breakfast Kate accidentally drops Lem’s fortune. One of the guys, Mac, picks it up and keeps it. Mac starts going up to Kate and bothering her about being from the city and living on a farm. Lem goes to Kate that night and says they cannot go on the way they have been quarreling. Kate gets angry, Lem goes to leave and Mac is there outside the door. Kate is not fully dressed. Mac just stares at her and Lem does nothing. The workers make fun of Lem because he is sleeping with them in the loft and not with his wife.
The father reads about a hail storm coming in from Canada. He wakes the men up and tells them he will pay them overtime if they work through the night to bring in the wheat. Kate hears the commotion above her and gets up. She sees the paper with the storm headline. As she reads it Mac comes to the house because he cut his hand. He tries to flirt with her and tempt her to leave Lem and come away with him once the harvest is done. Kate is having none of what Mac is saying. The father comes in and thinks Kate is in the wrong. He tells Lem about what his wife is supposedly really like. Kate tries to go after the father but Mac pulls her back. To get back at the father Mac has the guys walk away from the job that night.
Lem comes back to the house. His father told him everything. Kate tells him that it takes more than a license and a wedding ring to keep a wife. Lem only calmly responds that their marriage must have been a mistake. Kate is in her room. Mac barges in. He lets her know that if she does not come with him that he will let the father know she put him up to spoiling the crop. She does not want to cause that kind of trouble so she leaves a note for Lem.
As the men are leaving and taking their belongings from the loft, one of the men finds the fortune hidden under Mac’s pillow and throws it to Lem. Lem has an epiphany and runs downstairs looking for Kate. She is not there. He finds her note. He reads that she is leaving because he believes the lie his father created. Lem is now furious. He goes after Mac. They have a fight on a wagon and the horses take off. The father had warned the workers that if they were to leave the farm he would shoot them. Lem knocks Mac out. The father just sees a man on the wagon and shoots. Fortunately he misses. The close call upsets the father. He apologizes to his son for what he caused between him and Kate. Lem lets his father know that he has caused so much hell between him and his wife and that after he apologizes to her they are leaving to start their own lives. Lem finds Kate and the father apologizes. He wants his son and his wife to stay and live with the family.
City Girl was a very good film and it has so much to do with F.W. Murnau’s direction. Murnau directed the absolutely incredible Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans two years prior to this. I love Sunrise because of the story and also the direction. Murnau was a great director. I like him because his films have that touch of German Expressionism. The scenes are bare yet have abstract artistic feel to them. The sets do not take away from the actors they force you to just pay attention to them. Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan were wonderful together. I have yet to see Farrell in a bad role I adore him. If someone were to ask me what my ideal man is I would just pull out a picture of Farrell! I have never seen Duncan in anything before this. I would like to see her in other films. The story was enjoyable because it was different. It was nice to see the guy who comes to the city was a country boy and it was the city girl who wanted to move to the country and not the other way around. City Girl is a beautiful silent film that I highly suggest seeing. As of this writing it is available to view on YouTube in full.