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Man’s Castle (Frank Borzage, 1933)

Turner Classic Movies mysteriously canceled this week’s broadcast of Frank Borzage’s masterpiece, though another showing is still scheduled for August 31 at 11:30 pm. Now that Leo McCarey’s “Make Way for Tomorrow” has finally turned up on DVD (albeit in a stiffly priced French edition), Borzage’s magnificent Depression romance moves into my number one most wanted slot. Please, TCM, don’t let us down again!

49 comments to Man’s Castle (Frank Borzage, 1933)

  • nicolas saada

    What a let down ! Few Borzage films available on dvd. “Strange Cargo”, “A farewell to arms”… Grover Crisp at Columbia will certainly do something to get “Man’s Castle” released in the US. My concern about Deodato winning the game over Borzage is not just of a stiffed cinephile. Imagine a public library that would only loan Dc Comics and Marvel Comics but nothing by Faulkner, Balzac or even Edgar Poe. I think, as film fans, we have to keep these films alive, and have them “circulate”.
    “Man’s Castle” is a heartbreaking drama that starts like a Gregory La Cava comedy end ends like a Chaplin tragedy.
    It’s one of the most important american films of the early 30’s which is not saying much since I now regard it as perhaps one of the most glorious moments in film history. Mamoulian’s “City Streets”, Walsh “The bowery”, Wellman’s “Public Enemy”, Capra’s “The bitter tea of General yen”, Hawks “Twentieth Century”, Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise”, Mc Carey “Make way for tommorrow”, Ford’s Will Rogers trilogy, Le Roy’s “Little Caesar”, Vidor’s “Hallelujah”, Brabin’s underrated ‘Beast of the City”, Browning’s “Devil dolls”, Whale’s “Bride of Frankenstein”, Karl Freund’s “Mad love”, Chaplin’s “City Lights”, Stahl “Back Street”, Wyler’s “Dodsworth”, Von Sternberg’s”An american tragedy”, Mc Carey’s and the Marx bros “Duck Soup”, Ben Hecht’s “The scoundrel”, Milestone’s “The general died at dawn”, De Mille’s”Madame Satan”… All made between 1929 and 1936. I thought for a long time that the films made in Hollywood until the mid thirties were of mild interest and that they were coming after the peak of the silent era. To me they were terrible and boring “talkies”. Until I discovered this string of fabulous movies…

  • Lately I’ve been amazed at how lively, dexterous, stylistically “modern,” and politically bold the films that Mervyn LeRoy made between 1931-1933 are. If he had dropped dead at 35 instead of going on to make junk like “The FBI Story,” he’d be remembered as one of the great auteurs to advance the technique of talkies. Adjustments to the canon do need to be made for this period.

  • Professor Echo

    Like a few others, Mervyn LeRoy was watered down by the antiseptic atmosphere of post-code MGM. Though not as drastic a corruption as that of Keaton and the Marx Brothers, MGM still claimed LeRoy’s soul in the name of gloss for gloss’ sake.

  • seanflynn

    LeRoy’s Heat Lightning is the closest to a Bresson film ever made at Warner Bros.
    (OK, it isn’t that close – only making a comparative – but it is indicative of the vastly different director he was in the early 1930s).

  • Professor Echo

    I don’t wish to go down this road again, but let me say this much: Outside of the incessant discussion and debate about aesthetics, or even the potentially interesting sociological implications of such a comparison, why does the availability of Deodato on DVD have to reflect the absence of Borzage? Does anyone really think the former is in any way causing the latter?

    Nicolas, I have spent more time studying the late 20’s-early 30’s international cinema than any other period, with the possible exception of the 60’s, and I have to say that if you are still discovering all the genuine treasures and pleasures therein, I envy you seeing them for the first time. It was an amazing period of film history on every level and to apply a perspective only on the “microphone in the flowers” aspects is doing it a grave disservice.

  • Was the broadcast supposed to be this past Friday? If so, then it’s no mystery at all––they canceled the entire day of programming to pay tribute to Cyd Charisse.

  • Alex Hicks

    On LeRoy, although long a “Little Caesar” fan, I’ve seen few early Le Roys. However, Johnnie Eager, Waterloo Bridge, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Bad Seed, Little Women (1949), and Quo Vadis all strike me as good times at the movies.

    QV, with its superb real-sets-and-extras spectacle and Surtees-and-Skull cinematography, plus Ustinov-Nero, is more than a guilty pleasure. (For QV as a surprisingly close allegory of the spread of Christianity in early Rome [!], see Elaine Pagels’ “The Politics of Paradise,” New York Review of Books, May 12, 1988; for evidence that it may be Sam Donaldson’s favorite movie, alas, the archives for ”This Week with George Stephanopoulos may not be deep enough).

    Time for LeRoy – Borzage!— festivals, TCM!

  • Brian

    I blame Robert Osborne. He and Rose McGowan probably decided it wasn’t “essential” enough and replaced it with another airing of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

    J/K, Robert Osborne is my boy. I dunno about Rose, though…

  • nicolas saada

    “why does the availability of Deodato on DVD have to reflect the absence of Borzage? Does anyone really think the former is in any way causing the latter?”
    I actually do..

  • nicolas saada

    It’s a purely political moment, a sort of ultra conservative thing in a reverse way. A mistrust of the “old” and the “traditional”, based I believe on ignorance. It’s how I see it here in France anyway. I have to come on this blog to discuss “the heiress” or “Dodsworth”, films that are not at all discussed in Paris. It’s intellectual laziness at its worse. It’s the “post modern” attitude. The coolness of of the cheap and so on.

  • Thanks, Karina. Make that “stupidly cancelled,” then. And Nicolas, I wish Grover Crisp were the one making those choices at Sony, but he’s not. The company’s corporate overlords don’t seem to have much interest in black and white movies beyond the Three Stooges.

  • Brad Stevens

    As far as I know, I’m the only person on the planet who admires Borzage’s MAGNIFICENT DOLL (the one in which Ginger Rogers plays Doll Madison, with David Niven as Aaron Burr). I’ve only seen it once, and that many years ago, but it struck me as remarkable for several reasons, not least its systematic undermining of David Niven’s charmingly refined persona. There’s a Spanish DVD available:

    Incidentally, does anyone here have anything to say – positive or negative – about Arthur Lubin? He’s one of those prolific directors working throughout Hollywood’s classical era whose films I’m completely unfamiliar with (I have an unwatched DVD of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, only because it was double-billed with Whale’s THE INVISIBLE MAN). I ask because two of Lubin’s films – FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOG (1955) and ESCAPADE IN JAPAN (1957) – are showing on British television next week, and both sound like they might be of at least incidental interest (due to their casts, subject matter, locations, etc.).

  • “A Man’s Castle” was the first Borzage film I ever saw. It is so beautiful. The end of Godard’s “Band of Outsiders” is perhaps a homage the finale of “Man’s Castle”.
    “Magnificent Doll” has another fan here. It’s another Borzage film that is rarely shown.
    On Arthur Lubin:
    I have not seen much of Lubin since age 10. Even as a kid, “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” and the TV show “Mr. Ed” seemed cornball. They have auteurist consistency with Lubin’s Francis the Talking Mule pictures, erasing human-animal boundaries. Have never seen Francis.
    Lubin is sometimes cited as proof that not all gay directors are sophisticates and aesthetes in the Cukor-Leisen-Whale mode. Wiiliam Mann’s book “Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood” (2001) has biographical detail on Lubin.
    Lubin does achieve a certain Camp status with “The First Traveling Saleslady”, which offers a romantic pairing of Clint Eastwood and Carol Channing. This movie is sweet, but not real inspired – probably a description of much of Lubin.
    Would like to see Lubin’s film “House of a Thousand Candles”, which is based on a once famous 1905 mystery novel by Hoosier novelist Meredith Nicholson. Back in the days of Booth Tarkington, Indiana was a major center of American literature.

  • The period of 1929-1936 is really rich. Try the recent Ford at Fox DVD’s like “Born Reckless” and “Pilgrimage”. Or the Lubitsch musicals – Monte Carlo is wonderful. And you didn’t mention any of Allan Dwan’s films. We could go on with this for a long time…

  • Herman Scobie

    Lubin’s Rhubarb, a guilty pleasure about a cat who inherits a baseball team, is out on DVD today. Anyone looking for gay subtext might be interested in a character who always struck me as a tad masculine for a woman.

  • seanflynn

    Katrina – it was yesterday’s schedule that was changed, not last Friday night’s (where they showed 3 Cyd Charisse films over a 6 hour period).

  • Brad Stevens

    One of the things I admire about MAN’S CASTLE is Borzage’s refusal to ‘realistically’ integrate the back projection with the actors. Borzage never allows us to forget that the external world and the private universe occupied by his romantics exist on different planes of reality, and often uses ‘bad’ technical effects to convey this: see, for example, the obvious use of miniatures in the opening shots of A FAREWELL TO ARMS and SECRETS.

  • In addition to mentoring Clint Eastwood early in his career (a favor Eastwood repaid by appearing on Lubin’s later “Mr. Ed” television show), Lubin played a pivotal role in John Wayne’s development, as the director of the four Universal B films from 1937 in which Wayne’s personality took its definitive shape: “California Straight Ahead!”, “I Cover the War,” “Idol of the Crowds,” and “Adventure’s End.” It seems Lubin knew something about the manufacture of leading men, though I can’t say I’ve ever found any of his films particularly distinguished.

  • Lubin was a hack but I was surprised to find myself enjoying “Footsteps in the Fog,” one of the Columbia rarities that popped recently up on TCM. Flavorful imitation Hitchcock (a lot like one of the early episodes of his TV show, actually) with a sly Jean Simmons performance and a neat twist in the middle.

  • Joe

    Karina & Dave–

    Turner didn’t cancel its entire day’s schedule to pay tribute to Cyd Charisse. It replaced only three of its scheduled films with replacement Charisse titles. Unfortunately, Borzage’s “Man’s Castle” was one of them.


    You are so right about Sony and its anti-Black-&-White stance. As you know, I’ve been on them for years now to do something with two lost Quine-Lemmon films, “Operation Mad Ball” and “The Nororious Landlady,” both in B-&-W, to little avail. Grover Crisp and Mike Schlesinger are the only two Sony people who have even bothered to respond to me. BTW, both titles are on Turner’s schedule – “Mad Ball” for a showing on July 19th and “Landlady” on August 12th.

  • nicolas saada

    Now tell me about this : Margin for error by Preminger is available from Columbia on dvd, only in France and in England. Bitter tea of General Yen, one of he greatest films of the thirties, is available from Coumbia in England, on DVD, but not in the states either. Same for Phil Karlson’s “Tight Spot’, only available from Columbia on dvd in England and Japan..

  • Brad Stevens

    “Now tell me about this : Margin for error by Preminger is available from Columbia on dvd, only in France and in England. Bitter tea of General Yen, one of he greatest films of the thirties, is available from Coumbia in England, on DVD, but not in the states either. Same for Phil Karlson’s “Tight Spot’, only available from Columbia on dvd in England and Japan”

    Also, Columbia have released Nicholas Ray’s BITTER VICTORY on DVD in the states, but not in the UK, and have released Ray’s HOT BLOOD on DVD in the UK (and France), but not in the states!

    By the way, it was the BFI who released MARGIN FOR ERROR on DVD in the UK (in a double-bill with A ROYAL SCANDAL).

  • Bill DeLapp

    Actually, the TCM June 27 Cyd Charisse triple bill replaced an originally scheduled salute to Patrick Wayne, including “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger,” “The People That Time Forgot” and “An Eye for An Eye,” with the latter title getting scotched at one point (maybe TCM couldn’t get a print from the distributor, which I’m guessing is Sony) for another planned run of “McLintock!” Cyd’s sayonara changed all those plans.

  • c mason wells


    It’s not a proper festival per se, but TCM is, thankfully, playing several hard-to-see Borzage films in September: LIVING ON VELVET, NO GREATER GLORY, THREE COMRADES, SECRETS, STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, and STRANDED. It seems CANTEEN is the only one of those titles to have received an American video release.

  • c mason wells

    Oops, THREE COMRADES has, as well.

  • nicolas saada

    copy and paste second link..

  • Nicolas saada

    Has anyone seen “beast of the city” by brabin?

  • davidhare

    Yes I have a copy from (I think) TCM via a trader. It’s worth watching for Huston and Harlow, and has its moments but I think there’s a real gap between MGM gloss (even as a precoder) and the potential sleaziness of the material which is never fully realized. Only Tod Browning seems to have enabled sleaze to triumph over “taste” at MGM. The onyl other Brabin I’ve seen is the amusingly campy Mask of Fu Manchu (on a nice DVD) which certainly looks great (aside from Myrna Loy and the whip) but then the DP on this is Tony Gaudio, whereas the DP on Beast is the far more workmanlike Nobert Brodine.

  • David Boxwell

    Not the first time this has happened–TCM announces 2-3 months in advance of a Columbia title from the 30s and, for some reason, they then broadcast a sub. There may be a delay in readying a print for broadcast…

  • Professor Echo

    David Hare, I would add 1932’s KONGO to the list of triumphant sleaze at pre-code MGM.

  • David Boxwell

    Another gloriously sleazy MGM Pre-Code delite, also starring Miss Loretta Young: “Midnight Mary” (1932).

  • jbryant

    “Kongo” and “Midnight Mary” are both faves of mine. I should give those another look soon. I’ve somehow missed “Beast of the City,” but it does turn up on TCM occasionally. I’ve seen Brabin’s “Fu Manchu” but don’t remember much. All I really know about him was that he was married to Theda Bara.

