Intertitle of the Week: Rocky


From Frank Borzage’s THE PITCH O’ CHANCE (1915).

I always feel vaguely insulted when the words “MUSTANG FEATURES” pop up on the screen.

When I first discovered Borzage had been an actor, I somehow pictured him as a kind of supporting player, doing stuff akin to Raoul Walsh’s turn in BIRTH OF A NATION, but he was a minor movie star in a bunch of two-reelers, and furthermore he directed many of them himself. Largely deploying the tableau style of the time, Borzage can be seen experimenting with its possibilities, and exploring the opportunities afforded by landscape and light. Unlike later western filmmakers, Borzage shoots a fireside scene by a real fireside, in the real outdoors, at real night, with powerfully realistic and expressive results.


Best of all, the three little westerns I’ve been able to track down are all love stories, to the point where the conventions of the western (where you can tell any kind of story, as was often remarked) become secondary. Each movie contains just one action scene, and in each case the climax is romantic rather than violent.

Start as you mean to go on.

(This isn’t even Borzage Week yet. It starts tomorrow. But I couldn’t resist.)

7 Responses to “Intertitle of the Week: Rocky”

  1. Rather like Monte Hellman in this regard.

  2. I saw Borzage as an actor in the Sessue Hayakawa film ”The Dragon Painter”(I think) where he plays the third guy in a love triangle with Hayakawa. He looks like a lot like Charles Farrell and the other actors he cast in his famous films. Very good-looking man, rare among movie directors.

  3. He’s always got that soulful quality in his eyes which I associate so much with his filmmaking. And a striking cleft chin.

    Yes, I guess like Hellman he’s interested in what he can do using the western form, rather than having a particular affinity for the form itself. Although most of his best-known later stuff is studio-based, his use of locations in these early works is nice.

  4. That campfire scene looks like a Wright of Derby painting, the light so prominent and natural.

  5. Mmm! (having googled Wright of Derby). It’s a surprising image to see in a film of this time. Admittedly they’ve had to build a pretty substantial fire to get enough light, but the effect is certainly worth it.

  6. I wondered if it was going to be Blazing Saddles, but that’s a good choice too! Natural firelight, or a convincing augmentation thereof, is unbeatable. I find it kind of hard to bear those 50s Technicolor westerns when they go bizarrely studio-set, after acres of outdoorsy reality.

    Borzage, as we will see, juggles the real and the artificial with supreme confidence…

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