Claudette Colbert, medium-charming, is paired with Fred MacMurray at his most eagerly straightforward, in a fish-out-of-water movie of cityfolk going country, most famous for creating the oversized characters of Ma & Pa Kettle. There were at least ten more Kettle films plus a TV remake of this movie.
They get a dog, fall in the pigpen, clean up the farmhouse, struggle to impress an implacable chicken buyer, get charity from the bighearted locals, never have any romantic time alone, and endure every first-draft farm-life idea the screenwriters could throw at them. It’s all overstuffed quantity-over-quality, like the breakfast restaurant that stole its name. Fred is seemingly sweet on the rich neighbor (Louise Allbritton of Son of Dracula), leading Claudette to preemptively leave him, but really he’s secretly negotiating to trade in their failing and wrecked farm for her fancy automated one (economics make no sense in this film).
Claudette and the eldest Kettle kid in their fancy plaids:
Peter works his own organic farm in Vermont, long abandoned by family. It’s at least the second doc I’ve seen about an artist/farmer – Peter was a painter and sculptor before a sawmill accident mutilated his hands. Not the finest camerawork I’ve seen (also: graphic scenes of sheep killing/butchering and cow exploration), but among the shaky unfocused scenes there are some pretty nice shots. Filmmakers seem to be trying to stay out of the movie themselves, but Peter is always talking with them, asking questions, bossing them around. He’s an alcoholic, pondering getting sober but that would mean leaving the farm for a month. Nothing is really finished at the end – the farm is in decline, and maybe he’ll kill himself.
Despite his occasional delirium, Dunning is painfully self-aware for a drunk who needs to guzzle rum in the middle of the night in order to stave off the DTs. The more he caterwauls into the void, screaming at chickens like a crunchy King Lear, the more comfortable he seems asking for help. He asked Stone to document his suicide, but — over time — it begins to seem as though he wanted the filmmaker there in order to make sure that he didn’t go through with it.
Loving photography of seeds and beans, with lighting seemingly inspired by Frampton’s Lemon. Sets up the challenges that big businesses pose to small farming, and the weirdo farmers and seed collectors who oppose them. Taggart (The Real Dirt on Farmer John) definitely has a knack for finding strange people in agriculture and building fun, visually interesting movies around them, though it was unsettling to watch this the same week that environmentalism died forever.
For a few minutes I was mad at the Tara for projecting the film out of focus, not an unreasonable thought given previous disasters at that theater, but then I realized the movie was shot on low-grade DV – probably a good financial choice for a two-person three-year project, but less than ideal for landscapes, which the camera turns into mud. A would’ve-been-lovely shot of pack horses parading before distant mountains ended up looking like a blurry painting. K Uhlich agrees: “As subcultural anthropology, it’s unassailable. Yet the often ugly-looking DV aesthetic dilutes the cumulative effect. For every gorgeously low-res image (a blobby, white sea of sheep racing heedlessly toward their pen), there’s a correspondingly ineffectual visual or vista that one wishes had been captured with higher-end equipment and a keener cinematic eye.”
Jimmy wasn’t bothered by the camerawork so much as the editing, saying that each shot lingered too long, which became cumulatively frustrating. But we agreed it was neat overall, even if most of its value was in teaching us city folk how ranching works.
I’m glad Katy and Nick liked this movie… in fact, I’m glad I liked it the second time around. It’s just as good as I remembered, even without the director and Farmer John around to influence my thinking. I guess from here it’ll play on PBS then I’ll never hear about it again, but was fun while it lasted.