Monday, March 8, 2010

Charles Farrell "City Girl" (1930)

"City Girl" (1930) is a silent romantic drama starring Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, David Torrence, and Anne Shirley. Directed by F.W. Murnau and based on the play "The Mud Turtle," by Elliott Lester, this film is about the clash between urban and rural values and the conflicting relationship between a man and a woman. The story begins with Minnesota country boy Lem Tustine, played by Charles Farrell, going on the train to Chicago to sell his family's wheat harvest. While he is in the city, Lem meets pretty coffee shop waitress Kate, played by Mary Duncan. Kate lives in a gloomy tenement and dreams of escaping the city. The two appear to be lonely in the big city and soon fall in love. Just before Lem leaves Chicago, he marries Kate and then takes her home to live with his country family. When the newlyweds arrive at the house, Lem's mother and little sister Marie, played by Anne Shirley, greet Kate with a bouquet of wheat stalks. However, when the stern father, played by David Torrence, arrives he reprimands them for wasting their cash crop. The father also notices that Kate has put her hat down on the family bible, and he is convinced that she is a whore and gold digger. Kate's dreams of a happy family life is quickly shattered when her father-in-law ends up slapping her the same day of her arrival. Lem's father even makes Kate wait on rowdy farmhands who are disrespectful to her. Just when Kate loses faith in Lem because he allows his father to mistreat her, one of the farmhands suggests that she come away with him. Is Lem and Kate's marriage over before it began?

Director F.W. Murnau was one of the most influential German film directors of the silent era. A figure in the Expressionist movement in German cinema during the 1920's, some of Murnau's films from the silent era have been lost, but most still exist. "City Girl" was thought to have been a lost film, but a print of the silent re-release version was rediscovered in the vaults at 2oth Century Fox in 1970. Reflecting the art of the silent cinema at its peak, "City Girl" is a visually beautiful film. The cinematography is simply breathtaking in a number of different shots. The scene in which Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan run through a field of wheat is very sensual. The scenes of the harvesting of wheat are quite remarkable. Perhaps what impressed me the most about the film is the naturalistic performances of the actors. Under the brilliant direction of Murnau, Farrell and Duncan act in a restrained manner. Mary Duncan gives a superb performance as the sweet yet feisty city girl who fights for acceptance on the farm. "City Girl" is the only silent film of Mary Duncan that survives in complete form. After appearing in sixteen films in a span of six years, Duncan retired from the screen in 1933. Charles Farrell gives the best peformance of all the cast members as the sweet but masculine country boy. Farrell was a tall and extremely handsome leading man of late silents and early talkies. Farrell is best remembered for his teaming with Janet Gaynor in twelve screen romances between 1927 and 1934. When television increased in popularity during the 1950's, Farrell starred in the successful television show "My Little Margie" (1952) opposite Gale Storm. Perhaps the real star of the film is Murnau for being a master of visual storytelling. Emotionally moving and romantic, "City Girl" is a neglected silent classic that is worth discovering.

It is interesting to note that Murnau died in an automobile accident in Santa Barbara, California on March 11, 1931. He was 42 years old.


  1. Silent, This sounds like a little gem of a movie. I will look to see what info. can find.

  2. Silent, Awesome! it is on youtube. I cant wait to see it.

  3. Dawn, I loved this film. You know, I have been a fan of Charles Farrell since I was a teenager and saw him with Janet Gaynor in the film Seventh Heaven (1927) back in 1979. He was a great actor and so handsome. Thanks for posting his website. I love the spring look you've given to this site.

  4. Silent,
    I agree... Charles Farrell, is very handsome.

    Thank you. I have done a little "spring cleaning" on all of Noir and Chick Flicks pages. The Gene Tierney page, maybe my favorite.


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