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MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

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charliechaplinfan
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Song o my Heart

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 18th, 2010, 6:51 am

I watched the next disc in the collection, Song o My Heart starring John McCormack, Fox paid McCormack a huge salary to appear before the movie cameras and Borzage was assigned to direct him. McCormack was a well known Irish singer and the film is really just a showcase of his talents, one would think that John Ford was the best man for the job as part of it was filmed in Dublin. It's very sweet in part and marks the screen debut of Maureen O'Sullivan discovered by Borzage in the Abbey Players of Dublin. However McCormack's style isn't really mine, it was intersting as a curio but didn't strike the chord with me.
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LILIOM

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 18th, 2010, 2:52 pm

I watched Liliom from the Fox boxset, rarely does it happen that I prefer a Hollywood production to a French one but the Borzage production far out strips the Lang version (and that one has Charles Boyer). Maybe it's because Charles Farrell is rogueish and like a naughty boy whereas I felt that Boyer's Lilliom was even more uncaring and had no redeeming features. The sets are very striking in Borzage's production, though obviously studio bound the atomosphere he creates for me is reminiscient of Ophuls La Ronde mixed with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, the firm lines and geometric shapes of Calgari and the sparkling fairground of Ophuls. The sets were of the bare minimum but big. The only slight note of discontent came with the delivery of dialogue of Rose Hobart, it's so obvious that she is from the stage, distractingly so and although she's the better actor of the two it's Farrell who is far more relaxed and believable. With this one I think Borzage hit his stride again but it was a commerical disaster, had the production code been in full force earlier it wouldn't have made it to the screen. As it was Great Britain and the Commonwealth banned it as did Catholic countries for the depiction of the afterlife and lack of marriage between Julie and Liliom, that left the Germanic countries. In many places the film ended when Liliom died missing the best sequences of the film, the train coming through the big bay window and picking Liliom up to face judgement on the train and then transfer to another train down to the pit of hell, complete with smoke glasses.

Brenda, Charles Farrell's voice is warm and not at all high pitched in Lilliom, he sounds fine, I wonder how the public expected him to sound?
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby MissGoddess » January 18th, 2010, 3:57 pm

I haven't seen the Borzage version of LILIOM, yet. I did see the Lang version not long ago. I thought Boyer did alright. I have just never liked this story in any of it's incarnations, except maybe Man's Castle (Borzage again, though this is not a remake of "Liliom", it simply has a very similar central relationship and characters).

I haven't seen Song O' My Heart, either. I've read about McCormack so I'd be curious to see what all the fuss was about.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 19th, 2010, 7:56 am

I much preferred Borzage's version, it's very different to Lang's, it's quite a difficult story to make work as neither character manages the viewer's ympathy.
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BAD GIRL AND AFTER TOMORROW

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 1st, 2010, 4:08 pm

Bad Girl isn't a good title for the film, there isn't a Bad Girl in it, it is a pre-code delight about an ordinary couple, falling in love, struggling financially and having a baby etc.It most reminds me of the great silent film-The Crowd, which dealt with similar matters. What was especially fascinating to me was its depiction of "average" lower middle class types and how they lived and spoke in Depression America. The apartments... the slang, all of it, seemed real. The movie has all the Borzage trademarks- love surviving against all odds, the little touches that bring their envoiroment to life. The ending is a bit sweet, James Dunn and Sally Eilers are good in the leads.

I preferred After Tomorrow, I really don't get why Charles Farrell didn't have a bigger career in talkies, I think I'm starting a one woman fan club :D

This is an intimate portrayal of ordinary people during the Depression struggling against lack of money, wayward and selfish parents, inability to get married (waiting for four years to have enough money), and many vicissitudes of everyday life which are often extremely harrowing. The characters are all ordinary, meaning that there is nothing at all remarkable about any of them, none is particularly bright, none has much ambition, and the heroine's one aim in life is to get married to her boyfriend, played by Charles Farrell. Marian Nixon is a frail but delightfully innocent actress who plays the heroine. Her performance is entirely convincing. Her mother, played by Minna Gombell, is embittered, hard, selfish, and disloyal, but Marian is such a goodie goodie she never even notices. William Collier Senior is an excellent father for Marian, gentle, loving, but hopeless because he has lost all initiative. This is not a film to see to cheer oneself up, but it is an honest and sensitive social drama which is well made and of great interest as a period piece. It is remarkably lacking in any trace of affectation, and being pre-code, it is unrestrained by the ludicrous restrictions soon to be placed on dialogue and action in Hollywood. The title 'after tomorrow' refers to the fact that everything is being deferred to tomorrow because of poverty, and 'after tomorrow' is the dream when it all might have happened. The script has a lot of wit. The direction is good. Probably the best performance in the film is by Josephine Hull, whose well-rounded portrayal of an infinitely exasperating and despicably selfish and self-indulgent mother of the boyfriend. The rapid oscillations in her moods, her alternating endearments and curses, her rudderless cascade of self obsession, are portrayed with the finesse of a lace maker who fashions a bra as a wedding present for the bride, the expressions on everyone elses faces are classic and I'm not sure she didn't do it to embarrass the bride.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby pvitari » February 2nd, 2010, 12:48 am

Charliechaplin fan, make that a two-woman Charles Farrell fan club, OK? :)

I think he was a wonderful actor...

