Thursday, October 15, 2009

Loretta Young, in The Farmer's Daughter
approximately 50 minutes and 7 seconds
55.2% of the film

The film

Katrin Holstrom leaves the farm to become a nurse, but is sidetracked into domestic service, romance, and politics.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

In all fairness, the movie did get just a little bit better upon a second viewing. But it’s still (to me) an unconvincing romantic comedy, which mostly lacks the humor and has too much simplicity in the storyline.

Loretta Young as Katrin Holstrom

I had the best of intentions while watching this performance. I knew it is considered one of the worst wins this category has ever had (I’ve heard Mary Pickford holds the title for Coquette). And you know what: it probably is! I can understand the nomination; better said: I can accept it. But the win itself was not a successful decision and the future profiles will prove it, I guess. It’s not awful as some said and because the screenplay is rather bad, you need to look carefully at her performance catching nuances that the story itself did not kill.
Loretta plays Katrin, a simple girl with a Swedish ancestry (and therefore accent) who leaves the farm and goes to the big city to become a nurse, ends up as a maid and (obviously) falls for the rich smart handsome & kind boss. Oh, yeah: and she ends up in Congress! The character is not complicated and the performance is thought to be something of a one-note: she needs to smile a lot, talk like she’s 5, look innocent and with a kind heart. However, Loretta manages to somehow lift the character.

The comedic department is not where she succeeds. For the performance to work as comedy, she would’ve needed a better screenplay: good lines, great timing, better construction of the character. She doesn’t get all this and it damages our perception: if the film is meant to be funny, so should the leading performance. But what I did get from Loretta’s comedic interpretation was just one laughter. One: when she says Yaaa and hits the guy in the head with the log. There really should’ve been more.

So when Loretta noticed that the comedy won’t save her, she attacked the performance from the dramatic side, doing so almost entirely in the second half of the film. Her biggest asset? The eyes! Beautiful ok, but expressive especially in key dramatic moments. Like the scene with her father towards the end, when she realizes that she should’ve fought when done an injustice! Good scene and an important acting moment. I didn’t go nuts for her playing the Swedish accent all the way, but I was warmed up by the kindness in her eyes, or the regret or the nervousness of being in love.

There is a scene before that one: Katrin is in the library and the butler gives her a speech to read (she needs it for a night school thing). It’s a beautiful scene because the speech is beautiful. But Loretta balances it very nicely, underlining the smart message of what she’s reading. And she also makes it believable and natural, as she herself discovers the meaning of those words at the same time as she’s reading them as properly as she can. Again: the eyes and her natural way of being do the work.

Loretta’s performance is hardly Best Actress winner material; but she’s not the only one fitting in this category. However, upon a second viewing I learned to appreciate much more the small elements of greatness in her performance: not in the flashy Swedish accent or the boring humor, but in the quiet scenes where we finally see some heart and (almost) true emotions. It’s mostly where the screenplay doesn’t f*ck it up and Loretta, using acting experience, is able to give us a warm, natural character. So it’s , but NOT 1.5. It’s a 2 alright, because in some ways she rises to the challenge.


Francesco said...

Thanks again for your brillant and nuanced analysis of that performance, which not deserve her very bad reputation (in my mind Mary Pickford is neither that awful in Coquette but may be I'm a fool).

Unlike you I enjoyed the film the first time I see it, but I disliked the performance and could not understand even the nomination.

But the second time I watch it I was very pleased by her moving and kind interpretation (is that word exist in english ?).

Alex in Movieland said...

well, nothing brilliant about what I write here, but thanks :)
I just express opinions, ideas influenced by my subjective perspective.

Meredith L. Grau said...

I agree. I found the film to be enjoyable, but Loretta got lucky with the win.

Tom said...

I think audiences really fell in love with the character. Someone to root for. Another actress could have played this maybe better.

But her TV show was always entertaining. Lots of good stories and different characters.