MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

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MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by charliechaplinfan »

Part 1

Last night I got two thirds of the way through the documentary about Fox, Borzage and Murnau, this is included in the box set edition. The documentary runs for over an hour and a half and has been put together very lovingly (thank you Fox). I love the history of the early cinema, how over a relatively short period, patents were gained, trusts set up and many nickleodeons and then cinemas spring up. William Fox challenged the trust set up by Edison, he realised the only way to guarantee a product to show was to become a producer himself. He won his case and started producing pictures with Buck Jones (of Lazybones) and Theda Bara, the first vamp and a woman who brought in a lot of his fortune.

In 1925 Borzage began working for Fox after a short tenure at MGM, Borzage wanted to be free to make his pictures as he saw them and not with the interference of MGM. Also at Fox at this time were John Ford, Roaul Walsh and Allan Dwan. Fox was a directors studio. Borzage scored his first critical hit for Fox with Lazybones, it wasn't a hit commercially mainly because it's leading man Buck Jones was known for his cowboy roles. Borzage got a subtle and touching performance out of Jones, it's meant to be the best of his career.

I the thirty years since moving pictures were invented, FW Murnau was held by most to be the absolute master of his craft. He had just scored a triumph with The Last Laugh starring Emil Jannings. Murnau's cameras moved with a fluidity and beauty that hadn't been matched by any other filmmaker. His other credits include Nosferatu and Faust. Fox lured Murnau to Hollywood, Murnau was being courted by other studios but he signed with Fox because he was a man true to his word. Fox's plan was to have Murnau make the his best movies at Fox and whilst doing so train his other directors. Ford and Borzage where to learn from Murnau and were quite willing to do so.

So Murnua came to Fox, Fox held up Borzage's next production Seventh Heaven so that Murnau could make Sunrise. This was partly because both directors had chosen the same leading lady, Janet Gaynor. Murnau would make Sunrise during the day and Borzage would start his production later and work at night, poor Janet Gaynor would shuttle backwards and forwards between productions, loving the work she had been assigned to do but being tired out from doing it.

To be continued with reviews of the films that Borzage and Murnau made and more background on their tenure at Fox.

Feel free to contribute to this thread with reviews, ideas, observations etc
Last edited by charliechaplinfan on January 1st, 2010, 6:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by charliechaplinfan »

Here's the review of Lazybones, Borzage's first film for Fox starring Buck Jones and Madge Bellamy.

I watched Lazy Bones 1925 directed by Frank Borzage starring Madge Bellamy, Buck Jones and Zasu Pitts. Filmed from a successful show, according to Borzage's biographer his most polished film this side of Seventh Heaven. The story concerns a young man (lazy bones played by Buck Jones) who is too bone idle to mend the gate and roof of his home. His girl Agnes has a rather imperious mother with ideas of her own self importance, mother doesn't rate Lazybones as husband material. She has set her other daughter Ruth/Zasu to marry a self important man about town. She summons Ruth back from school but unbeknowst to mother Ruth has a daughter, conceived from her marriage to a sailor who went to sea and never returned. Ruth returns and instead of facing her fate throws herself into the fast flowing river, Lazybones sleeping and fishing hears her and jumps in to save her. He hears her sorry stroy and suggests he should keep the babe/Kit until Ruth explains to her mother. A couple of days later Ruth tells her mother, her mother whips her viciously with a whip and threatens her to never speak of her daughter of else she would have her placed in an orphanage. Lazybones adopts Kit but loses Agnes.Forward 5 years and Ruth is married to the man her mother intended but her heart is far away. She hears her daughter, now adopted by Lazybones being teased outside and runs to comfort her, Borzage uses some wonderful secenes here of the little girl, rejected and tormented by all around her, it's great silent cinema as is the look on Ruth/Zasu's look as she watches her daughter. Forward another 10 years and Ruth is dying, in a flood of superhuman strength she overpowers her mother and runs to Lazybones house to see and hold her daughter before it's too late, the scene between mother, daughter and adopted father is so tender (I don't think Zasu has ever been better) Borzage doesn't employ histronics and when Ruth expires in her daughers arms it is from her daughters back, we see Ruth's arms going limp. Forward again 2 years and lazybones is sent to war, by accident he captures 20 Germans, he returns home a hero finding Kit(Madge Bellamy in love with another man, inexplicably, Lazybones comes back wanting to marry Kit, this for me is the only false note of the film, he raised her, why would he have romantic intentions towards her. The film ends with Kit happily married and Lazybones back to his favorite sleeping position.

I like Borzage's work, he's subtle. Lazybones dreams his whole life while in his existence he accomplishes great things that he never realises and without protest, meets only with deception, sacrifice and suffering, the acknowledgement is terrible without being bitter.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

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Lazybones is very realistic in style and setting. It doesn't have the "happily ever after" ending of Borzage's films with Gaynor and Farrell.It's not all about the redemptive power of love.Steve, though a decent man, has a price to pay for his idleness. Life seems to intervene any way, but it happens despite himself, and he never takes hold and makes things happen. His nature holds him back, and things turn out as you'd expect, not a sugar coated ending.

The film is very well shot, despite the fact that the camera isn't as fluid in American films as it would become once the German masters had an influence. Even at this early juncture though, Borzage had a way of getting finely nuanced emotional performances from his actors. Buck Jones was never better than here with a fine director guiding him. Even the child actors respond under his deft touch.

I highly recommend this film to Borzage fans as an example of his early work and his development as an artist.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by charliechaplinfan »

With Sunrise and Seventh Heaven the Fox studio had 2 masterpieces on it's hands. It was Seventh Heaven that was the bigger success with the public and Fox released this film first to get the public used to the new star he was creating in Janet Gaynor. Seventh Heaven was a big hit with the public, only The Jazz Singer made more money in 1927, in 1933-4 it was ranked as 31st in the 'Highest Box Office Picture List'. Sunrise on it's release was a huge critical success but the public weren't as keen and Sunrise didn't do as well as Fox had hoped.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

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I'm rewatching the second Borzage pairing of Gaynor and Farrell in Street Angel. While the romantic teaming isn't as intense in this as in Seventh Heaven, I think the cinematography and the camera movement is more artistic and creative. You can really see the influence of Murnau and German expressionism in this feature.
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SEVENTH HEAVEN

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The shooting of Sunrise was meant to finish on the 20th January 1927 and Seventh Heaven started filming on January 24th 1927 but Sunrise finally ended on March 12th necessitating working on Seventh Heaven at night. Some of the sets from Sunrise were used for Seventh Heaven.

Seventh Heaven is set in Monmartre at the start of the first world war. Chico (Charles Farrell) works in the sewers of Paris, his dream is to work as a street cleaner, he is in his own words 'A very remarkable fellow'. Diane (Janet Gaynor)is orphaned lives with her older sister, Nana (Gladys Brockwell) in a very shabby room, Nana beats Diane regularly, the sisters ocassionally steal or resort to prostitution to put food on the table and absinthe in Nana's belly. As the flim opens Diane has been beaten and goes to a bar to meet the fence and to get absinthe to take home to Nana. Whilst Diane is gone Nana receives a visit from the priest who tells Nana that their uncle is returning from the South Seas and will take care of them upon his return. The scenes in the apartment are reminiscient of Murnau with dark shadows falling. The next day Uncle appears with his wife, his wife moved to tears by Diane, who is too scared to look at her, Uncle is a clean living person and asks the girls if they have been clean and decent. Nana tells him of course they have and twists Diane's arm behind her back to get Diane to say the words but she can't, she gives the game away. Uncle turns disgusted, throws some notes on the floor and leaves with his wife. Nana takes her whip and whips and chases Diane out into the street, a tracking shot follows them out, Nana beating and beating her in such a rage, Diane collapses by Chico's sewer and only by Chico climbing out of the sewer did Diane manage to escape with her life. Chico takes Nana and dangles her over the sewer, seeing Chico is serious, Nana runs away.

