…across a crowded room…
Frank Borzage’s LIVING ON VELVET. Possibly the most convincing and touching evocation of love at first sight I’ve ever seen. Elevates it from cliché on a cushion of bliss.
Somehow never seen the wonderful Kay Francis in much. Oh yeah, TROUBLE IN PARADISE. That’s a very good one. But it’s slanted so you have to prefer Miriam Hopkins. And WONDER BAR, but it’s not really the acting that hits you in that one. She has a very distinct rhythmic approach to dialogue, which became all the more apparent when I was looking for frame grabs with the sound off. Try it! Every sentence looks kind of the same, but it works, whatever she’s doing.
And George Brent. Saw him in BABY FACE, where he doesn’t really stand a chance against Stanwyck. You feel like she could walk right through him, leaving a Barbara Stanwyck-shaped hole, like in a cartoon. But look at him here! How wonderful.
“He has a lovely smile,” says Fiona. And, “It’s quite a strange film.” She’s said that about most of the Borzages we’ve been watching, actually. But strange is good.
Brent plays a confirmed fuck-up who’s “living on velvet” (an expression I hadn’t encountered before) after surviving a plane crash that wiped out his family. He manages to avoid being detestable while behaving like an oblivious heel to the fragrant Francis, which ought to make us want to hit him with cricket bats. It’s all very finely balanced. After they get married, Brent gives his wife an engagement ring — the kind of screwy gesture of love that makes a lot of his bad behaviour forgiveable… for a while.
“To a man living on velvet, what he does or how much he spends really doesn’t matter. [...] I really shouldn’t have lived. The three dearest people in the world were dead. I had no right to take advantage of a miracle. So you see, Gibraltar, I… I really died with them. That moment. Every moment since then, every moment from now on, is pure velvet.”
And when Gibraltar (decaying profile Warren William) questions the needless risks Brent takes with his flying: “I don’t know. It’s something…up there. Something that tried to get me once, and didn’t. I’m giving it another chance, that’s all. That’s sportsmanship.”
The highly literate and quirkily humorous script is by Julius CASABLANCA Epstein and Jerry ROARING TWENTIES Wald, and also, the IMDb tells me, an uncredited Edward Chodorov, who seems to have been uncredited on most of his best work.
While several Borz movies deal with heroic members of the underclass (SEVENTH HEAVEN, MAN’S CASTLE) this one is about wealthy bluebloods with no real material problems — when Brent and Francis run up a wad of bills because he can’t or won’t find work, it’s their creditors I worried about. All they have to do is accept the help of her rich aunt and they’re fine. But despite the characters’ wealth and status, and his irresposibility, Borzage invites us to care for them just as for the penniless Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. He’s also quite interested in their dachschund. Going by this and MOONRISE and a canine moment in A FAREWELL TO ARMS, I think we can deduce that Borzage was a dog lover.