New DVDs: Murnau, Borzage and Fox

Here it is: Fox Home Video’s follow-up to last year’s stunning “Ford at Fox” collection is perhaps even more impressive, offering major upgrades of such classics as “Sunrise” and “Seventh Heaven” while getting a number of titles back into circulation that haven’t been visible in years, if at all: “They Had to See Paris,” “Song ‘o My Heart,” “Liliom,” “After Tomorrow,” “Young America,” “Bad Girl.” Particularly striking is what seems to be a first generation print of Murnau’s “City Girl,” which restores remarkable photographic qualities to this often overlooked title and will, one hopes, aid in its re-evaluation. That Terence Malick quotes extensively from “Sunrise” in “Days of Heaven” is well known, but “City Girl” seems even closer to the roots of Malick’s inspiration.

The set, which I review here, carries a whopping list price of $239.98, but is being widely discounted.

Of course, cinephile greed knows no bounds, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fox box. Raoul Walsh? Allan Dwan? Harry Lachman? The possibilities are endless . . .

262 comments to New DVDs: Murnau, Borzage and Fox

  • In the “We Do Our Part” department, I rhapsodized over both girls—”City Girl” and “Bad Girl”—when I previewed this set last month:

    http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2008/11/seventh-heaven-for-cinephiles-a-preview-of-murnau-borzage-and-fox.html

    Over at the Auteur’s Notebook, my pal Daniel Kasman, one of the brightest young cinephiles around, has a really lovely piece on “City Girl”:

    http://www.theauteurs.com/notebook/posts/373

    Over at the Auteur’s I’ll be posting over the next two weeks about Zasu Pitts’ hands in “Lazybones,” Borzage and Ford and Will Rogers, and Borzage and Lang’s respective conceptions of “Liliom.” As you said in your review, Dave, this is inexhaustible stuff!

  • David Boxwell

    How Borzagean these late works are: I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU (a ravishing Technicolor restoration recently screen at the National Gallery), CHINA DOLL, and best of all, MOONRISE. One of the greatest of all film noir romances.

  • MarkVH

    I just got my annual raise yesterday and am desperately trying to keep myself from buying this as I have many more expenses that take priority. But the temptation is overwhelming.

    One minor fact check though – you state that “Of the 12 features in the set, only “Sunrise” has been previously released in the United States, and it has here been given a fine new transfer with much improved sound, the better to show off its pioneering music and effects track.”

    In truth, Liliom was actually included on the two-disc Carousel reissue that hit a couple of years back. Hasn’t received its own standalone release yet, but it has been available since then.

  • Shawn Stone

    I’m really glad they included BAD GIRL. I think it survives only in 16 MM, of which VHS copies of dubious origin have circulated for years. The film is grounded in Depression-era grit, and there’s a desperate, almost tragic quality to the romance between Sally Eilers and James Dunn. Their “courting” on the boarding house stairs is particularly memorable.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    This looks like the ultimate Christmas present for a cinephile! I am particularly anxious to revisit “Bad Girl” and City Girl” after so many years. The Borzage, one of the very best early talkies, is one of his sunniest films, in spite of the bleak conditions its lower-middle-class young couple must live in, and their obsessive fear of poverty (and pregnancy — an unusual theme).Borzage negotiates and plays down potentially over-melodramatic situations with delightful humor throughout the movie. Unlike what happens in so many early talkies, the dialogue,often slangy and almost non-stop , is not at all ponderous or stilted in my recollection.In a Borzage essay I wrote: “Far from being weighed down by dialogue the film derives its pace from it — and an astonishingly brisk pace it is, especially if one considers the flimsiness of its dramatic substance.”

  • Shawn Stone

    Yes, the BAD GIRL dialogue plays more like a Warner Bros. film of the period. And there’s the interesting character of the woman’s best friend, played by Minna Gombell, and her evolving relationship with the husband, from dislike to a kind of respect, or at least understanding. There’s no “villain,” except poverty.

  • John M

    Among other things I’m grateful for, thanks, Dave, for including the pronunciation of Borzage’s last name. His name hasn’t come up in mixed conversation much, admittedly, but in my head I’d been pronouncing it all wrong!

  • nicolas saada

    The one question I’ve asked myself ever since I discovered Murnau’s CITY GIRL fifteen years ago is : is it better than SUNRISE ?
    I think it’s nevertheless as beautiful.

  • Thanks for your comment, MarkVH, but in fact the “Liliom” included in the “Carousel” set was the French-language Fritz Lang version, with Charles Boyer. I suspect it was a production error of some spectacular kind: if I remember correctly, it came with a card apologizing for the fact that the English soundtrack had been lost, and the film was only available in French! On the upside, it was a much better print than the one that Kino used in its deliberate release of the same title.

