“Down on the Farm”
Directed by Ray Grey, F. Richard Jones, Erle C. Kenton
Written by Ray Grey, Raymond Griffith, Mack Sennett
Cast: Louise Fazenda, James Finlayson, Harry Gribbon, Bert Roach, Ben Turpin, Marie Prevost, John Henry Jr., Teddy the Dog, Pepper the Cat.
Released April 25, 1920. Running time: 52:02
One of the few feature-length movies on the Mack Sennett Collection Volume One blu ray set,, “Down on the Farm” is a brilliant compendium of the Sennett studio’s specialties. By 1920, old-fashioned melodrama was fading out, culminating with films like D.W. Griffith’s “Way Down East.” This film takes the rudiments of a basic melodramatic plot (the evil landlord who exchanges sexual favors from the farm women for mortgage payments) and uses it as a springboard for a lot of solid comedy and exciting thrills.
James Finlayson hams it up with gusto as the landlord, whose designs on pretty Marie Prevost are thwarted by her heroic husband Ben Turpin. However when Fin happens upon the farm of Bert Roach and daughter Louise Fazenda, he falls for Louise. She cuts out a picture from an ad, says it is an old romance, and throws Finlayson off the track. However, her phony ruse also causes trouble with the man she does love, ranch hand Harry Gribbon. Her father disapproves of Harry, believing him to be beneath their station.
Being that this is a feature rather than a short, “Down on the Farm” has more plot than usual and the situations are more layered with conflict. It also starts out slowly, offering slapstick to punctuate the amusing, gentle scenes on the farm, such as when Louise is planting while a group of geese follow her and eat the seeds. Animals are noteworthy here. Teddy the dog does chores, including carrying a bucket of food into the pigpen. He also rescues little John Henry jr. when he gets a bit too close to the river’s violent current.
As with most Sennett-produced films, this feature has its wild slapstick scenes, such as when Harry Gribbon and Finlayson chase each other while wielding an axe. And the chase scenes (on foot or on wheels) are nicely filmed, with some long shots that show the precisions of the driver and the stunts of the actor (a jump from the top floor of a barn that Louise Fazenda does is especially impressive). The ending has Bert and Harry discovering that Louise has inherited a fortune making the landlord is no longer a threat. So they beat up troublesome landlord Finlayson and leave him buried in the dirt with only his head sticking up.
“Down on the Farm” surges from gently humorous to wildly funny. It has action, thrills, laughs, and some quaint, pleasant scenes featuring the exploits of the trained animals. And somehow with three screenwriters and as many directors, these disparate elements manage to blend cohesively, offering one of the most enjoyable of Sennett’s few feature-length movies. It is another of the highlights on volume one of Mack Sennett collection.
The source material for this restoration is from the Library of Congress
For more about the Sennett films, check out this book.