City Girl (1930) Director: F.W. Murnau
F.W. Murnau is sometimes called the ‘first great poet of cinema’ and with good reason. Murnau’s creative handling of the camera along with large sweeping shots of wheat fields are the stuff of cinematic magic, some of Murnau’s best. City Girl exposes a tension between urban and rural lifestyles, but it categorically rejects the utopianism of either the urban or rural mythology, portraying the deep challenges faced by both lifestyles. City Girl really is a beautiful silent film.
City Girl hearkens back to the heyday of early silent cinema, though it was released during the emerging “talkie” time period in which sound was possible. In fact, there were two versions of the film initially released: one included portions of sound, and the other entirely silent. I watched the entirely silent version (as Murnau intended prior to studio revisions with the addition of sound sequences). City Girl was Murnau’s penultimate film before Tabu in 1931 which was followed by his untimely death. The story for City Girl was based on a play called “Mud Turtle” by Eliot Lester. The working title for the film was “Our Daily Bread.”
The story takes place during the Great Depression. A young man and his family are rural wheat farmers in the American Midwest. He is sent to Chicago to sell wheat just as the price begins falling. Meanwhile, a young girl works as a waitress in the city but she grows tired of her busy life in the city. She dreams of a life in the country. In Chicago, the two meet and fall in love. She agrees to return with him to his family’s farm, and she agrees to be his wife. However when they arrive at the farm, she is quickly shunned by his family. Also, a group of lusty farmhands arrive on the farm which complicates matters for her. In particular, one of the farmhands aggressively pursues her. All is made right in the end when her husband finally steps in against the farmhands, against her father, and he rejuvenates their love. As in Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, their relationship is redeemed in the end.
City Girl is the last, and this time a notably American-themed, film of F.W. Murnau’s three films made in Hollywood before his tragic and untimely death.