Down on the Farm (1920) Poster

(I) (1920)

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Fast and Funny Sennett
Michael_Elliott21 September 2012
Down on the Farm (1920)

*** (out of 4)

This Mack Sennett produced comedy clocks in at 50-minutes and it's basically five one-reelers thrown together. Just about every story development takes place in a ten-minute window but the basic story has Louise Fazenda playing a farmer's daughter. When her father can't pay rent, the evil land owner (James Finlayson) asks for his daughter's hand in marriage. The father agrees not realizing that the girl is in love with a simple man (Harry Gribbon) who works on the farm. I really wasn't sure what to expect from DOWN ON THE FARM but it's actually a very funny little film but as it moves along it turns more into melodrama. I was surprised at how effective the first ten-minutes were in regards to laughs because there are plenty of them. The first section of the film shows us around the farm where we see various animals doing various things but they're all extremely funny. One very impressive sequence has a dog leading a cow to a certain part of the land and then the dog goes over and gets him a bucket of water. This entire sequence is really a lot of fun and it's certainly the highlight of the picture. As the film moves along I think it loses some of its steam but I'll at least give the directors credit for keeping it moving at a very fast pace so you never really have time to get bored. The cast are all extremely good with Finlayson really stealing the picture in the role of the villain. The supporting cast also features a nice bit for Ben Turpin and Marie Prevost plays his wife.
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Something for Everyone
boblipton20 September 2012
This is the best feature that Mack Sennett produced. In it he combines most of the standard tropes of the melodrama turned on their heads -- the faithful wife, the vile landlord who will forgive the mortgage in return for the pretty daughter's hand, the strong-thewed husband -- played by the always unlikely Ben Turpin -- the Mysterious Stranger, the baby rescued from the raging river and so forth, punctuated with straight comedy gags. It combines them with bits rooted firmly in realistic situations -- the cat that eats the pie, Marie Prevost trying to get a pie out of the oven onto a cooling rack when it is tangled up in her skirts.

The movie works brilliantly, because Sennett made use of some great talent in front of the camera and behind it, particularly in the editing department -- always his strength throughout the silent era. The focus goes back and forth between rustic comedy, and melodramatic excess at a speed that should keep every viewer pleased.

The rip-roaring melodrama was a dying form by this time, but still popular in rural America, and this was the audience that Sennett aimed this comedy at. It turned into a financial problem because Sennett was involved at the time in getting his own releasing organization set up and it never really worked properly -- distributors required a steady stream of product to operate efficiently. Nonetheless, this comedy survives, and in very good condition too, so you can see it in all its glory. Good hunting.
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"Send for Fazenda"
romanorum13 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
While Mabel Normand is considered the finest of the silent screen comediennes, Louise Fazenda must be acknowledged to hold the second position. In fact, when Mack Sennett was experiencing his usual problems with Ms. Normand, he would say, "I'll send for Fazenda." "Down on the Farm" shows why Ms. Fazenda was right at home in acting in silent comedies. She may not have been as pretty as Ms. Normand, but her awkward and eccentric antics are a howl.

"Down on the Farm" is one of those rural comedies so popular in early 20th century America. It is a five-reel silent, unusually long for the time (50 minutes). The feature begins with unforgettably funny farm animal scenes that include: (1) farmer, while milking cow, squirting milk into Teddy the dog's mouth, (2) Teddy, a hard-working farm dog, delivering grain pail to pig sty, (3) Teddy twice filling a pail from water trough and bringing to cow, (4) geese following Louise (Ms. Fazenda), the farmer's daughter, who is sowing; she does not know that the animals are eating her seeds, and (5) a gaggle of geese (what a gargantuan gaggle!) chasing Louise.

After these opening scenes, we move into melodrama. A rustic sweetheart (the hired hand) loves Louise, but her father, Roach, will have none of it. Meanwhile the pompous village banker-landlord (James Finlayson), a vile sort, is making his rounds collecting due monies. At a particular property, he tries to obtain a sexual favor with a faithful wife (Marie Prevost) to forestall eviction. After several funny scenes, the banker-landlord is forced to leave after getting clobbered by the returning diminutive husband (Ben Turpin) and heads for the Roach farm. He gets a ticket from an aged cop on a bicycle for riding his horse too fast! At the farm farmer Roach cannot pay the due mortgage. But the landlord notices and kisses Louise, tells her father that he will marry her (as he needs a cook) for the due mortgage payment that Roach cannot afford to pay. But Louise, still in love with the rustic sweetheart, discourages the landlord-suitor. Her plan is to write an incriminating letter from a non-existent lover, stating that their love affair ("fake marriage") is all over. She cuts out a picture of a man in a shirt-collar ad to pass as her "ex-lover." She shows both the letter and picture to the landlord.