    I love “Moonrise” as well, and wish it could have been included here. Even though it was made 20 years after “Street Angel,” it’s probably Borzage’s most Murnau-like film, with its nighttime photography, interior “exterior” sets, and metaphorical swamp and carnival settings, all seemingly right out of “Sunrise.” Presumably, “Moonrise” is part of the Republic library now controlled by Paramount, which means our chances of seeing it commercially released are effectively zero, even though the film was beautifully restored by UCLA (as was “I Always Loved You”).

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I don’t know if French film buffs have finally learned the correct pronunciation of Borzage’s name, but all the time I was a young cinephile in the fifties in Paris I heard it mispronounced, in two syllables, the second pronounced -age (like the -eige of “beige” in English). The fervent surrealist Ado Kyrou was a big fan of Borzage and often invoked his — to me somewhat mysterious — name in cineclub discussions.

    “Bad Girl” is a somewhat ironic title since the heroine is as pure and innocent as any girl in any Borzage film. The badness must refer to her having sex with her boyfriend (although she marries him the next day). This was “pre-code” of course, although the Code Administration did make objections. But Lamar Trotti (then working for the Hays Office), who had found the source novel “disgusting” and was strongly against a film adaptation, became a great fan of Borzage’s movie, calling it “the best picture since sound came in… a marvelous job that will do the industry untold good.”

    The novel had also been adapted as a stage play, which probably accounts for the abundance of dialogue, although it doesn’t really sounds stagey at all.

  • John M

    See, I thought it was “-age” as in “mir-age.” Making things way fancier than they need to be…

    I’m very excited about this collection…for the past several months, I’ve been checking MoMA’s listings semi-daily, just in case they bring out a Borzage for the fun of it…

  • David Boxwell

    And let’s not forget Borzage’s STRANGE CARGO (40), the most bizarre thing Louis B. Mayer ever approved . . . if he did, that is. Borzage is also my favorite director of Margaret Sullavan and Gail Russell–those beautiful lost souls.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    There are problematic entries in Borzage’s middle and late periods. A notorious one is I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU, his Republic candy-box color tearjerker, about which French critic Luc Moullet (recently cited here for his gushing enthusiasm for BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS)wrote: “[the film’s] mawkishness and sentimentality are so excessive as to annihilate critical judgment and reach pure beauty.” (Moullet, his critical judgment “annihilated,” thought the film was “perhaps Borzage’s masterpiece.”) Indeed, as I wrote somewhere, “there is something disarming and even compelling about the naive idiocy of a plot” that marshals all the paraphernalia of soap-opera situations and sentiments. One problem of this film as of other late Borzage movies (WHITE CARGO is one) is its total humorlessness. How we miss the light-heartedness of such earlier, memorable efforts as BAD GIRL or MAN’S CASTLE.

  • arsaib

    Great article, Dave.

    Now I’d like to provide a link to one which got me interested in Borzage in the first place. It’s from none other than Kent Jones:

    http://www.filmlinc.com/fcm/9-10-97/borzage.htm

  • Kent Jones

    Dave wrote about Borzage in the 70s for Focus, right?

    arsaib, thank you and I’m glad my piece turned you onto Borzage. But man, there are a lot of parentheses in that article!

    Jean-Pierre, I have to admit that the humorlessness is there, but I think it’s often trumped by the formidable intensity. A movie like TILL WE MEET AGAIN, for instance, is deadly serious from beginning to end, but the undercurrent of passion between Ray Milland and Barbara Britton is remarkable, and pretty difficult to pull off. I may not be driven to Moullet’s flights of paradox-driven hyperbole, but I do respond to I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU, perhaps the craziest of the “high cultural” extravaganzas of the 40s, and even to the gentle and lovely THAT’S MY MAN, the least known of his three Republic films.

  • Damien Bona

    Bad Girl is a seminal film for me because it turned me into a full-fledged auteurist. My friend and mentor as an undergraduate at Columbia, George Robinson, had spent over a year trying to get me to understand the glories of Hawkes, Siegel, Karlson, Ray etc. and I’d come back with the standard narrative-centric anti-auteurist responses.

    Then one day at MoMA in the Spring of 1975, I saw Bad Girl. There’s a scene in which James Dunn is boxing to make money for his pregnant wife and himself. In the middle of the fight, Dunn receives word that his wife has given birth. His opponent stops to congratulate him.

