mon 08/08/2022

DVD: City Girl (1930) | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: City Girl (1930)

DVD: City Girl (1930)

FW Murnau masterpiece looks ever more beautiful in Blu-ray

I’ll confess it straightaway: I’m biased about this picture (as it surely would have been known in 1930) – wholly, shoutily in favour of it. I watched it last September at the Cambridge Film Festival on a big screen in Emmanuel College, with two pianists playing along, live, as this silent marvel told its really quite sophisticated story. I’d had no idea what to expect and came away mesmerised.

Modern moviegoers, as we all are, might be predisposed to ignore or be bored by it. A love story from the silent era: why bother? FW Murnau is probably best known for his early-1920s Nosferatu and City Girl couldn’t be more different: an apparently plain ol’ American tale about sassy urban lass Kate (Mary Duncan) falling for country boy Lem (Charles Farrell) – so expect town class v rural simplicity, profane v sacred, speedy mechanism v agricultural idyll.

The dichotomies all seem to be there: check out the thrilling pump, steam and thrust of the Chicago diner where Kate works (and where she meets Lem), then stare in awe at the extraordinary sight of a combine harvester being hauled through a Minnesota field by a fleet of mules! But narrative expectations are reversed: Lem’s father (the Scot David Torrence) is a Bible-bashing nasty who takes Kate for a trollop. The hick harvesters have designs on her. Lem, crushed by the father, seems a corruptible mess, so it turns out that the evil’s in the country, the virtue in the town.

City Girl
is cinematic poetry, with a new and sensitive score by Christopher Caliendo, and stands as a testament to one of the very last works of genius of the silent era. It still looks beautiful – ever more so on DVD and Blu-ray – and I’d say, get this picture, or see it with two pianists playing. You won’t forget it.

Watch a clip from City Girl

Share this article


Alcyona Mick's score for Murnau's Sunrise was magical - there's a clip here

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters