Potential, Revised

It's easy to look back at this 1947 film, with its ideas about politics and women, and simply call it horribly dated. Is that the whole story, though? Is there something to get out of The Farmer's Daughter anyway?

The story is one of Katrin Holstrom, the daughter of Swedish immigrant farmers in the upper midwest. She is high minded and leaves the family homestead intending to spend her savings to become a nurse. She and her savings meet misfortune before she reaches the big city, forcing Katrin to work again before entering nursing school.

Katrin ends up in the employ of a young senator and his mother, as part of the household help. She shows off some unexpected political savvy (at least to the members of the household), falls in love with the senator, and finally, runs for congress for the opposition party when the senator's party decides on someone not meeting her tastes.

The Farmer's Daughter exudes female empowerment, and was made in a time when such notions were not so trendy. The film's sensibilities seem simple by today's standards, and even somewhat naive. Katrin is presented as strictly honest, earnest and pure - a throwback from a modern perspective, but for the times, she was more an everywoman who excelled. The principles of her campaign are now a cliché, and it's hard to get excited over the political/empowerment story. With no ambiguity or actual risk to her decisions, Katrin's actions turn out to be less about principle, but a matter of course.

What would have been more interesting would be to focus on the love angle, or the difficulties in applying ideals in a world of murky principles - but maybe that's specific to my own tastes here.

The real problem, apart from being dated, is the lack of surprise, or really, anything all that interesting, once Katrin hits the city. The film's ideas about her character are too specific for us to see anything else coming.

Script aside, the performances are interesting. Loretta Young won on Oscar as Katrin here and Jospeh Cotton brings some real character to the young Senator. As of now, I haven't seen the other Best Actress nominations from 1947, but perhaps it was a light year, as the role was intriguing, but not all that heavy duty. Her interactions with Charles Bickford, as the butler, are definitely worthwhile, though perhaps skewed a bit for purposes of the film.

In the end, I feel like The Farmer's Daughter is more a signpost to mark how far we've come than tell us anything about where we're going. It's not a bad ride, but not the inspiring one it was meant to be.

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