    Now, in the narrative-driven film world in which I was immersed this made no sense and was laughable. But it hit me right then and there that in the world conceived by Frank Borzage it made perfect sense. And I suddenly realized — and accepted the fact — that, yes, individual filmmakers do create their own particular universes. An auteurist was born, and I haven’t looked back since.

    I think Murnau’s City Girl is particularly fascinating because it flips over — and serves as counterpoint to — Sunrise. Here, in direct contrast to Sunrise, the young woman from the City is the upright, beneficent and honorable character. And, in contrast, the rural folks are small-minded, mean-spirited and morally weak.

  • jbryant

    arsaib, thanks for the link to Kent’s fine article. I’m still way behind on Borzage, but I did get to see the remarkable Man’s Castle and the fine Living on Velvet recently. As Kent suggests in his article, the latter features perhaps the best depiction I’ve seen of love at first sight — Kay Francis and George Brent are across the room from each other at a party, each enduring the boorish conversation of other guests. Borzage uses selective focus, quick pans and clever audio manipulation to convey the combination of dreaminess and discombobulation of instant infatuation. If I’d seen this years ago, it might’ve been a clarifying experience like the one Damien had with Bad Girl.

    I hope I get the opportunity to enjoy the new box set sooner rather than later. Hard to justify the expense right now, but it’s at the top of my want list.

  • Blake Lucas

    My initial reaction to I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU years ago was pretty negative, I will acknowledge. Well, I’m here to say the fault is with me–after I saw the UCLA restoration many years later, and having come to appreciation of Borzage with so many films in intervening years, I found it a beautiful, moving work and it’s probably one of my favorite of his 40s films. So
    maybe if you’re dubious, Jean-Pierre, give it another chance. The cinema thrives on audacity, especially in melodrama–and it’s good to remember that. I know that Tim Hunter encouraged the restoration of this film and it’s one of his favorite movies.

    There are some Borzages in the Fox set I’ve never seen–especially LUCKY STAR which has somehow eluded me and I know is very highly-regarded. And I’ve only that fragment of THE RIVER on a not so good tape. So I’m especially looking forward to those pictures and getting back to the others as well.

    But I’m especially thrilled about the good transfer Dave talks about of CITY GIRL, because even in the less than steller prints we have, I have loved that film already. Damien’s comments partly cover this. It’s distinctive in its own right and doesn’t take anything away from SUNRISE to say it’s great too. Well, so is TABU–can FOUR DEVILS have been less. I’ve seen Janet Bergstrom’s docu and found it fascinating–I’d love to have seen Murnau’s first version of this especially but would settle for any.

  • Blake Lucas

    Yes, Jbryant, LIVING ON VELVET was a gem–I too was taken with Borzage’s handling of that scene you describe. But I thought the whole movie was a beautifully realized account of a hard-won love not fully appreciated by these two people until film’s end. I’d never heard anything about this movie when I saw it recently (in Kay Francis month on TCM). I wonder if there are a lot of superb Borzage movies many of us don’t know.

  • arsaib

    This may not be the right time to complain, but I believe THE MORTAL STORM (1940) is long past due for a DVD release. I watched the film again recently on TCM and it made just as strong an impression as it did on my initial viewing.

  • nicolas saada

    MORTAL STORM sometimes look like Dreyer. The opening ceremony for the teacher almosy anticipates the first scene of GERTRUD.
    Too bad this set does not include a major BORZAGE achievement in the thirties, MAN’S CASTLE. It’s a Columbia film however. Largely discussed in another thread.
    Borzage’s MANNEQUIN could have made it in one of the Crawford Warner box set.
    Talking about CITY GIRL, that long track shot in the fields, following without interruption the two lovers arriving to the farm would make Terence Malik blush…
    It’s too bad these box sets cost a fortune: It seems that studios design hem specially for film communities and cinematheques!
    Let’s hope that Fox will do separate box sets as well, like what they did for the FORD AT FOX set.
    Nevertheless, one should praise this studio effort which is quite remarkable when you see how other studios handle their library, especially Paramount. Grover Crisp (hope I’m spelling right) is doing wonderful things at Columbia, but on a very irregular basis: actually, MAN’S CASTLE, HUMAN DESIRE, BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN are in Columbia’s library.
    Strangely enough, you can find AUTUMN LEAVES, UNDERCOVER MAN or Parrish’s THE MOB in Spain, while Capra’s mesmerizing YEN is always available in the U.K, but none of the above are to be found in France, or the US. The question is that there seems to be a very uneven attitude towards studio catalogues.

