City Girl (1930) dir. F.W. Murnau
Starring: Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, David Torrence, Edith Yorke
By 1930 ‘the sound era’ was well underway. F. W. Murnau ("Sunrise"), the German emigrant, was still working in the medium. One of his greatest films was made in the sound era – “City Girl”. Technically “City Girl” was a ‘talkie’ as well. Murnau filmed two versions, but unfortunately only the silent version remains. Murnau was a master at silent film and so, it’s difficult to imagine “City Girl” being improved with sound.
It’s a simple story. Charles Farell plays Lem, a rural farm kid is sent to the big city of Chicago to sell the family crop. He’s been given specific instructions by Pa to sell it for $15 a bushel, else they won’t be able to survive for the year. Once in the market he sees the price of wheat start to drop sharply and he sells it for $13.
Meanwhile, when he’s not playing the market he goes to lunch at a local diner, where he catches the eye of a beautiful young waitress Kate (Mary Duncan). They fall in love and before Lem leaves he asks for her hand in marriage. Together they move back to the farm. The honeymoon is short lived as soon as Lem’s crotchety old father takes an instant disliking to Kate. Lem doesn’t stand up for his wife, which causes their relationship to falter just as quickly as it grew.
The structure provides the audience with two unique film experiences. The Chicago scenes show Lem as the outsider to the fast-paced Big City world – a world so unforgiving and high pressure it causes Lem to sell his crop short. The second half takes place entirely at the farm, where Kate is out of place. Like “Sunrise” the splintered film comments on the differences between city and country.
In “Sunrise”, Murnau's mobile camera provided a fluid, dream-like point of view into these worlds, in "City Girl" Murnau’s photography of both environments are tableau Whistler-esque portrait-style framing. Though not as flashy, Murnau still frames some stunning imagery.
The remastered DVD from 20th Century Fox, included in their new Murnau/Borzage/Fox box set is stunning to look at. Ernest Palmer’s B&W is so crisp it's indiscernible from B&W imagery shot decades later.
Watching “City Girl” it’s hard to remember this is the same director of German expressionist classics like “Nosferatu” and “Faust.” Sadly it was the last film from this great filmmaker. Murnau died a year later in a tragic car accident. Enjoy.
“City Girl” is available in a special Box Set from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.