“A married farmer falls under the spell of a slatternly woman from the city, who tries to convince him to drown his wife.”
Have you ever watched a film that ripped your heart into a million and one pieces without a single word ever being spoken? Because I have. Normally, it takes me hours to watch a full silent film because, no matter how good it is, I will fall asleep 20 minutes in. I will then wake up, and have to start again from the last point that I remember. It once took me half a day to watch Gold Rush (1925) and it’s only an hour and a half film. So, imagine my surprise when I not only stayed awake past the 20 minute mark of this film, but was also completely engrossed in it. My being engrossed in this film is 100% due to the unbelievable acting from George O’Brien who plays The Man and Janet Gaynor who plays The Wife. Each actor portrays the emotions of their character in a way that creates those emotions within the viewer. Only 6 minutes into the film, and you can feel the guilt that The Man has. His body language says it all. Same goes for The Wife. You can feel her sadness along with her. And it is heartbreaking. These portrayals of strong emotions continue throughout the entire film, eventually bringing me to tears during a scene where The Man and The Wife sit in on a wedding. The Man realizes how he has broken his wedding vows and hurt the woman he loves. He breaks down in tears. And if that doesn’t make you feel anything, then you probably have a Grinch-sized heart. There, I said it.
After watching this film, it is clear to see why it’s on the “100 Best Films” list. Not only is it a beautiful story, but the technical achievements for this film revolutionized filmmaking. There is an incredible use of tracking shots throughout the film. Elements of German Expressionism are very much present. And, most importantly, forced perspective is used brilliantly, creating so much depth to the city scenes, in particular.
Fun fact: This film won an Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the very first Academy Awards in 1929. Janet Gaynor became the first actress to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. And, man, did she deserve it.
This film is wonderful on so many different levels. By not giving any of the characters names, a timeless story has been created. And that is beautiful.