  • jbryant

    TCM premiered Parrish’s The Mob about a year ago in an excellent print. I’d never heard of it before, but they’ve run it a couple of times since. It was great – neat plot twists, zinger-filled dialogue, a fascinating cast led by a superb Broderick Crawford. Parrish’s direction is strong and his award-winning editorial skills are in evidence. Worth keeping an eye on the TCM schedule for this one.

  • david hare

    Nic, very briefly there are two independent DVDs of Human Desire out, the Spanish version and another one. I have a rip of the spanish disc which is quite poor for image quality and non anamorphic, but is masked to 1.85 – which seems to have almost certainly been Columbia’s prefferred ratio for the 1954-1960 era. Particularaly vis a vis Quine’s Pushover and Siegel’s The Line Up which I also have from boots which are 1.85 and look exactly right in that ratio. I think the Lang is bsically – err – OK in this but there are couple of setups and shots which look cramped.

    Anyhow re Borzage, there was a quite splendid Laser of Ive Always Loved you which had a UCLA restoration credit for the 3-strip telecine. Among other thing the very peculiar color scheme which Republic setlled on for the decor was beyond belief – oranges, purples and greens with off white chiffon curtains, and then BLues browns and whites for the costumes, all for fairly sparsely detailed sets. On top of which of course the performers leave a lot ot be desired. Im never going to complain about the lead, played by Ann Blyth lookalike Catherine MacLeod but the Prof played by Philip Dorn, his mother player by the ostentatiously benign and 40s omnipresent Ouspenskaya and Catherine’s love interest played by the appalling Bill Carter (who?) are so completely dreadful they drag the piece right down. I agree with some the cross cutting of a couple of the Rachmananov Concerto scenes are moving and they take on a psychic “transference” reality but beyond that I honestly think the picture sinks. In stark contrast to Moonrise, which obviously we all love. There is simply no doubt Borzage had absolutely no control over his career after he left MGM, if not just before this. I still adore Strange Cargo for the complete outregeousness of its relgigious projections, not to mention the gay couple of Al Dekker and the Boy, on the boat, and his 30s masterpieces are beyond comparison. But this is surely a career that was engulfed by studio imperatives over the director by the time he made his last MGM films.

    Re Cargo and those quasi religious/trasncendental pictures as a sub genre – I very much like Green Light from yet another of those lunatic Lloyd C Douglas things with Erroll as the noble quack who abandons civilized life to find himself aongst the Woodticks or some damn thing, and strikes out a decent moral persona for no less a love interest than Tina Louise. This, like Mannequin is surely a Borzage pictrure that calls out for respect. And it’s far mre successful in “transcending” the Douglas novelistic nonsense, than Sirk’s first outing with it in Magnificent Obsession, for instance. (The Stahl version is I think is an absolute knockout and is included in the three current and upcoming DVD editions.)

  • I know I will invite some derision for this very non-Borzagean question, but I am compelled to ask: has anyone here sampled the latest DVD of De Palma’s SCARFACE, with (according to the back cover) “every sound effect” – especially the gunshots and explosions, apparently – “replaced and remixed”? Sounds like the VERTIGO restoration nightmare in hyperdrive.

    Back to Frank B again: does anyone share my fondness for his ’40s Deanna Durbin vehicle HIS BUTLER’S SISTER? (I know Kent doesn’t!) It’s available in the complete Durbin box-set, for completists! This film has, for me, a very appealing lightness of touch, and an absolute knockout crowning camera movement in the final scene. And no remixed gunshots and explosions!

  • dm494

    I will definitely have to see I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU for this color scheme David brings up. Incredible. But does it just look ridiculous?

  • Dave K

    I spoke to Grover Crisp a few months ago about forthcoming Sony titles — next up, on January 6, will be a Michael Powell double feature consisting of “Age of Consent” (with commentary by Helen Mirren) and “A Matter of Life and Death” (aka “Stairway to Heaven”).

    Alas, it seems unlikely that we will have a DVD of “Man’s Castle” anytime soon. Crisp says that the only material the studio possesses is from the late 30s re-release that cut the nude swim and rearranged some scenes to make it look like the Tracy and Young characters were (mock) married before they begin living together. If anybody out there knows where to find a pristine 35-mm print of the original version, I’m sure Grover would appreciate a call.

    Adrian, I doubt that anything was done to “Scarface” without De Palma’s approval. He’s still around to make trouble; Hitchcock, unfortunately, was not.

  • Kent Jones

    NS, THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN is forthcoming in a set from Sony, along with MIRACLE WOMAN.