The trick does work, but it has consequences. Roach finds out about the letter and tries to beat Louise for her supposed pre-marital sexual activity. Supposedly a man may not want to marry her (after all, this is 1920). That is the reason we later see the title card by the frustrated father: "Doesn't anybody want her?" There is a funny chase scene. The farmhand, not knowing about the letter, still wants her. But now the evil landlord wants to evict Louise's father for not paying the overdue mortgage.

Now we are back to funny animal scenes. We see a turkey chase a young boy. Teddy the dog, still working hard, loads sleigh. He notices child's predicament and takes off after the turkey. Meanwhile the child gets into more mischief, and walks a plank over a waterfall. Teddy, as usual, comes to the rescue.

Back to melodrama: The wedding day has arrived for Louise with the farmhand sweetheart. Meanwhile a letter is delivered to Roach, but the landlord shiftily takes and reads, and discovers that Louise has inherited $100,000 from an uncle. Naturally the sleaze wants her back, but only for her new wealth. He produces the incriminating love letter and presents to farmhand, who becomes angry with Louise. Landlord wants to take farmhand's place at wedding, which is now totally disrupted, and the nearby general store gets wrecked. Then a stranger (who coincidentally looks like the man in the clothing ad!) arrives to get his missing child, the one who was chased by the turkey. We are not really sure about the toddler's circumstances of being "missing," but anyway, folks think that he must be Louise's child. She must have had a baby out of wedlock! It all develops into a funny chase scene involving two automobiles and a motorcycle. The bad guy gets his comeuppance, while Louise explains the phony "Dear Jane" letter to all. Finally the wedding continues for those who had wanted to be together in the first place. The last scene ("six years later") is amusing; Louise is quite fertile.

Title cards are many but cute. One example: "The hired man, after the daughter's hand, fears father's foot." This delightful film is recommended. TIP: If you have a wide screen TV, shrink to a normal view format (for these earlier films), and people will appear slimmer, as they really were.
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I think Teddy was really the star of this film!
MartinHafer24 September 2012
"Down on the Farm" is a very odd film. It's like two separate films which have been spliced together! One story involves a wonderful dog, Teddy, who practically runs the farm. Seeing him doing so many chores around the farm is wonderful to watch, as he's an AMAZINGLY well trained animal. Additoinally, later in the film, a small child nearly dies and Teddy does some AMAZING stunts to save the kid. You really have to wonder how they did such stunts without severely endangering the kid's life--and looking at the film, I really think they DID put the kid's life in danger for these shots! The other plot involves a young lady (Louise Fazenda) who is the farmer's daughter. Their farmhand loves her but the father would rather see her marry their landlord (James Finlayson). But the landlord is a MAJOR creep--and you know by the end of the film his evil ways will be revealed and poor Louise will get the man she deserves.

All in all, it's hard to imagine that this is a Mack Sennett film. First, it's not a short film like most of the rest of his productions. Second, while it has some funny moments, it's really more a melodrama--and a delightful one at that. In fact, I had a wonderful time watching this well made film--even with its parallel plots. Exciting, clever and cute--this is a nice little film.
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Too many title cards, too few stampeding fowl..
maybe73020 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Down on the Farm was a pleasant enough silent comedy that opens with a farmer and his daughter tending to their farm in the morning. A lot of the gags revolve around animals like a stampede of ducks or a dog filling up a bucket of water or drinking milk from the cow the farmer's milking. It's a different type of humor than I'm not used to in comedic silent shorts and I enjoyed it. But it quickly becomes more traditional with objects spilling and people falling and fighting.

The plot that develops involve a seedy landlord, who earlier tries to rape a married tenant, becoming interested in marrying the farmer's daughter. She's doesn't want to but her father is for it so she creates a non-existent previous marriage to successfully fend the landlord off. Unfortunately when she's about to marry the laborer she loves said fake marriage results in some angry complications. This only worsens when the seedy landlord finds out the farmer's daughter is about to come into some money. Along the way there's a scene with a cat chasing a mouse chasing the scared farmer's daughter onto some shelves, a dog saving a toddler from falling into a river, and some careless swinging of an ax in a general store.

I liked the pleasant humor of the opening but after that it became fairly standard with only a few highlights. It also slows down a bit when the guy whom the daughter claimed to have previously married shows up (though it's followed by a decent, if brief, chase scene with two cars and a motorcycle). Furthermore this short might have more title cards than any I've seen before. They're usually only a single line and sometimes explain things that don't need explaining or state what someone's said but mostly they're simply not too funny one-liners. It wouldn't be so bad if there weren't so many and they were placed better, but it really kills the movie's flow and humor when there are lame sayings inserted into the middle of chases. I was surprised when one of the fisticuffs results in a character getting a rather bloody mouth. I've seen it before in a few shorts but usually not so that most of the bottom half of the face is black. I should also add that the ending was really cute and gave me a little laugh.
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