It may not seem plausible that a Swedish maid (and farm girl) in the 1940s could run for Congress and do well for herself, but that’s exactly what happens in “The Farmer’s Daughter.” The 1947 film stars Loretta Young as Katie the maid, who works at the home of Congressman Glenn Morley (Joseph Cotton) and his politically-savvy mother Agatha Morley (Ethel Barrymore). Katie’s story begins at the family farm, where she toils relentlessly along with her hard-working father and mother and three strapping brothers. When a slimy sign painter cheats her out of all her money on the way to nursing school in Capital City, she’s forced her to take the job as a maid.
The temptation of filmmakers today would be to play this as pure fantasy, but Katie’s hard-working persona infuses all her scenes with a “can-do” effect that’s so straightforward and honest that the audience feels compelled to root for her. The film keeps the politics real and ruthless, while maintaining a romantic comedy angle between Glenn and Katie. By the time Ann Southern made this film, she was 34 years old, so we’re not watching a cinderella story involving a young woman finding her way in the big city. Joseph Cotton was 42 at the time of the film’s release, so I wondered how his character managed to stay unmarried for so long.
Katie becomes a quick learner in Congressman Morley’s house, and frequently gives her opinion about candidates and political issues. Morley and his mother find her quite amusing until she attends a meeting introducing the Morley party candidate for a special congressional election. Katie’s tough questioning of the Morley candidate prompts the rival party to ask her to run. From there, the dirty business of politics plays out for the rest of the film.
Charles Bickford plays the tough but fair-minded Joseph Clancy, the loyal Morley butler who takes a stern but fatherly interest in Katie. Katie wins his approval by producing a perfect cup of coffee. So many Hollywood movies set in mansions, especially the romantic ones, resort to some sort of craziness. However, except for a skating scene where Glenn Morley falls through the ice, and a few satirical remarks about political contests, most of the bizarre events occur in the outside political arena. During the campaign, sensational accusations appear in the press, which leads Katie to worry if her quest for Congress is worth the fight. Luckily, honesty prevails and we can at least feel a little better about the American political process.