    There is indeed a lot of Borzage that isn’t known so well. TILL WE MEET AGAIN, DISPUTED PASSAGE (another Lloyd C. Douglas adaptation), BIG CITY, THE NTH COMMANDMENT. The problem, which is indicated in an undercurrent running through this thread, is that there’s no way to make Borzage hip, because he’s sincere and deadly serious, and he’s also so frequently drawn or sent to “inspirational” material – the Douglas novels, STRANGE CARGO, THE BIG FISHERMAN, and so on. As you watch his films, you kind of assume that he was a devout catholic, but the Masonic temple was his real spiritual home. I always found this extremely interesting. Nonetheless, there’s often an aftertaste of sacramental wine in Borzage. It doesn’t bother me or most of the people here, but I can imagine that it driving some people around the bend.

    What impish impulse could have possessed Adrian to inject Brian De Palma into a Borzage discussion? I had not heard of the SCARFACE remix, but since I’d rather pull nails out of the floor with my teeth than sit through that movie again, someone else will have to let me know how it sounds.

  • Borzage, like Douglas, was full of what my late mother called “WASP Uplift”. She added, “It used to be very big.” This was high-toned, Episcopalian preaching, on how to achieve the right values in life. Circa 1935, it was a type of religion that was extremely prestigious among the Protestant elite in the United States. Because some of its expressions in old books have dated, it is easy to underestimate it. But it offered spiritual values without malice or right wing politics, religion without fundamentalism, embraced science, and urged people to be concerned with others, like all the doctor characters in works like GREEN LIGHT.

    Borazage was tied into my own auteurist history. He didn’t make me an auteurist – a screening of DETOUR (Ulmer) in 1971 was followed by a trip to the book store. The only book that had anything about Ulmer was a paperback called THE AMERICAN CINEMA, by one Andrew Sarris. I bought it, and never looked back!
    But in 1973 I talked my campus film society into a Borzage night. They told me I was crazy, and no one would come. Come the big Thursday night, and a double bill of MOONRISE and TILL WE MEET AGAIN attracted all of seven people, including myself and a friend. Right there, I knew that programming a repertory house was not my calling in life…

  • Robert Chatain

    Kent, thanks — “Bitter Tea” and “Miracle Woman” are vivid memories from the ’60s, where they each played five nights in a row on NY local TV’s “Million Dollar Movie.” Great news that they’re coming out in Region 1 DVDs. Along with “Lost Horizon,” they indicate a darker direction that Capra’s career might have gone and didn’t.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I definitely have to see I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU again. I saw it ages ago at the long-defunct Gallery of Modern Art on Columbus Circle, and I even remember now that I had to leave before the end because of an important appointment — although I wonder what could have been more important than watching a Borzage movie to the end! Re-reading my comments in American Directors I find that I was far from dismissive (“the film is a more personal effort than most of Borzage’s other pictures of the decade.” Actually the credits say “Personally produced” by Frank Borzage — it wasn’t a mere assignment). I noted that it “has a look all of its own” — the “shoestring lavishness” of the production, the candy-box prettiness of the color and art direction, sometimes close to children storybook illustrations. I may have been a bit condescending but I did describe it all as “disarming and even compelling.” Now I can’t wait to see those restored colors!

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    By the way it seems that the films in the Fox box set are going to be available separately. I had ordered “Bad Girl” on Netflix a long time ago and now it’s on top of my queue (with the mention “long wait”). However, considering the number of films in the box set, their rarity,the reportedly top quality of the transfers, the attached book etc, the price is not all that outrageous, especially with the sixty dollars discount you can get from Amazon and other sources (such as Cotsco!)

  • Larry Kart

    Let me place a vote for Borzage’s “Stranded,” also with George Brent and Kay Francis. I’ve talked about the film before here and would give a lot to be able to see it again. It memorably — strangely, deeply IMO — exemplifies the previously mentioned linkage (in this case, I think, fusion) between Warner Bros. social themes and Borzage’s own fascination with/understanding of what Blake Lucas aptly names “hard-won love.”

  • alex hicks

    To risk quibbling about two great film masterpieces:

    “Sunrise” has always been one of my favorite films, principally for its many great moments –often extended — sequences, the moon over the swap, the trolley ride, the whole day in the city that to me is (with the Greed’s somewhat parallel Sunday excursion) one of my favorite sequences of all time. (Alas my experience of the film as a whole is marred a bit by what seem to me incongruities between the film’s very American City world and quite German — indeed peasant– country world.)

    “City Girl,” though it lacks the virtuosic heights of “Sunrise” struck me –even seen with one of the less than pristine prints of recent circulation– strikes me as pretty fully comparable with “Sunrise” for what seems to me its perfection.

