Archive for Frank Borzage

Births, Deaths and Marriages

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on May 10, 2018 by dcairns

A tender-hearted boxing match for fathers — an uncanny pre-echo of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN — Coney Island in her pomp — cracker barrel philosophy — cracker barrel sociology — phony stars that aren’t phony — all in Frank Borzage’s BAD GIRL, a movie with everything except a bad girl.

Showing soon at MoMA in New York, written up today at The Forgotten.

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I’ve Always Loved You in Technicolor

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2017 by dcairns

I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU IN TECHNICOLOR — well, that’s what it SAYS it’s called — is a romantic melodrama set in the world of classical music — Arthur Rubinstein did the piano-playing, to compensate for the lack of star power visible in the movie. It’s a late-ish work from Frank Borzage, and I had hopes for it as it’s one he made for Republic, where he also did the sublime MOONRISE. But this was disappointing.

Casting the unknown Catherine McLeod in the lead because she can play piano on camera is understandable, but she lacks range. Looking at somebody who just smiles all the time and then subtracts the smile and frowns slightly when she wants to suggest sadness, or inner conflict, or I-am-playing-Rachmaninoff, gets to be wearisome.

I don’t understand why her husband should have been hard to cast — he’s a farmer. Any cowboy actor could have done it. British actor Bill Carter (previous role: DRAGONWYCK … man [uncredited]) is rather fey, making the character’s Borzagean romanticism far too on-the-nose. It’s similar to what happens to all the acting in THE BIG FISHERMAN, where Borzage, always a religious filmmaker, finally does a story of biblical times and everything degenerates into stupid epic-movie cliché.

Philip Dorn doesn’t have the charisma to make a triumph of his eccentric conductor part, but he’s more fun than the other two points of this triangle. Felix Bressart and Maria Ouspenskaya are more enjoyable to look at (funnier shapes) but don’t have enough screen time.

The script is by the well-regarded Borden Chase. Two years later he’d have RED RIVER under his belt, but this is pretty turgid material with an unfortunate baggy structure — the story covers decades, and really doesn’t need to. This could offer opportunities to versatile performers, but that’s exactly the kind of performer Borzage hasn’t got. The weird telepathy between the two musicians is interesting, and very Borzage — a confluence of art, romance and spirituality seems like conducive material. But a bit of sex always helps Borzage too, and there’s no suggestion of that here, although an offspring somehow gets offsprung during one of the lengthy narrative ellipses.

So I’m mainly reviewing the cigarette burns. While the Technicolor mentioned in the title of I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU IN TECHNICOLOR is, under the supervision of Nathalie Kalmus, sort of muted but sort of sugary at the same time, the cigarette burns, those little top-right blips signalling a reel change, are positively lurid.

Big magenta suns with green halos! Hideous, but sort of fascinating — the only things in the film that could inspire such extreme adjectives.

The Look 2: Lukas Rejects

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , on July 30, 2016 by dcairns

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Reminder: I’ve embarked on an occasional series about moments when actors look at the camera.

A tricky one — I wasn’t sure if I was remembering this correctly.

But when I think of actors looking at the camera, I always think of Paul Lukas in STRANGE CARGO (1940), or STRANGE FILM as surely somebody else must have called it.

Frank Borzage’s films were often religious, or spiritual, or whatever you want to call it, but this one is a full-blown allegory, with Ian Hunter unusually effective as the Christ figure, who is part of an all-star group of escaped convicts including Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Peter Lorre.

Lukas plays a serial killer of women — for profit. He leaves the group midway through the film to take up his profession again. Hunter has been on at him to repent of his sinful ways. Lukas leaves, but after doing so, when he is alone apart from US — he turns, glances about in the direction of the camera — eyes flickering wildly so that for a moment I was afraid my memory was playing me false and he wasn’t going to do it — and then he looks right down the barrel of the lens and says, very firmly —

“No.”

Borzage’s camera, which has been following Lukas, seems to have become briefly identified with the eye of God. This is Lukas’ final rejection of the grace of God. Delivered to us. As if we were all, collectively, the best stand-in for the deity that Borzage could think of.

So that’s nice of him.