And so my journey through some of the work of Frank Borzage has come to an end, at least for this marathon. It’s been fun. Moonrise is a chronological jump ahead for me. The most recent Borzage film I watched was Three Comrades, which came out in 1938. Moonrise is ten years younger, and in many ways it’s a completely different film from the previous four, but it also has all the Borzage hallmarks that I’ve come to love. Moonrise tells an emotional story about a man very much lost in life. The acting is mostly great. And the film is beautifully shot to boot. In fact, the opening shot of Moonrise might be one of the best opening shots I’ve ever seen.
That shot opens on the legs three men, walking slowly in the rain, up some stairs. The camera stops following them and pans over to some shadows on the wall where we see that one of those men is being condemned to the gallows. We see the hangman pull the lever and the film cuts to another shot of a shadow, a shadow of a doll hanging over a crib where a baby lies, crying. It’s dark stuff, darker than anything I’ve yet seen from Borzage. That sequence of images hangs over the whole film, casting a shadow, as it were, on the the central character, Danny Hawkins.
Danny, as played wonderfully by Dane Clark, has dealt with the crime of his father since childhood. Children at school tormented him constantly, and that has followed him right into adulthood. At a dance, one of those childhood bullies begins to pick on him once more, which leads to a fistfight and eventually to Danny killing the man with a rock. The rest of the film plays as an extremely suspenseful morality tale with Danny trying to cope with what he’s done and deciding what to do about it.
Moonrise very artfully takes us through the torment of its main character. We are with him the whole way through, feeling what he feels, sympathizing with his behaviour even when he becomes more erratic and unpredictable. His relationship with a woman, Gilly, is raw and tender. He has a good friend in Mose, a black man who lives alone by the swamps. It’s in these relationships, as well as those with his aunt and grandmother, that Danny stays in touch with his sense of humanity.
It’s in this way that Moonrise is most like the rest of Borzage’s films. The idea that through thick and thin, through good times and bad, through anything life brings, the most important thing in the world is friends and family is perfectly in keeping with everything Borzage stands for. Moonrise relates this theme through a suspenseful and darkly compelling story that’s a pure pleasure to watch.
I’d like to thank Alex “Junior” Thompson from the Filmspotting Forum for submitting the five Borzage films for this marathon.