Diane is passed out by the sewer, unaware she has been rescued. Chico sits down to have a bite to eat with his friends next to the sewer. He glances at Diane, saying she would be better off dead, then thinks differently and rubs an onion under her nose, this brings her round. She gazes at him in wonder, propped up by a wheel. Chico tells her she is afraid of the world but he's not, he's a remarkable fellow. He returns to his friends and complains about the 'Bon Dieu' letting Diane suffer, he's spent 10 francs on God in his life, 5 for a job as a streetcleaner and 5 for a nice blonde wife, he has received neither. The priest passing overhears his conversation and amused, gives him two religious medals and a job as a streetcleaner. Whilst this is going on Diane reaches for Chico's knife that he has left lying on the ground as she raises it to kill herself, Chico stops her and berates her because she was using his knife. She tells him she cannot live without hope and he tries to life her spirits, the police pass by rounding up women including Nana, Nana tells the police that Diane is not better than her and the police move to arrest Diane but Chico stops the police by saying that Diane is his wife. The police pass by but promise to check his story, Chico can't believe that he has put his new job on the line. Diane suggests she movies to his place until the police have finished their enquiries. Chico agrees and as he stands up Diane is crouched at his knees, she kisses his hand and raises her face, she appears transfigured. Chico and Diane are taken to Chico's lodgings in a friends taxi.

The next scene is very famous, the couple must climb to the seventh storey, Borzage had two staircases built of three and four levels and the camera dollys up capturing the couple climbing up the stairs towards heaven. Chico's attic rooms are filmed with softer lights, symbolising the romantic nature of the apartment. Diane is openmouthed in wonder, claiming it is heaven. Not bad for a sewer worker he may work under ground but he lives near the heavens. Diane stands watching Chico by the window, like a child, trusting and nervous but not sure of what is happening to her. Chico goes over a plank seven storeys up to go to a neighbouring apartment, he tries to get Diane to follow him 'Don't look down' he says to her but she is scared. The plank was actually three storeys up, Janet Gaynor says that it was only a plank and a long way down. Whilst Chico is gone Diane undresses and gets under the covers, there is something very moving about Diane undressing in Chico's apartment. Chico returns with a nightdress for her, necessitating her to get out of bed and put the nightdress whilst he is out of the room. The scenes are so touching, Diane does not know how to act properly in Chico's apartment but knowing this is kindness like she has never known. When Chico returns she watches him getting undressed and washed, he comes over to the bed and she pretends to be asleep and he takes a pillow and cover and sleeps on the balcony.

The next morning, Diane busies herself making breakfast and coffee for Chico, it his first day on his new job and his coworker comes to take him to work. He asks Chico why he isn't kissing his wife before he goes to work. Chico decides he should and gives Diane a peck, telling her she can't stay after the police come, he continually says this to her at various points when they are having breakfast. After he has gone Diane touches the place where he has kissed her.

Some while later we see Diane giving Chico a haircut, the police arrive to check out their story, satisfied the police leave and Diane slowly collects her things and starts to leave, Chico doesn't immediately realise what she is doing but as she goes out of the door he says 'If you want to stay you can, you're not in my way' She runs and picks up her scissors. This scenes demonstrates the growing closeness between them.

Then we see Diane sat on a chair draping Chico's jacket arms around her, Chico enters with a potted plant and a wedding dress. She is overcome with joy but hesitates, does she not want to marry him? She wants to hear him say the words. Instead he says 'Chico, Diane, Heaven'. They are not to be married in a church, Chico has given up on God. Interrupted by the neighbour Diane carries the soup she has been making to his pregnant wife, taking the dress and soup over the gangway. War has been declared but for now Diane is ignorant of it. She changes into the dress and returns to Chico. He has just been told that he is one of the first ot leave within the hour.

Diane returns looking a vision in her dress, this time the roles between them, it's Chico who is afraid and Diane who gives him the courage to look up, he buries his head in her arms, giving comfort to Chico as he had given it to her, he tells her he loves her, she is elated. He has made her into a very remarkable fellow too. Chico carries Diane around the room, kissing her and not wanting to let her go. Then he sees the medals and they perform their own wedding ceremony exchanges the medals that the priest gave Chico earlier. Chico leaves promising to visit Diane every day at 11am. As soon as he leaves Nana enters, snatching her medal away. Diane has courage and turns on Nana whipping her instead (the only part of the film that makes me uncomfortable). Diane shouts to Chico as he marches away below of how brave she is.