Image

...who just was not served well by the talkie era. I saw Tail Spin on Fox Movie Channel the other day and Farrell had a generic supporting role that many other actors could have played, as Alice Faye's airplane mechanic Bud. But then, right at the end of the picture, he actually gets something -- a crumb -- to act, when Alice asks him if he wants to come out to Los Angeles with her and buddy Joan Davis. His delighted reaction is a lovely little bit of acting. I felt sad watching it because you could see how good he could be, but he needed something to DO to show it.

The Murnau, Fox and Borzage box set is for me the greatest DVD set of all time. 20th Century-Fox classic releases certainly went out on a splendiferous high note... before it all crashed and burned. :(

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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 2nd, 2010, 7:52 am

I'm glad my fan club has another member :D .

I guess the 1930's era was more hardbitten and there wasn't as much call for the nice, wholesome and usually innocent roles that Charles Farrell played. I liked him in Liliom, he's not a good guy in that film although he's not really bad, just selfish and misunderstood. Charles Boyer's portrayal in Lang's film has no saving graces. I think perhaps he was a Borzage ideal, the niave, good and decent citizen that does face adversity but his brand of niceness wins through. I think he could act, it's a pity he didn't get more chance to shine.
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YOUNG AMERICA

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 3rd, 2010, 3:00 pm

For most of its running time "Young America" is an earnest, low-key drama about the plight of preteen boys from broken homes, and the factors that steer them into petty crime. We tend to associate Depression era 'social problem' movies with Warner Brothers, but this feature was a product of the Fox Studio and director Frank Borzage, better known for a special brand of lyrical, soft-focus romanticism quite different from the straightforward storytelling found here. Borzage deemphasizes the sensationalist aspects of juvenile crime and takes a decidedly sympathetic view of the troubled subjects of this story, most of whom are decent boys who despite their repeat appearances in juvenile court are almost always victims of circumstance.

The director's on-screen surrogate is Ralph Bellamy, introduced in the opening sequence as a progressive judge who makes it his business to listen to the boys, find out why they misbehave, and dole out appropriate sentences. He's fair but no pushover, and when one well-dressed boy smoothly delivers his testimony with a grin he astutely identifies the kid as a con artist. You know Bellamy's judge is a good guy from the way he sits at the judicial bench: he isn't ramrod straight, he slouches, parks his elbow on the desktop and props his head on his hand, listening intently as he leans towards the speaker. If you ever get in trouble and wind up in court, this is the kind of judge you'd want to face.

The central figure is an orphaned boy named Arthur Simpson, who is being raised in squalor by a cold-hearted aunt with no husband and three children of her own. Art is in trouble constantly, but his motives are usually good ones—so much so that, after a while, our credulity is strained. A well-heeled lady named Edie Doray takes a sympathetic interest in the boy and volunteers to take him into her home as her ward, despite the vocal opposition of her perennially grouchy husband Jack, the proprietor of a drug store. After various complications and much suffering for young Art, who seems to be a magnet for trouble, the boy redeems himself (in a wildly implausible, action-packed finale) and everyone, even Jack Doray, comes to recognize his good qualities.

"Young America" starts well and holds viewer interest much of the way, but problems kick in around the midway point as the story turns increasingly improbable and sentimental. Tommy Conlon is quite good as Arthur Simpson, but the character as written is impossibly noble, forever misunderstood and put-upon. In the face of injustice Art maintains a disturbing, Job-like passivity. Several times the locals refer to him as "the worst boy in town," and if that's true they're awfully lucky. Mickey Rooney's character in "Boy's Town" is more of a hardened troublemaker than this guy. Most kids in Art's position would be openly angry and raise a lot more hell than he ever does, and a stronger screenplay might have granted him more nuance, but like Father Flanagan the writers of "Young America" seem to believe there's no such thing as a bad boy (well, except for a couple of bad eggs we meet briefly along the way) and are determined to prove that all these kids need is the opportunity to explain themselves and a second chance in life, and everything will be fine. If only life could be so simple!

Speaking of Father Flanagan the biggest lure this film has to offer modern day viewers is the performance of 32 year-old Spencer Tracy as Jack Doray, the druggist. It's a little strange to see Tracy this young, but the regular-guy gruffness and authoritative voice so familiar from his later movies are present, and he demonstrates with ease that he already had the acting chops to breathe life into an ill-defined character. Tracy was under contract to Fox Films during the first five years of his movie career, 1930-35, and was said to be unhappy with most of the projects he was assigned; it's safe to assume that this was one of the roles he didn't like. We're never told much about Jack Doray. We never learn why he's such a grouch or why he takes an instant dislike to Art Simpson, or for that matter why his wife puts up with him. When, in the final scenes, Doray suddenly sees the light and recognizes Art's goodness, only an actor of Tracy's caliber could make the turnabout feel at all credible.