  • Mike Gebert

    Years ago, I saw Man’s Castle in 16mm, and then again on Cinemax a few weeks later. (Those were the days!) I was startled that the Cinemax version did seem to have a bare-butt shot in it that had not been in 16mm. And I didn’t make this up based on knowledge that something had been cut, because I didn’t know that then. So I think they may have the material and not know it, as with The Sun Shines Bright or Strangers on a Train.

  • STRANDED is such a great film. It shows Borzage’s commitment to science and engineering. Jerry in FLIGHT COMMAND is trying to invent radar; George Brent in STRANDED is trying to build the Golden Gate Bridge. A view of heroism that involves building – as opposed to killing – used to be an integral part of film and prose genres like mystery and science fiction. You can also see it in films like SUEZ (Dwan). What is a hero? Someone who builds things…

    STRANDED also shows an extraordinarily progressive view of women and their work.
    Plus it is just hauntingly beautiful and heart felt, in the Borzage manner.

  • nicolas saada

    Stahl and Borzage are “gentlemen”: I mean by that that their films just glow with humility and self confidence. The camera work is often tremendous, and invisible. I’ve always preferred the Borzage and Stahl melodramas to the Sirks, even though Herr Douglas impresses me with his use of color. But irony is always stalking, even in the major films.
    Brion made a Borzage series which included MOONRISE and I4VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU which I both burned on DVD. I will check my copy of MAN’S CASTLE and ask the people at the Cinémathèque if they have a print I could screen.
    Other Columbia titles in the US and/or Europe that still need dvd releases are:
    PUSHOVER
    THE WHOLE’s TOWN TALKING
    THE RECKLESS MOMENT (released in ENgland: great DVD)
    and certainly some more !!
    Kent, I share your feelings on de Palma’s SCARFACE. But I’ve always wondered if this film was not just a plain comedy, a real parody.
    I went to see the Hawks original in a 35 mm print three weeks ago. Everybody in the theatre was under thirty and one of the people in the front row said at the end “Gee, it’s better than the one with Pacino;”.

  • Kent Jones

    I was disappointed by STRANDED. I liked it well enough, but it doesn’t have anything close to the same intensity as LIVING ON VELVET. Mike, I question the idea that Borzage had a “commitment to science and engineering.” It was just in the air at the time. Think of all those great Warner Brothers films about workingmen like SLIM or MANPOWER or I’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER. For a director who really had a commitment to science and engineering, I think King Vidor’s the man. Regarding women though, I agree with you. MANNEQUIN and THE SHINING HOUR are particularly good examples.

    Jean-Pierre, do you have a laserdisc player? It’s probably possible to find that disc of I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU. A beautiful restoration.

  • nicolas saada

    In a soon future, we’ll be trading pristine VHS copies of old Vidor films on this blog !!!
    Agreed with you on the science and engineering Kent. Look also at the horror films (Dr X, Frankenstein) or even the opening scene of THE THIN MAN.

  • Blake Lucas

    Adrian, I for one share your love of HIS BUTLER’S SISTER, so much that I bought the VHS tape when it came out, the only Durbin film I did buy though I saw everything they put out (I acknowledge I am a fan of Durbin, especially this one and CHRSTMAS HOLIDAY but others as well). You’re right to mention the final shot–Deanna rushing forward in that close tracking shot is one of the most beautiful camera movements ever, and one of the best final shots).

    Meantime, didn’t know there was a complete Durbin DVD set–but it does it have CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY?

    I was sorry to miss STRANDED. I know they showed it in that same month as LIVING ON VELVET, but somehow it got away from me, and will just keep an eye out for next time. Despite Kent’s disappointment, Larry and Mike’s comments have me even more keen to see it. Borzage’s direction is wonderful in every way in VELVET, and conspicuously so in the performances of Francis and Brent, who are great together. To this day, George Brent is a criminally underrated actor, I believe. I sometimes wonder if those who act dismissive of have really looked at his superb acting–if not start with VELVET.

    Kent made a very apt comment earlier–“The problem, which is indicated in an undercurrent running through this thread, is that there’s no way to make Borzage hip.”

    I think this may be truer of him than of any other director of that stature. But this just goes to show how unimportant it is in art to be “hip.” The eternal has its own rules.

    And I don’t understand exactly how De Palma’s SCARFACE came up in relation to Borzage either. It’s hard to think of something more opposite. I may have said before how I hated that film. And I love the Hawks film, one of his very greatest works. In fact, come to think of it, it’s hard to think of two films more different than the Hawks and the De Palma, even though the second is a “remake.”

