While a number of indie films have been shot in NEPA through the years, very few big Hollywood productions have rolled into town outside “Miracle of the Bells,” “The Molly Maguires” and “That Championship Season.”
The very first major movie to film in the area was “The Farmer Takes a Wife” (1935, Fox Cinema Archives, unrated, $20), which marked Henry Fonda’s screen debut. Never issued on VHS, the rare, Freemansburg-shot film is finally making its DVD debut this month courtesy of Fox Cinema Archives.
Directed with gusto by Victor Fleming (“The Wizard of Oz”), the love story is set during the 1850s on the Erie Canal, when small boats hauled supplies from Europe to a number of cities in Upstate New York.
A winning Janet Gaynor stars as a cook devoted to the excitement of canal life. She falls hard for Fonda but is reluctant to leave her boat for what she imagines will be a more staid existence on his farm.
For a film that doesn’t have much of a critical reputation, “The Farmer Takes A Wife” boasts a vibrant atmosphere, an unusual setting and spirited performances by, among others, Margaret Hamilton (“Oz’s” Wicked Witch) and Andy Devine. In other words, it’s a real find.
While “Farmer” namechecks the Erie Canal many times, it was largely shot in Freemansburg, at the Lock #44 of the Lehigh Canal. While some of the film was also lensed on sound stages in California, the heart of the movie takes place in Freemansburg, with the canal and its surrounding buildings playing the Erie Canal and Rome, New York very convincingly.