Borzagean Interactivity…

It was very exciting when I first saw MOONRISE, on a tape borrowed from the Lindsay Anderson Archive. I was in the presence of greatness, clearly. It’s a movie that drags the poetic language of silent cinema into the ’50s and fuses it bodily with noir and with Frank Borzage’s own distinctive brand of spirituality. Not like anything else. If you haven’t seen it, the only thing I can compare it to is NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, which likewise adapts silent cinema notions of stylisation and film narrative to a more modern idiom. And it ends with a man hugging a dog, a tactile feel-good image that puts a big smile on my face.

And then, as was often the way, I struggled to find any more Borzage to see. The few things I was able to get, like HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN and MANNEQUIN, didn’t seem quite as exciting or personal as MOONRISE. They seemed minor, but as often happens when I get into a filmmaker’s work, deeper immersion makes me start thinking that there’s no such thing as minor. So they’ll be worth going back to.

Now I have access to much more of the Borzage canon, and I’m preparing to dive in for Borzage Week. So what should I be watching? Any suggestions gratefully received. I may also follow my own wayward instincts and pursue some obscurities for the hell of it, but I’m keen to check out anything that gets a good name here.

(As Arhur may recognise from the image above, one movie certainly due for a watch is MAN’S CASTLE.)

23 Responses to “Which?”

  1. The opening minutes of MOONRISE would keep anyone going for the picture’s running time. Two of my favorite Borzages languish on rackety VHS tapes as well, and I’m not sure another was ever released. SEVENTH HEAVEN and STREET ANGEL can be tracked down through interlibrary loan, but you might have to go bootleg for MAN’S CASTLE. Sometime TCM’ll play it. All are extremely similar in structure but idiosyncratically beautiful.

  2. Those late silents are getting the deluxe treatment in Fox’s forthcoming Borzage and Murnau box set at xmas. Have seen both on VHS and they’re amazing. 7th Heaven is like Borzage’s key film, the one that explains him. I’ll certainly be referencing it extensively.

    Man’s Castle is now in my collection, at least as an AVI file: that’s where I got my frame-grab. Remarkable film, to say the least.

  3. History is Made at Night and I’ve Always Loved You are essential.

    The former really took over, my life as a kid as it played on “Million Dollar Movie” on Channel 9 in New York. (They would show the same movie once a night during the week and twice on weekends on a weekly basis. )
    Such intense romanticism really gets to you when you’re 9.

  4. Ah, Scorsese’s favourite movie slot!

    I have History, will need to try and track down I’ve Always Loved You. Doesn’t seem to be downloadable at my friendly local torrent site.

    My first experience of History was that it was the greatest possible first half, and then I wasn’t at all sure about the last part. But I strongly suspect I’ll get over that on second viewing. Dan Salitt has commanded that I do so.

  5. I note that Film4 are showing Moonrise this Friday and next week also – I’ll watch it following your recommendation!

  6. Good idea!
    The amazing opening is even praiseworthy for its single flaw: a shot of a crying baby that you can tell isn’t really crying. So Borzage was too nice a guy to make a baby cry for his movie.
    What a sweetie.
    “Ain’t enough dignity in the world.”

  7. There is a running joke at my blog that all threads eventually wind up discussing Borzage.

    Anyway — co-sign for all those mentioned but must plump for DESIRE! Saw that movie a long time ago and have yearned to see it again ever since. Delicious comedy about jewel thieves with a stolen pearl necklace as a recurring image of sex.

    And on my want-to-see list: No Greater Glory, an antiwar allegory that is supposed to be heartbreaking, with the love story occurring between two young boys.

  8. ”The Mortal Storm” by Borzage is also quite good. Some people have put in a word for ”Bad Girl” which won Borzage his second Oscar but is totally AWOL nowadays. I haven’t seen it.

    But frankly, you should put as many as possible because I haven’t seen many of his either and this’ll be a good chance for an introduction.

    And yes, the opening shot of ”Man’s Castle”. It’s so beautiful in itself, has nothing to do with the story but as visual poetry it fits. Spencer Tracy’s performance in that film reminds me of Michel Simon of ”Boudu…”, the opening scene especially. He’s as intolerable and lovable as the world’s greatest hobo.

    I haven’t seen ”No Greater Glory” which I want to see.

    One film that is remarkable is ”Little Man What Now”, I saw a good print(subtitled in French but that’s okay) and it’s really intense and moving. Borzage was the first American director to condemn Nazism in his cinema. Although it’s too opaque to make a difference in this film(probably by the censors) it’s still a fine film about that time.

  9. Most of my Borzage favorites have already been named. (Cue for Schneider to begin talking of this to his hand, Charles Boyer fashion.) I do feel an obligation, however, to name “Strange Cargo.” And my affection for both “Desire” and the Paramount “Farewell To Arms” isn’t *entirely* due to the presence of babe-a-licious, pre-“Meet John Doe” Gary Cooper.

  10. Saw Desire ages ago and now have a pristine copy, so it’s due a rewatch. Will act as a nice change of pace since it’s so Lubitschian.

    I well remember Fiona’s astonishment at first seeing a young Gary Cooper. The complete cut of Farewell is downloaded and awaiting a viewing. Some extraordinary design in it, to say the least.

    I’ll go hunt for No Greater Glory.

    I rather love Strange Cargo. Strange indeed! I wrote about it in the Comments section after my China Doll post, but it deserves more.

    The Mortal Storm has been watched and there’s a piece lined up on it. Amazing work.

    No Greater Glory sounds fabulous, I’ll have to try and track it down.