  • dm494

    Don’t worry Adrian, I like De Palma’s SCARFACE. In fact, I prefer it to Hawks’s film. Of those early thirties Hawks films, it’s THE CRIMINAL CODE which I wish had become canonical.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I will definitely have to see I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU for this color scheme David brings up. Incredible. But does it just look ridiculous?’

    It does not look ridiculous. I have seen Japanese laser disc similar to one described by David Hare also from UCLA restoration print. I agree with Blake about I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU. It’s movie of strong emotion, color is part of emotion Borzage is showing, so if color is ridiculous emotion also ridiculous, but not to me.

    Not mentioned yet is DISPUTED PASSAGE, great Borzage movie to me. Also THREE COMRADES great movie to me.

    ‘Borzage, like Douglas, was full of what my late mother called “WASP Uplift”. She added, “It used to be very big.” This was high-toned, Episcopalian preaching, on how to achieve the right values in life.’

    Thank you for this good information Mike. I understand something about Borzage movies new for me, also understand something about American religious value that I did not know.

  • jbryant

    I think that Durbin collection Adrian referred to is a Region 2 only release. At least the stateside amazon has no listing for it. I’ve got the Deanna Durbin “Sweetheart Pack,” a six-film set from Universal’s Franchise Collection, which includes Three Smart Girls, Something in the Wind, First Love, It Started with Eve, Can’t Help Singing and Lady on a Train. I haven’t seen much else, and would love to see Christmas Holiday especially. I don’t quite understand what I find so appealing about her (nor do my friends!), but most of those films are charming and fun.

    Wonderful news about those Capra/Stanwyck titles. That period is especially rich (are Forbidden and Ladies of Leisure going to show up, too?), but I love most Capra. Got to see a great print of It’s a Wonderful Life this week at the Arclight Hollywood. First time I’d seen it on the big screen, and its visual pleasures are quite remarkable when seen that way (the DVD is fine and dandy, but hey). The thing that really struck me this time is how well it moves, both in terms of the camera and the cutting. A master class.

  • david hare

    I missed the earlier ref to the Durbin Box – it may have turned up in cheaper deals in the UK since its initial boxset release but it also got (as a boxset only, again) an Oz R4 release at half the UK price. The outstanding title in it is Christmas Holiday, with the would have been Renoir project The Amazing Mrs Holiday. The Siodmak is a beauty and quite a decent transfer.

    Junko I agree the color schemes of IALY are not stupid, indeed while they’re probably an attempt by Republic to establish its own “Color STudio Palette” to distinguish it from Fox, COlumbia et al the strangeness of the colors seems to heighten the artficiality of the whole project. But I just can’t wrap my head around Bill Carter!!! Back around the same time Republic released a gorgeous laser of Moonrise (and a lot of other things) but since they were supposed to be going into the Paramount library there seems to have been a hiatus in any more republic titles coming out on US DVD. Even Johnny Guitar which Paramount HAVE released in a splendid color transfer throughout Europe and Oz.

    And returning to Borzage where oh where has Little Man What Now gone? I havent been able to see this since the late 60s on TV. Does anyone have any idea about its provenance these days?

  • seanflynn

    I had my first exposure to the bulk of Borzage’s work when Dave at Doc Films at the University of Chicago in the early 70s did a retrospective – and my recollection is that there was a substantial (and growing) audience for the program as it continued (mostly double features). It was a glorious experience.

    The holy grail for me among the Borzages to resee is Disputed Passage, which was made (on loan-out from MGM?) at Paramount.

  • It is so hard to tell, if the engineering in films like STRANDED and FLIGHT COMMAND is merely the zeitgeist. Borzage seems firmly committed, at least emotionally, to his characters’ engineering goals. All but two of the Borzage’s just out are new to me, and I’ll be paying attention to their use of science, and other world views.

    Was watching UNDERCURRENT last summer, Minnelli’s only noir. The plot’s MacGuffin is the invention of a radio monitoring control device. All of a sudden, the radio monitor that plays such a role in the spy finale of THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYSPE came to mind. And the baby radio monitor that is a present from the grandparents in FATHER’S LITTLE DIVIDEND. Not to mention such films as THE LONG, LONG TRAILER, with its engineer hero and a concentration on the technology of trailers. There seem to be auteurist patterns to Minnelli’s interest in technology. A systematic survey reveals the following so far:

    * High tech sound communication (early long distance phone call: Meet Me in St. Louis, long distance control: Undercurrent, radio baby monitor: Father’s Little Dividend, telephones coming into use in 1900: Gigi, transatlantic phone call, direct phone line: Bells Are Ringing, radio monitoring: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, radio station: The Courtship of Eddie’s Father)
    * Telephone switchboards (The Cobweb, Designing Woman, Bells Are Ringing)
    * Morning radio broadcasts (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever)
    * Recording technology for speech, used by male authority figures (bugging: Bells Are Ringing, dictaphone: The Sandpiper, tape recorder: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever)
    * Engineer characters (Undercurrent, The Long, Long Trailer)
    * Scientific and technological advances (new methods of childbirth: Father’s Little Dividend, trailers: The Long, Long Trailer, new approaches to asylums: The Cobweb, television rehearsal: Designing Woman, answering service: Bells Are Ringing)
    * Doctors who experiment with new methods (Madame Bovary, Father’s Little Dividend, The Cobweb) other doctors (Lust for Life, Bells Are Ringing, Two Weeks in Another Town, Burton in Medical Corps: The Sandpiper, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever)
    * Spoof of scientist who invents the safety pin (“A Great Lady Has An Interview”: Ziegfeld Follies)
    * Art creation craft and technology (prints: The Cobweb, painting: Lust for Life)
    * Stage equipment (“A Great Lady Has An Interview”: Ziegfeld Follies, “Look for the Silver Lining”: Till the Clouds Roll By)
    * Camera booms (The Bad and the Beautiful, Designing Woman, Two Weeks in Another Town)

  • Brian Dauth

    Blake: I do not think that the issue with Borzage is how to make him “hip.” His vision of “hard-won love” is of a particular cultural moment and milieu and does not appear at all places and at all times. Rather, it is a notion that emerges at particular instances. If younger spectators do not respond to Borzage’s vision, it may simply be a matter of their experience/society leading to a different understanding of reality. Some cultural concepts appear antiquated and “unhip” when the social conditions that make them seem sensible cease to exist. For instance, poverty was at one time understood as an indicator of the moral unfitness of those who were afflicted with it: remember the distinctions that were made between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor? As an understanding of economic forces grew, such moralizing simplifications were rejected.

    What makes Borzage great is that despite the constituent mawkishness of some of his films, there is the pleasure of his mise en scene and of his fervent belief in his own sentimentality which can make it appear less daft than it might otherwise come off as.

  • Alex Hicks

    It’s conventional wisdom (accurate I think) that Murnau’s camera movement –tracking in particular– is very influential. But DK’s reference to influence of “City Girl” on “Days of Heaven” suggests some of the wheat field imagery; and this, plus the use of “quote,” that Murnau has had influence on imagery, not just form but form with content: call it imagery (not excluding the dynamically unfolding).

    Okay, what are some precise quotes from Murnau –say just “Sunrise” and “City Girl”?

    From “City Girl,” there are the obvious wheat-field walk and fire scenes of “Days of Heaven.” What else?

    What in “Days of Heaven.” from “Sunrise”?

    From “Sunrise” there are the scenes in “Rocco e i suoi fratelli” of Rocco and Nadia on the streetcar (evoking The Man and The Wife on the Trolley into the City) and of Nadia’s murder by Simone (evoking The Man and The Woman form the City in the swamp with).

    What else?

  • Larry Kart

    I’d have to see STRANDED again to be sure, but I don’t think that it “shows Borzage’s commitment to science and engineering,” as Mike says, but rather his understanding that feats of science and engineering are not only among the ways that men try to master the world but also among the ways they try to prove to their own somewhat unsure selves that their relationship to the world is in fact one of mastery. By contrast, there are the kinds of mastery exhibited in the film by Kay Francis’s character — her stance of succor to the weak (she’s a social worker at the Traveler’s Aid Society), her own independence, and her ability to prevail in a crisis on the basis of courageous, insightful speech rather than “I’m the boss, obey me!” bluster.

    Guess what prevails in the film and what, under stress, is forced to give way and, in effect, be transformed.

    I can see the Lloyd C. Douglas “WASP uplift” vibe here — once upon a time, I read Douglas’s “Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal” and survived — but Borzage transforms that too.

  • Blake Lucas

    “His vision of “hard-won love” is of a particular cultural moment and milieu and does not appear at all places and at all times.”

    Sorry, Brian, but I don’t get that. “Hard-won love” as I understand it is a theme that can always be sounded and never dated. Of course, Borzage or anyone else will treat it in their own way and will be influenced by their time and place. But how can you cavalierly dismiss an idea so simple and timeless as this one?

  • seanflynn

    To jump back to the Jerry Lewis recent thread – it has just been announced that he (finally) is getting an honorary Oscar – the Jean Herscholt humanitarian award.