The finale involves a stick-up by crooks and a crazed car chase staged mostly before rear-projection screens, and it bears so little resemblance to what we've been watching it feels as if it was spliced in from a different movie. (Amusingly, the original posters and lobby cards for the film emphasized this sequence, which must have left more than one ticket-buyer bewildered and disappointed.) It concludes the show on a rousing note, but also reminds us that while "Young America" is a moderately interesting viewing experience it doesn't live up to the promise of its opening scenes.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 3rd, 2010, 3:04 pm

That gets me through all the films in this brilliant box set, only two didn't float my boat, They Had To See Paris was fine but it was both the filmmaker and the actors finding their feet. Song O My Heart I didn't like at all but each to his own. The silent films are among the best made, the other talkies were really good, I'm glad this boxset has got released on to the market, the must have collection of movies.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby silentscreen » February 4th, 2010, 7:17 pm

charliechaplinfan wrote:He sounds really interesting Brenda, do you think he might do a guest spot here?


Sorry Alison,

I've been out of pocket for a few days and just saw this post. What a good idea, he's very nice. He might, I'll have to get around to talking to Jim and Bruce about it, but I'm not going to the next movie night this Saturday. I'll keep it under my hat to ask about it.

Brenda
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby pvitari » February 4th, 2010, 10:41 pm

I really liked Song o' My Heart though John McCormack's acting comes through only in his beautiful singing. :) But that Borzagean collapse of space uniting the two thwarted lovers during his concert is the kind of thing that really gets to me. *sniffle*

By the way -- I know Borzage was influenced by German Expressionism, but it seems to me that there are very specific references to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in Lucky Star. The sequence where Tim hauls himself out of his cabin on his crutches and over the hill to Mary's house and then to the train station reminded me so much of Caligari -- not plot of course but visuals. Tim's twisted body kept recalling to me Cesare's distorted posture, plus some of the sharply-angled landscape design also seemed very Caligari-esque. For example:

ImageImage


I confess that Lucky Star is my favorite movie in the entire box, which is saying something considering the riches therein. In fact, I love it so much that I couldn't resist going a little crazy with my screencapping program, and I screencapped the entire film from beginning to end. I put it all into three albums which are uploaded at http://paulasmoviepage.shutterfly.com/ should anyone be interested in checking out the 3,119 screencaps. :)
Last edited by pvitari on February 5th, 2010, 4:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 5th, 2010, 3:49 pm

I don't know whether I said anywhere but Lucky Star was my favorite too. I see the references to Dr Caligari. I really enjoyed the visuals on Liliom. I might be too harsh on Song O My Heart, the singing isn't my cup of tea, the saving grace is Borzage's direction, it's obviously a John McCormack showpiece, Borzage's hands were somewhat tied.

If you're a big fan of Borzage you might enjoy the Herve Dumont book, that's if you've not already got it.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby pvitari » February 5th, 2010, 4:25 pm

Thanks charliechaplinfan, I already have the Dumont book -- and the Lamster book too (Souls Made Great Through Love and Adversity: The Film Work of Frank Borzage), though Lamster is now superseded by Dumont IMHO.

I'm a big opera/classical music fan -- have been for 35 years -- so listening to John McCormack, in Irish song or anything else, is something I could do for hours on end. :)

I watched Flight Command last night -- even in a military picture Borzage twists things around so the central issue is love. ;) And of course it's beautiful to look at. There was one shot of Robert Taylor parachuting down into the fog that took my breath away.

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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby Ollie » February 6th, 2010, 9:15 am

This was a surprise to my collection. Completely unexpected, completely unfamiliar with the vast amount of work I'd see, the quality of stories, of characters AND shot-selection and staging. Complete surprise.

My 'other query' about my Musicals Collection tastes (and lack thereof) brings up the question about the Early Musicals & My Preference vs. the later ones when Hollywood was supposedly 'more mature' - well, at least aged.

This Fox-Murn-Borz collection strikes the same chord. The impressionism that is being delivered to me - "Here's MY choice of stagings, lightings and shots, and I hope you have fun with YOUR interpretation of them!" - seems bold and FUN. Not just entertaining, but Worthy Of Study.

Because the filmmakers seem to have studied a lot, too.

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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Postby charliechaplinfan » February 6th, 2010, 12:16 pm

An interesting picture to watch after getting through this box set is A Farewell To Arms, it's a beautiful film, very grown up and very memorable. I started another thread on Borzage for all his movies, it includes a review on Farewell.

viewtopic.php?f=22&t=3891
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin


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