  • Michael Dempsey

    For DVD (the Warner Bros. Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection, which also includes Tod Browning’s “Mark of the Vampire” and “The Devil-Doll” along with Karl Freund’s “Mad Love” and two “Doctor X” movies), “The Mask of Fu Manchu” has had some dialogue restored that was apparently deleted lest it offend post-1932 audiences for the way these lines toy with and/or mock racism.

    They include comments about the viciousness of the Asian hordes with which Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) hopes to annihilate all whites, remarks by an English archeologist about the treachery of the yellow races, and Fu saying that his daughter’s hunky white captive is halfway attractive “for a white man.” At times, the two sides seem to be having a who-can-out-racist-the-other contest.

    But these lines and the movie’s slinkily twisted “Oriental” ambiance, teased a bit in “Shanghai Express,” now come across as standard accouterments of half-campy, half-scary early-1930s horror.

    Major chunks of this 68-minute production might have been designed to delight campsters long before camp became a recognized concept. The headdress festooned with puffballs and other bits of dreck that Karloff wears with his already outré costume while Fu is conjuring up the spirit of Genghis Khan could have made Carmen Miranda faint with glee. There is also the laser-prefiguring zapper with its streaks of sizzling lightning, seemingly recycled from “Frankenstein” the year before with Karloff as the mad doctor this time. The hunk, strapped down in a diaper as he is injected with tarantula venom that will make him be Fu’s robot, looks like a six-pack knockout at a gay bar.

    Myrna Loy’s daughter of Fu, all eye-rolling treachery and garish come-hither (to be fair, some of this corniness from her pre-Nora Charles Asian seductress days looks at least partially deliberate), is a Doo-Dah Parade float all by herself. Karen Morley is in full freakout mode throughout. It seems that her then-husband, Charles Vidor, began shooting the film but got fired after two weeks. If he had anything to do with this performance, he did her no favors.

    The rest of the cast is off-the-assembly-line for the period and the genre, especially the implacably imperturbable Lewis Stone. But Boris Karloff makes a strong impression by refusing to get cute with the part. He fully exploits Fu’s macabre sense of humor but never condescends to or appears clueless about the role’s true nature.

    Brabin gives him a striking introduction — Fu’s face doubled in its regular thin-mustachioed guise and also distorted on screen left in a circular mirror. There are other effective images, too: high angles inside the British Museum that precede an abduction, two shots of Karen Morley awakened by apparitions and menacing noises, one strangely abstract shot of Smith mounting a staircase, and the clasped hands that guard Genghis’s lair. Otherwise, the film hits the generic story points and notes with the slightly stiff efficiency characteristic of many early-1930s talkies.

  • david hare

    Michael, Charles Starrett is indeed stirring as the hunk stripped to the waste and hunkered on in the genetic operating table. But so is Myrna and her whips, along with minimal dialogue, inlcluding projections like (cough) “Aihee!” (and others very similar to Gay porn from Brazil in later decades.) Karloff is also immensely sympa as the non-White – who pojects the demise of our race. For this – and his role in Criminal Code – I love him. I do think the most remarkable aspect of the mise en scene in Fu Manchu is the preponderance of wide shots with deep focus and lighting – so that the movie feels immensely “staged”. But if Brabin indeed has a place in all of this, it’s those moments of personal terror.

    I love your description, and I will always wear it when I watch the movie again.

    But in this regard I think one of the really neglected directors for this sort of edgy 30s (pre and post code)horror is the unheralded Lambert Hillyer for both the sublime Dracula’s Daughter, with Goria Holden as one of the first in all cinema, if not the first “modern” lesbian” in American cinema (“I feel release” etc) and Karloff again as a totally misunderstood atheist/scientist in the quite billiant “The Invisible Ray.”

  • mike schlesinger

    Sony’s “anti-B&W” stance has changed, now that a certain person has been shown the door. Both MAD BALL and LANDLADY will be part of a Jack Lemmon box coming in the next few months, and there will be a major film noir box next year, which will likely include TIGHT SPOT.

    The version of MAN’S CASTLE that currently exists is the edited post-Code reissue, and Grover is still searching for the cut footage. In any event, do not miss Borzage’s other Columbia from this period, NO GREATER GLORY, which for my money is the greatest anti-war allegory ever made.

  • Thanks for the information, Mike. Is that why the TCM showing was canceled?

  • It seems that the only 35mm prints of MAN’S CASTLE available have been the re-edited post-Code version (where scenes are out-of-order so that the mock-wedding scene is placed immediately after the nude swim scene… so that Bill and Trina are “married” when they start to live together… i complained once when i saw it that the movie was out of order, and was told that was the print, not the projectionist); however, all the 16mm prints (including ones that have the TV logo in place of the old Columbia logo) that i’ve seen have been in proper order.

