The count and the cowboy; or, Pudd'n'head Wilhelm.
I saw 'The Farmer from Texas' in October 2007 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy. The festival screened a print from a German collection (the Bundesarchiv in Berlin) that had English intertitles.
This film's bizarre title did not encourage me, but I was keenly interested in seeing the movie when I learnt it was based on a play by Georg Kaiser. He wrote the brilliant expressionist play 'Gas', which is now recognised as a crucial influence on Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis', my nomination for the greatest movie ever made. Kaiser also wrote 'The Coral', a somewhat more realistic stage play -- about a disaffected industrialist who swaps lives with his employee, then murders the employee so as to fake his own death -- which I found deeply moving.
'The Farmer from Texas' involves a life-swap similar to the one in 'The Coral' -- at the beginning of life, rather than at the end of life -- but this movie impressed me far less than 'The Coral' did.
The Count von Stjernenhoe (Christian Bummerstädt) is a German nobleman who has married Mabel Bratt, the daughter of a wealthy American farmer. She is bringing her father's wealth to the marriage; this being a German film for German audiences, it's strongly implied that the blue-blooded count brings his superior Übermensch genes to the marriage. Indeed, the marriage soon produces a strapping infant boy. However, for deeply contrived reasons, this kid gets switched with the young son of Mrs Appelboom, an impoverished widow. Each son gets raised in the wrong household.
In young manhood, Erik (Edmund Burns) is the American farmer who's actually heir to a German earldom, whilst the more effete Akke is the false heir who doesn't know he's actually the son of a hick. Naturally, this German movie assumes that nature trumps nurture, and Erik is a true exemplar of the master race despite his upbringing.
The movie is meant to be a comedy, but I didn't laugh once. I do give the film some credit for attempting to guy both of the cultures depicted here: the Old World as well as the New. I've seen or read several of Georg Kaiser's plays, but I'm not familiar with the one that this movie is allegedly based upon. As such, I felt as if I was watching a rip-off of 'The Prince and the Pauper' or 'Pudd'nhead Wilson', both of which feature a premise similar to the one in this movie.
This film was directed by Joe May, a Jewish colleague of the half-Jewish Fritz Lang who fled Europe at about the same time as Lang for similar reasons. Both men ended up in Hollywood, but Lang's Stateside film career is far more notable than May's. Shortly before 'The Farmer from Texas' went into production, Joe May's 22-year-old daughter shot herself to death, apparently an intentional suicide. That might explain why this movie (allegedly a comedy) isn't very funny. My rating is just 4 out of 10.
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