Archives For Frank Borzage

“They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.”

That’s the thought that was running through my head after I saw War Horse for the first time. It took a few minutes before I realized the irony of that notion. War Horse is a brand new film, yet it feels so old-fashioned that my immediate reaction was to think of it alongside old John Ford and Frank Borzage movies. I’m not the only one to have picked up on this. It’s been mentioned in almost every review of the film out there. What I found more curious was the reaction of people to the sentimental and melodramatic aspects of the film.

The most common complaints about War Horse relate to its sap and sentimentality. What’s weird to me is that many of these complaints seem to take for granted the idea that sentimentality is a bad quality in a film. How did this become the case? Why is it a bad thing to be sentimental, or sweeping, or even sappy? The way many critics and film lovers talk, you’d think that for sentimentality to be acceptable it has to be couched in raw reality or ambiguity or even an ironic wit and cynicism. It doesn’t make sense to me that films like Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life can be called masterpieces, but War Horse can be taken to task for its sweep and romance. Click to read more

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. Click to read more

Three Comrades is step in a very different direction for Borzage in this marathon. The previous three films I watched were much more focused on the lives of ordinary people, but as told through a melodramatic lens. Though the language of the dialogue in Three Comrades is heightened—even sounding melodramatic and highly romantic at times—the story is quite simple, quite raw, and never really over-the-top. It was actually refreshing to see this from Borzage just as I was settling into a bit of a reliable pattern.

The film tells the story of three friends who fought together during WWI for Germany. Now, in 1920, political troubles are tearing Germans apart and these three friends are trying to get by, helping each other out as much as possible. One of the men, Erich, played by Robert Taylor, falls in love with the gorgeous Patricia (Pat, for short). Margaret Sullivan is radiant as Pat, and their relationship is wonderful to watch as it grows and develops. Click to read more

Borzage continues to wow me with his unique ability to infuse high melodrama with genuine heart and emotion. It is so often difficult for films to find that perfect balance. I admit, it’s a tricky thing to do. How does one portray a fantastically heightened emotional state without being either silly or shrill? The answer can be found in the beautiful frames of Borzage’s 1927 film, Seventh Heaven.

Let me just say, that if more silent films were as good as Frank Borzage’s, I’d watch a heck of a lot more of them. Seventh Heaven is a sort of perfection. Maybe not one of the very best movies I’ve ever seen, but it flows with elegance and stands tall with towering emotion and power. The Borzage method of melodrama and near-deus ex machina endings, a method that on paper sounds quite tedious, plays out effectively. So effectively I actually cried. You know, tears. The watery kind. Click to read more

My “Can’t Stop Marathon” continues, this time with another Borzage film, the 1934 talkie, Little Man, What Now?. In som respects the film is something of a mess. The plot veers course in weird ways and some of the characters can come off as silly or shrill. But somehow it all worked, and in the end, Little Man, What Now? turned out to be a beautiful, magical little film about perseverance learning to love the important things in life. Click to read more

I’m a very heavy user of the Filmspotting.net message boards. It’s one of the best film communities you’re likely to find on the entire web. Friendly folk who love real, in-depth talk about movies and other subjects. I recently decided to take my forum participation to the next level by starting a marathon. The premise is simple. I gave everyone and anyone on the forum the mandate of choosing five films I had yet to see. Any films. Good, bad, long, longer, disturbing, fun, anything. My first set of five films, submitted by forum member, Junior, consists of five films by Frank Borzage. First up: Lucky Star.

First of all, I have to admit complete ignorance of the work of Frank Borzage. I have not seen a single one of his films, and going into Lucky Star, I was completely unaware that is was silent. No problem, I like many silent films. But I have to say, I was a little worried. In my experience, silent dramas have often been too slow for my liking. A lot of stationary shots of people wildly acting out motions. You get the idea after a few seconds, but the shot just keeps going on and on way past the point of tediousness. So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I stepped into the world of Borzage. After watching Lucky Star, all I can say is, that trepidation has been fully been replaced by a ravenous desire for more.
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