    (When Marty Rubin programmed films at the old Gallery of Modern Art, he always made sure that he showed MAN’S CASTLE in the original version, but most of the films were shown in 16mm anyway; MoMA’s print should be the original, and it should be in 35mm, but it’s been years since i’ve heard about it.)

  • Kent Jones

    On the subject of Borzage and TCM’s upcoming selection, LIVING ON VELVET is one of my favorites, a very moving film (STRANDED, with the same two actors, is relatively disapppointing). I’ve never seen SECRETS and am looking forward to it.

  • mike schlesinger

    Kent, I’ve seen SECRETS. Don’t look forward to it.

  • Kent Jones

    Thanks Mike. I appreciate your comment about NO GREATER GLORY. I like it very much, but I do feel that there’s something a little bit European-prestige about it (the same might be said of STREET ANGEL). But that’s carping – it’s a really fine movie.

    Another movie from around that period that I really love is MANNEQUIN. Tracy and Crawford are tremendous together.

  • Larry Kart

    The one time I was fortunate enough to see STRANDED, I was knocked silly by it. I’d have to have just watched it again to go into sufficient detail about why, but IIRC the byplay between Kay Brent’s tough guy foreman (supervising the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge) and Kay Francis’ social worker (Travelers Aid Society) who wants to remain a social worker rather than become a housewife should she and Brent consummate their romance in marriage, takes some unusual and potent turns. In particular, after a ghastly fatal accident, mobsters bent on extortion shut down Brent’s work site, with potentially calamitous practical and emotional consequences for him (to the point where, again IIRC, he comes close to disintegration), whereupon it is Francis who delivers a fierce, savvy speech to the assembled workers that exposes the quite menacing mobsters (led by Barton McClane) for what they are and rallies the men to Brent’s side. His growly masculine toughness doubly compromised/threatened (first by his near-disintegration under stress, then by the fact that it is Francis’ courage, toughness, and gift for empathy that have saved him and his bridge), Brent (I’m again relying on dimming memory) accepts what all this might mean about him, about Francis, and their future life together with a stunned poignancy that I found very moving.

  • Kyle Westphal

    Re: the circulating MAN’S CASTLE 35mm print.

    What Mike notes is true, but Daryl’s point is something of an exaggeration. I’ve seen this Sony print twice in the last few years–it’s very splicey and runs about 70 minutes, contra to the 75 min. listed everywhere. The marriage scene does *not* immediately follow the nude swim scene but comes several reels later. It seems to be some intermediate version–not the original release cut, but not the butchered TV cut of later decades either…Probably some combination of a late 1930s reissue version slightly softened for the Code, further addled by heavy use and projection-related damage. As far as I know, there is only one circulating 35mm print that’s sitting in one of the Deluxe depots and the elements in the Sony vault are as Mike describes them.

    Anyway, this version is something of a compromise, but it’s still quite beautiful and, what’s more, readily available, so tell your local repertory programmer to book it.

  • I really enjoyed Stranded, too. It has highly sympathetic lead characters, who are trying to accomplish worthwhile things.

  • Kent Jones

    Listen, when I say that STRANDED is “relatively disappointing,” I certainly don’t mean that I don’t think it’s good. Just not AS good as LIVING ON VELVET, which is a remarkable film. Or BIG CITY, or BAD GIRL.

  • Larry Kart

    Of course, I meant George Brent in STRANDED, not “Kay Brent.” Interesting slip, given what I take to be the theme of the film. I wonder if Spencer Tracy knew STRANDED. Brent’s near-breakdown in this film reminds me of Tracy’s in NORTHWEST PASSAGE.

  • Alex Hicks

    A grapevine tugs on ear and transmits the possibby old news that all the silent and sound Murnau and Borzage original Fox film release, including the already available SUNRISE and Murnau’s “superb” 1929 CITY GIRL are slated for releases in a splashy box (or, perhaps, two boxes if I’ve heard poorly) to rival the FORD AT FOX set that came out last year. This grapevine, though Atlantan, offers no news of TCM offerings or policy, though I’ll hazard word that I deciphered this “no news” as good news.

  • mike schlesinger

    It’s happening. My pal Christopher Caliendo, who scored several of the Fords, will be doing three for this set. (He’s also composing the score for Larry Blamire’s forthcoming chef d’ouevre, DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.)

  • travis miles

    It looks like No Greater Glory has now also been “stupidly cancelled” from the TCM September schedule… replaced with “Shipmates Forever”!