    Little Man, What Now? is also glorious and unusual, but B. Kite and I are saving discussion of that one for a Moving Image Source article we hope to write soon.

    All this AND: those early westerns from the 1910s? — absolutely lovely.

  11. I was looking at the Murnau, Borzage and Fox package last night, beautifully produced, but not cheap ($175.00 at the very least, and that doesn’t include shipping). I have to be honest in admitting that I haven’t seen any of Borzage’s work other than Moonrise, and that’s because of my involvement with film noir. That said, Moonrise is a film I’ve loved ever since I first watched it maybe ten years ago. Darkly romantic, with many memorable sequences, Rex Ingram’s Mose sitting on the porch in the moonlight singing that mournful tune, Dane Clark’s Danny in the tree with that sick look on his face as he assists in the descent of the raccoon and its death by the hounds. And Gail Russell’s sad, haunted eyes. Russell, a very insecure actress, drank herself into early retirement, so I’ve read. Not a true noir in the purest sense, only because it has something like a happy ending ( even if he is facing time in prison), that doesn’t bother me. One of the true overlooked gems of noir, along with Siodmak’s Christmas Holiday and Irving Pichel’s They Won’t Believe Me (all three of which have yet to become available on DVD here in the states).

  12. Desire is delicious, but its co-auteurs are Lubitsch and Marlene.

  13. Yes Lubitsch not only set the pattern for Desire, he directed the ending. It has more in common with his work than Borzage’s, and it’s a better Lubitsch-Dietrich collaboration than Angel.

  14. I recorded They Won’t Believe Me off BBC2 earlier this year, still haven’t looked. Obviously I should, yes?

  15. Absolutely, yes. Produced by Joan Harrison, the film showcases three lovelies, Jane Greer, Susan Hayward, and Rita Johnson. Some wonderfully moody cinematography in spots, and while Robert Young’s hardly a noir icon, he’s perfectly cast in this film. There’s a scene involving a horse that I rate as one of the most haunting I’ve ever seen in film. Underrated, overlooked, and highly recommended. Love that RKO.

  16. Very cool. Joan Harrison did some great work. All I really knew was it’s Hayward, which was enough to get me to record the thing, but didn’t prompt me to watch it at once. The addition of Greer tips the balance decisively. Of course, I say that now, but what’re the odds I end up watching that German head transplant movie next?

  17. It’s also got a script by too-seldom-mentioned Jonathan Latimer, who wrote “The Big Clock” and “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.”

    I love “They Won’t Believe Me.” Not, necessarily, to be coupled with “Out of the Past” — Irving Pichel is no Jacques Tourneur — but definitely within shoutin’ distance.

  18. Love The Big Clock. Just downloaded Night has a Thousand Eyes. Both are based on terrific books. I was nervous for years to look at 1000 Eyes, because I love the Woolrich so much (I’d love to film it myself), but I tool a quick peak, and it seems the Latimer/Farrow treatment is a little more faithful than I’d been led to believe. It also looks very nicely filmed.

  19. My VHS copy of Night Has A Thousand Eyes is one I got from a private dealer a few years back, and though the print quality leaves something to be desired, the film really is quite good. I live for the day when I have a chance to see a nice print of this film. And it has Gail Russell of the sad, haunted eyes. It’s been a while since I last watched The Big Clock, which also has Rita Johnson in it, so I’m reluctant to comment on it. And speaking of German head transplant movies, what’s up with this movie The Head, with Michel Simon? You’ve got to do something on this. A friend of mine gave it to me to watch, and once I saw Simon was in it I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t believe my eyes, in fact.

  20. That’s the one I’m talking about. I’ll write something about it just as soon as I can. Shadowplayer Christoph Hubert put me on to it. It may be something of a comedown for Simon, but he seems pretty into it, and something about him makes a great disembodied head. I think it’s the jowls: they add stability.

    The Big Clock is utterly terrific, and the novel is well worth tracking down.

    Gail Russell, Gail Russell… oh yes, Moonrise!

  21. Watched this last night, the only other Borzage I’d previously seen being the wonderfully peculiar Strange Cargo, and loved it. The ferris wheel scene! Lloyd Bridges, an angry ghost in a white dinner jacket! The Colonel from MASH as Simple Jack, managing to retain a weird poetic intensity while almost but not quite setting the controls for Full Retard! The leading man seems in the tradition of such oddly unsuitable leading men as Paul Muni, his haunted features and unpredictable, possibly psychotic, behaviour not being exactly attractive. Gail Russell’s sudden swing from being mildly disturbed and frightened of him to being deeply in love, to the point of risking her career. Dream logic rules here, and the dissolve through from Dane Clark’s tortured, suffering face to the treed raccoon that’s soon to be devoured by hounds is something very few filmmakers could carry off. And it’s on TV this weekend you say? Excellent.

  22. I’m late to the game, but here are my top ten Borzage, in something like order of preference: 1) History Is Made at Night 2) Little Man What Now 3) The River 4) A Farewell to Arms 5) The Mortal Storm 6) Lucky Star 7) I’ve Always Loved You 8) Mannequin 9) Three Comrades 10) The Pilgrim

  23. Wow, great! I have most of that list and can track down a couple more — which I will certainly make a point of doing.

    Moonrise is top of my own list, and I love Paul’s evocation of it. Mostly different things from what I’d pick up on, but that’s what I like about it. (My shortlist: Rex Ingram calling everything Mr; the rainy hanging; the accelerated growing up through bullying; dog-hugging; Ethel B; the classic Borzage journey towards wisdom and serenity…)

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