CITY GIRL (aka: OUR DAILY BREAD) (director/writer: F. W. Murnau; screenwriter: Berthold Viertel/Marion Orth/H.H. Caldwell/based on the play “The Mud Turtle” by Elliott Lester; cinematographer: Ernest Palmer; editor: Katherine Hilliker/H.H. Caldwell; cast: Charles Farrell (Lem Tustine), Mary Duncan (Kate), David Torrence (Lem’s Father), Edith Yorke (Lem’s Mother), Anne Shirley (Marie Tustine ), Tom McGuire (Matey), Richard Alexander (Mac), Guinn Williams (Reaper), Roscoe Ates (Reaper); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; Televista; 1930-silent)
“It’s distinguished mostly by the great director’s special creative touches in filming.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
I saw the uncut silent version, a version once thought lost but a print of the silent 1930 re-release version was rediscovered in 1970. It’s the last Hollywood film directed by the influential German silent filmmaker F. W. Murnau (“Tabu”/”Nosferatu”/”Tartuffe”), who was a key figure in the German expressionist movement during the 1920s. Murnau was disappointed that his American made masterpiece Sunrise was a commercial flop and that the Fox studio butchered this film with unneeded cuts and against his wishes added some sound.
It’s based on the play “The Mud Turtle” by Elliott Lester. The melodrama obsesses over wheat, the clash between city and rural life, and the struggle of newlyweds in overcoming interference from a stern overbearing father in-law of the bride. It’s distinguished mostly by the great director’s special creative touches in filming: the lighting (the pre-storm sequence of the midnight wheat fields lit with roving lanterns) and farm landscape are superbly accomplished.
The unsophisticated Lem Tustine (Charles Farrell) leaves by train his gruff father’s (David Torrence) wheat farm in Blair, Minnesota, and on dad’s instructions goes to Chicago to sell the wheat at the price dad told him. In the big city, Lem meets the attractive diner waitress Kate (Mary Duncan ), who hates her job, can’t stand her dumpy apartment and is tired of the city. The bashful Lem marries Kate and surprises his parents by returning to the farm married. Dad thinks no decent girl would marry that fast and suspects she roped his son in. He also fumes that his son got a low price for the wheat, believing he was distracted chasing after the girl.
Though mama’s boy Lem’s weak mom (Edith Yorke) and little sister Marie (Anne Shirley) accept Kate, the rigid vindictive dad makes Kate’s life hell and does everything he can to destroy his son’s marriage. In the climax, a summer hailstorm threatens to ruin the wheat harvest, and one of the surly farm workers, Mac (Richard Alexander), makes a play for Kate and sabotages the other workers to not save the crop. Kate fumes how her hubby could ever believe she would run-off with Mac and heads back to Chicago alone, and Lem then grows a pair of balls and shows how much Kate means to him by going after her and fighting the disrespectful farmhand who stands in his way. Manhood, at last, comes to Lem, who tells his now repentant dad he’s leaving the farm with Kate if she’s not accepted.
In the end, even though there’s a mandatory Hollywood happy ending, Murnau debunks the simplistic myth of the country as an idealistic paradise of family values and honest hard working people, while the city is thought of as an evil place of temptations and fast living. The filmmaker shows that either the city or the country is as good or as bad a place as you make it, and neither one is all good or all evil.
It was the only film, I believe, Mary Duncan starred in, who was not Murnau’s choice (his Sunrise star Janet Gaynor had that honor) but forced on him by Fox (she was the girlfriend of one of their executives). I thought she did okay, I had no problem with her acting.
REVIEWED ON 6/12/2010 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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