The final three films in the Four Days with Jane series show the good, the bad, and the ugly! High School and Rascals are Jane at her madcap best, with the edge going to the latter. The final one, The Farmer Takes a Wife, is a Jane Withers film in name only as the movie is really a leading vehicle for Janet Gaynor and Henry Fonda. Unfortunately, this was the worst of the bunch and could have benefited from being released separately. Overall, one downright bad movie is fine in a set of seven with the remaining six worth watching!
Set on the banks of the Erie Canal, farmer Dan Harrow (Henry Fonda) falls for a ship’s cook named Molly (Janet Gaynor). The two want completely different things: He wants to be a farmer, while she never wants to leave the water. When Molly’s employer Klore (Charles Bickford) sets to pick a fight with Dan, Molly has to figure out where she truly belongs.
Let’s start with the movie that has absolutely no reason to be in this set. Okay, it has some reason since it does have Jane as the precocious child, Della, whose got two scenes in the film; she shows up in the beginning and again an hour later (the movie is 90 minutes). She’s cute, but she’s “the kid” and nothing else. The rest of the picture is devoted to Dan and Molly who I detested! Henry Fonda is a far better actor than he is here. The director, the acclaimed Victor Fleming, wants Dan to be a mild-mannered, quiet man but Fonda just comes off as medicated. He drawls out sentences like he has a hard time speaking, and it becomes irritating having to lean forward to hear him finish off a sentence. I’ve never seen Gaynor in anything, but if the little-girl who could throw a punch is the persona she perfected I’m happy to stay away. All her lines consist of her love for “the Erie.” I was so sick of hearing “Erie,” “canal” and “farm” that I could have gotten alcohol poisoning if I was drinking. The problem is that the movie has zero idea where it wants to go. It’s a boat without a captain. Does it want to be a love story? Is it about the issues between progress and leisure? Is it for or against technology? It’s all and none. The first 40 minutes introduce all the characters in the sleepy town that we start in, and then we move on to Rochester (at least that’s where I’m assuming we ended up. Gaynor just kept saying “Rochester” like a CD skipping). Their love story is pointless because neither one wants to hear the other’s dream. At one point Molly says Dan can never ever talk about getting a farm. I’m sorry, but a woman who downright refuses to let you talk about what you want in life isn’t marriage material. There’s little chemistry between Fonda and Gaynor, and you just want to slap Dan for believing that Molly would be a good wife. Of course, the ending involves her coming back to him, simply because the movie has 30 seconds left. The Farmer Takes a Wife also has the worst transfer out of all the films. There’s a few moments where scenes are obviously cut and spliced together, and a few sequences where voice work is dubbed over nothing. It’s the worst of the bunch, hands down.
Rascals tells of a loveable gypsy, appropriately named Gypsy (Withers) who stumbles on an amnesiac girl and takes her in.
Rascals is a cut-and-dry story involving a young girl, a traveling troupe of gypsies, and an amnesiac who of course turns out to be wealthy. Here, we see Withers playing a role she perfected as she got older: that of a mother/wife stand-in. We saw it a bit in Chicken Wagon Family with her relationship with her dad, but it’s more pronounced here with Gypsy being the only female in a group of men. I had reservations about the whole thing, but Withers excels at playing the adult garbed in child’s clothes, and actually is more of an adult than the men around her. The plot literally revolves around the two elements described, so the 77 minute runtime works to the story’s advantage. The climax comes when Rawnie (Rochelle Hudson) goes in for brain surgery and doesn’t remember her gypsy friends. It’s ridiculous, but the story makes it worth caring about. Withers’ makes it so, especially in a touching sequence where the camera lingers on her face when she discovers Rawnie no longer knows who she is. You don’t come to be invested in the poor little rich girl’s story, but you always return to Withers and her look of hopeful disappointment.
Finally, High School follows Withers as Jane Wallace, a rambunctious Texas girl forced to go to a snooty San Antonio school in order to interact with others.
High School is a fun film, portraying the typical “quirky girl gets sent to a snooty school and shakes things up.” Withers is so bubbly and unrefined which makes you root for her more than any of the other students. It’s believable that she’s a cowgirl whose not afraid to get her hands dirty (see my review of Golden Hoofs). There’s a running theme throughout all her movies in that she’s a girl who never gives up or backs down from a challenge. Again, I refer to Shirley Temple; Shirley never gave up, but things came so easy to her. Here, Jane’s characters don’t live a life of privilege and still persevere. Then again, when your arch-nemesis is a girl named Cuddles (Lillian Porter), there’s not much to fight against. There’s also a pretty funny sequence here where Jane sings in Italian (impressive albeit intentionally poor). Be on the lookout for Jiminy Cricket aka Cliff Edwards as an employee of Jane’s dad.
Ronnie Rating for Farmer Takes a Wife:
Ronnie Rating for Rascals:
Ronnie Rating for High School:
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The Farmer Takes a Wife
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.