Director: F.W. Murnau
Cast: Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, David Torrence, Edith Yorke, Anne Shirley, Tom McGuire, Richard Alexander, Patrick Rooney, Guinn Williams
I took a break from devouring the Borzage movies on the DVD set to watch one of the Murnau films. Today, the director is probably best remembered from his horror masterpiece Nosferatu. But that film doesn’t really show Murnau’s brilliant romantic side. While Sunrise is certainly his magnum opus, City Girl is a wonderful companion piece.
Lem (Farrell) is a farm boy sent by his father to the city to sell their wheat. While his business trip doesn’t go as well as planned, he meets the beautiful waitress Kate (Duncan) and falls in love with her. They marry, and Lem brings Kate back to the family farm. Kate is excited to finally have a family, and it greated warmly by Lem’s mother (Yorke) and sister (Shirley). His father (Torrence), looks down on the city girl and tries to break up the marriage.
As in Sunrise, Murnau loved to show the contrast between the city and the country. While he films the country farm scenes lovingly and beautifully, there’s still an oppressive feeling to the new world Kate comes to, despite the wide open planes. But there’s a stunning scene when Lem first brings Kate home where the two run through the wheat, playfully chasing each other. The camera work as it follows the characters is extremely impressive. Farrell and Duncan are great in this scene. It’s a joyful, exuberant, and incredibly romantic scene between the newly-weds. It’s brief, and not terribly important, but it’s my favorite scene in the movie.
City Girl also isn’t as visually creative as Sunrise. It’s filmed in a much more simple fashion, but it comes of beautifully. Murnau lovingly films both the city and the country scenes, and it’s easy to tell this film is a labor of love. Even thematically it’s a simpler film than Sunrise, but it explores the same idea of the emotional estrangement between husband and wife. It really pulls at your heart watching these two who are so in love struggle so much because of Lem’s father.
Farrell and Duncan had all kinds of chemistry. They were wonderful and sexy together in Borzage’s The River the year before, and they continue that chemistry here. Which only makes their separation even more painful. They both give excellent performances. A good deal of the most important roles early on in Farrell’s career had him playing arrogant men, but by City Girl he was mostly playing sweet, if not a little naive, characters. His sweetness and ernestness shine through in his scenes with Duncan, and his heartache and their situation show clearly as well. Duncan was so beautiful, and while Farrell is great, it’s mostly Duncan’s show. Like Farrell, her pain at their estrangement is clear and wrenching, but the character is much more closed off . It’s a beautiful performance.
By Katie Richardson