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Film / City Girl

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City Girl is a 1930 film directed by F. W. Murnau.

Charles Ferrell is Lem Tustine, dutiful son to an overbearing, brutish father. The Tustines are farmers in rural Minnesota. Lem is sent off from the farm to Chicago, to sell their wheat harvest, with strict instructions from Mr. Tustine to not sell for less than $1.15 per bushel. Slumping wheat prices force Lem to sell for $1.12 per bushel. While in Chicago, Lem bonds with Kate, a pretty, friendly waitress at the diner where Lem eats. Kate has her own disappointments, sick of life in the hot, stifling, noisy city, yearning to escape to a peaceful country life.

Just before he has to go back home, Lem impulsively asks Kate to marry him, and she just as impulsively accepts. Their joyful trip back to Minnesota is ruined when Lem's cruel, glowering father berates him for not getting the best price for the wheat. Mr. Tustine takes an instant and vicious dislike to his daughter-in-law, treating her cruelly and driving a wedge between Lem and Kate. Into this wedge comes Mac, the foreman of the group of laborers who work Mr. Tustine's farm. Mac is only too eager to claim Kate for his own.

City Girl has gone down in history as a famous Troubled Production. The talkie revolution led Fox Studios to Re-Cut Murnau's previous film 4 Devils as a part-talkie. Murnau, incensed at this and at Fox's plans to do the same for City Girl, quit on the spot, with City Girl not quite finished. The film was then chopped up and stuffed with talking scenes, finally released in 1930. The talking version has been lost. However, a silent cut of the film intended for foreign markets has survived. This one is believed to be fairly close to Murnau's original vision for the film. The ending is known to have been directed by Fox studio hands after Murnau quit, but it is not known if or how much it differs from Murnau's original story.


  • Adaptation Expansion: City Girl was adapted from a play called The Mud Turtle. The play does not include any of the scenes set in Chicago involving Lem's courtship with Mary.
  • Call-Back: A scene in the diner establishes that customers leer at Kate's stocking legs as she hustles plates of lunch. A scene later in the film, when Kate is doling out lunch to the farm laborers, is staged much the same way, with Kate again hustling plates and again inadvertently Showing Some Leg, while the farmhands leer even more crudely.
  • City Mouse: Kate. Sick of the hustle and bother of a noisy, sweaty city, she years for a peaceful life in the country, and grabs the chance when Lem comes along. She learns that country life isn't as idyllic as she'd pictured it.
  • Country Mouse: Lem is a rube who simply has to collect post cards to send home after visiting Chicago.
  • Down on the Farm: The Tustine's family farm. A Deconstruction of the idea of bucolic rural life, in which Mr. Tustine is a cruel tyrant and the farmhands are crude and leering towards Kate.
  • Easily Forgiven: Mr. Tustine. His unconscionably cruel treatment of Kate, up to and including smacking her in the face, is forgiven after one (admittedly heartfelt) "I'm sorry." Even more amazingly, the hired hands working the farm agree to go back and harvest the wheat after Mr. Tustine tried to kill one of them.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Mr. Tustine's little daughter is playing with about a half-dozen stalks of wheat. Her father screams at her and threatens to whip her. Mr. Tustine as established as 1) mean, 2) abusive, and 3) really stressed out about his wheat crop.
  • Exiled to the Couch: After Lem is too cowardly to confront his father over slapping Kate, Lem gets exiled to the barn. In one scene he tries to talk his way into Kate's room again only to be locked out.
  • Forced Perspective: A failed shot that leads to a surreal effect. The idea obviously was to put the reaper in the foreground and move a model of the farmhouse in the background to make it appear that the reaper is moving. But onscreen it looks like the reaper is stationary (which of course it was) and the farmhouse is floating by on a sea of wheat.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Lem and Kate get married based on little more than two encounters at the diner.
  • Leg Focus: Kate has shapely legs that get shown off in hosiery more than once, although each time it's via uncomfortable Male Gaze.
  • Match Cut: From Mr. Tustine slicing bread at the family dinner table to a machine slicing bread loves at the diner where Kate works.
  • Male Gaze: Men like to stare at Kate's legs, be they urban diners in a crowded cafe or sweaty farm workers taking a break.
  • Meadow Run: A variant. After they hop over the gate to the farm, Kate goes dashing through the meadow of wheat, with Lem following after. A couple of times they embrace, only for Kate to go dashing ahead again. The shot of Lem and Kate running through the wheat as the camera tracks them is the most famous in the movie.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mr. Tustine's reaction after he realizes he nearly killed his own son.
  • The Simple Life is Simple: Kate dreams of the countryside as a peaceful paradise. She arrives and finds that not only is a lot of hard work required, the people Down on the Farm can be just as selfish and brutal as the ones in the city.
  • Title Drop: "Lem's went and married a city girl."
  • Would Hit a Girl: A confrontation between Mr. Tustine and Kate ends with him slapping her across the face.