Chico goes to the front and Diane works and every morning at 11am they clutch their medals and talk to one another 'Chico, Diane, Heaven' In the very last days of the war, Chico suffers from a shell going off as he rescues a man. He gives his medal to the priest as he dies. Chico's name appears on the list of war dead and General Brissac (who has been very keen on Diane) tells her. She doesn't believe him, she has spoken to Chico every day, when the priest comes with Chico's medal, she breaks down, then he didn't come everyday. Outside the armistice has been signed, there is carousing in the streets, Diane is heartbroken and has to start again. Then we see Chico blind, fighting his way through the crowds to Diane. Into his house, up the stairs shouting all the while 'DIANE' she hears, then sees and doesn't believe, she's like she's seen a vision, then she does. He's with her again, he's blind but he's back, she reaches out to him then falls to his knees, he kneels opposite her, telling her the Mon Dieu was with him afterall. Diane will be his eyes but Chico won't be blind for long, he is a very remarkable fellow.

The casting of Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell here together for the first time is inspired, she is so small and fragile and he is tall and broad, it reflects the protection he gives her from his physical size.

Is it God that moves them to commune every morning at 11? Or is it a love that is so strong and powerful? I think the second is what Borzage would have us believe. Seventh Heaven to me is one of the most romantic and moving picture to come out of Hollywood. It's also silent cinema at it's very best, sadly an art that fell by the wayside on the onset of sound.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I'm looking forward to Street Angel, it was made to capitalise on the pairing of Farrell and Gaynor. I'm looking forward to seeing it again.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by knitwit45 »

Thanks, Alison, what a moving story! Where did you find the boxed set? Looks like Christmas 2010 will be soon!!! :D
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by charliechaplinfan »

Here's the boxset



I think you might be able to buy Seventh Heaven by itself or perhaps rent individual movies. Can you tell that I like Seventh Heaven?
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by knitwit45 »

Then again, maybe not :shock: :shock: :lol:

I think I'd better check the library!
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

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Seventh Heaven is one of my very favorite silent romances! The love Chico and Diane share is ideal love-more spiritual in nature than physical-"Agape" love. There is actually a shaft of light on them when they find each other in the end of the movie. The "Mon Dieu" is never far away in this masterpiece. The translation to French is literally "My God." Chico loses his faith and proclaims himself an atheist, but events and Diane's love restore his fatih. There is a parallel here I think between Christ's sacrifice and the sacrifices Chico and Diane make. No one would dare such religious overtures in today's films. Not politically correct. 8) This is one of the reasons I love silent film.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I meant to mention that shaft of light, there is something special about their relationship, I think it was blessed by God as there are constant references to him, especially from Chico who had tested his faith by asking for a job as a street cleaner and a blonde wife, both of which he got. Did he realise once he had these things that the power of God was a great thing and his complete belief along with Diane's was enough to commune with one another? That's my preferred interpretation. Or was it a blind faith that they had in one another that made their communing with one another at 11 possible or could it have been supernatural? It's one great romantic movie.

Borzage didn't film the war scenes, he didn't like war, the war scenes on Seventh Heaven were directed by second unit director John Ford.

I forgot to mention the music, the haunting melody finished with the lovely ballad Diane. This is the original track composed for the film, it's nice to see a silent complete with the original score, so it can be viewed as it would have been 80 years ago.
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by Ann Harding »

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Seventh Heaven, Alison. I must admit that I am not a great lover of the original Movietone score by Carl Elinor & Rex H. Bassett. Composition in those days were mostly made up of songs and tunes, but were not the work of great composers. I find the 'Diane' song rather overly sentimental while Borzage in his treatment of the story manages to avoid such a trap. This is just my own opinion. I am very difficult to please regarding film scores... :wink:
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by charliechaplinfan »

What I like about the score is the sentimentality and that it was written for the movie, if you don't like sentimental music, it's not going to be your cup of tea. I agree Borzage did not over use sentiment in his movie, Seventh Heaven is all the better for that.

Charles Farrell I have discovered went to Borzage to ask for the role for a friend, John Gilbert had been in the running at one point. Borzage liked the look of the man who come to plead for his friend and cast him, starting off one of the most enduring of screen partnerships. I've seen Charles Farrell in four films so far, the others being Street Angel, City Girl and The River. He plays the same kind of role but with various degrees of shading, he's usually the trusting, innocent type. Does anyone know if he ever broke out of this kind of role?
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Re: MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FORD AT FOX

Post by Ann Harding »

If you watch Liliom, one of Borzage's first talkie, you'll see Farrell playing a bad guy. He is not altogether very convincing. But he went on making pictures with Janet Gaynor. I have Delicious where he is again a sweet guy, but the film is rather limp apart from the Gershwin songs.
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