Katy asked what makes a Borzage movie unique. I can answer regarding the silents I’ve seen – Seventh Heaven, Street Angel, Lucky Star and bits of The River. But after watching this, I don’t know – it seems that he was ground into the Hollywood sound-film factory, only managing a couple of cool (second-unit?) location scenes and one evocative shot involving would-be-lovers separating in front of a staircase.

George Brent doesn’t help the movie one bit. His character is a huge asshole, and the last-minute happy ending features him becoming very slightly less of an asshole. Fortunately the movie belongs to Kay Francis (of the great Trouble in Paradise), who works at Travelers’ Aid, which appears to be a general help booth at a train station. Bridge-builder Brent (of Dark Victory and The Spiral Staircase) goes there in search of a runaway drunk employee, recognizes Kay, and is soon threatening marriage.

On the bridge project, gangster Sharkey (Barton MacLane of The Maltese Falcon) secretly gives the workers booze, which they happily drink on the job until one falls to his death, causing a near-strike. The workers are portrayed as easily-led, drunken children – weren’t union construction jobs hard to come by during the Great Depression? Kay saves Brent’s ass, leading him to stop badgering her to quit her job, with help from fired drunk Janauschek (Robert Barrat, a judge in The Baron of Arizona).

Frankie Darro, the guy inside Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet, plays Hollywood’s typical “Jimmy”, a young, naive annoyance. Future director Delmer Daves wrote the screenplay, based on a story called Lady with a Badge. I don’t believe Kay had a badge.

The Pilgrim (1916, Frank Borzage)

A little western two-reeler with a good piano and violin score, starring Borzage as the humble, good-natured title character. Shadowplay: “I can think of few westerns where a good bit of the plot is devoted to healing a bad guy, who then departs the story without being bad again.” D. Sallitt: “The Pilgrim focuses on expressions, on using cinema to stop time and ponder the feelings that people can only half communicate.”

Jerks, Don’t Say Fuck (2001, Zhao Liang)

A punk-industrial music video with thrashy editing, military images and other weirdness. Video glitches, super-fast motion and repetition.

Bored Youth (2000, Zhao Liang)

Shirtless dude in blurry night vision breaks a lot of windows, just a ton of windows. the sound starts to go out of sync and echo. Editing slows way down, showing off the glorious digital video artifacts in low light. This goes on for seven minutes. Then: repeated shots of a squid catching a fish, the sound of machine-gun fire, and a demolition crew the next morning.

Four Women (1975, Julie Dash)

Music video for a Nina Simone song. Backlit dancer wrapped in a sheet for the intro, then different dances and clothes during the four parts of the piano-and-vocal section, all danced by Linda Young.

Bauca (2009, Albert Serra)

Fullscreen washes of color, edited to a symphonic piece. Cutting follows the music, but rarely right on the rhythm. Song ends suddenly and picture goes white.

Dignity (2008, Abderrahmane Sissako)

Interviewer asks different people to define dignity, and each does so silently.

Sissako: “I think it’s very difficult to deal with such sweeping concepts as justice and dignity in the allotted two or three minutes, so I looked for an idea that actually asked the question ‘What is dignity’ rather than answering it.”

My Heart Swims In Blood (2011, John Gianvito)

A veteran does not sleep well. Voiceover tells us horrible facts about the current wars while the camera shows everyday scenes and watchful owls. This is his section from the omnibus Far From Afghanistan, which I hope comes out soon. I think Andre (My Dinner With Andre) Gregory played the old man in bed.

Walker (2012, Tsai Ming-liang)

Monk carrying his lunch walks through the busy city in extreme slow-motion. Just wonderful.

While watching The Story of Film, I’ve been marking down the names of movies Mark Cousins discusses which I haven’t seen. And since I love lists, I thought I’d pick one title per Story episode and watch it, more or less chronologically. I call it The Story of Film Festival.

For years I’d been meaning to watch Birth of a Nation, then after reading Rosenbaum’s article about the AFI 100 list, I’ve been meaning to watch Intolerance instead. I’ve enjoyed some of Griffith’s shorts (A Corner in Wheat, The House with Closed Shutters) but never tackled any of his features, which seems a major oversight considering how important they were in film history (or in “the story of film”). While watching Intolerance, I dutifully noted Griffith’s pioneering editing style. I marvelled at the few extreme close-ups and dolly shots, a couple apparent crane shots, and heaping tons of cross-cutting, both between and within the four different time periods. But besides the academic interest, I found the movie boring and heavy-handed. It could’ve used a couple rewrites – the four stories of intolerance told simultaneously don’t work well together, and two of them (Paris and Judea) don’t work at all. Maybe this is because of deleted scenes, but I certainly don’t wish for the movie to be longer. Hopefully I’ll end up enjoying his shorter, more personal stories like Broken Blossoms and True Heart Susie more than this one, but now I’m in no hurry to watch those.

“Out of the cradle endlessly rocking.”

Lillian Gish (star of Broken Blossoms) rocks this cradle meaningfully beneath a sunbeam whenever Griffith lacked a good transition scene between time periods.

In the “present” of the 1910’s, wealthy Mary Jenkins, “unmarried sister of the autocratic industrial overlord” is ignored at a party and so “realizes the bitter fact that she is no longer a part of the younger world.” So she joins a stuffy ladies’ reform club dedicated to the “uplift of humanity” (read: censorship, prohibition, and making things generally boring).

Meanwhile, the father of The Dear One (ugh) works at the Jenkins factory. The mill orders a wage cut (to conserve funds for Mary’s reform group), a strike ensues, lots of cannon fire (reportedly modeled after a bloody strike at a Rockefeller factory). The Boy’s father dies (excuse me, “the Loom of Fate weaves death” for him). The surviving protagonists move to the city, where The Boy and “The Friendless One” get tangled up with gangsters (“musketeers”) and Dear One’s dad dies (sorry, “inability to meet new conditions brings untimely death” to him). Boy and Dear are to be married, but his boss doesn’t like quitters, plants stolen goods on the Boy which “intolerate him away for a term” in prison, because the titles love to use that word even when it doesn’t fit. While he’s in prison, his Dear wife has a baby, which is taken away by the Intolerant reformists and raised by careless nurses.

Friendless Miriam Cooper, actually married to Raoul Walsh:

In ancient Jerusalem, there’s some stuff about hypocrites among the pharisees, funniest part of the movie. Jesus turns water to wine, proving that he is on the side of fun, not like the stuffy ol’ reform club of the present-day scenes. Then this whole segment is forgotten.

A hypocritic pharisee, probably not played by Erich von Stroheim:

In 1570’s France, the catholic king’s mother hates the Hugenots (protestants), and despite some royal wedding that’s supposed to bring peace, she schemes to destroy them. Meanwhile, down in the peasantry, Brown Eyes is dating Prosper Latour (the great Eugene Pallette of The Lady Eve – weird to see him young and silent).

The King with mum Josephine Crowell, who’d play queens in The Man Who Laughs and The Merry Widow:

Protestant leader Admiral Coligny: Joseph Henabery, a prolific director who also played Lincoln in Birth of a Nation

At the Great Gate of Babylon in 539 B.C. (an intertitle brags about the movie’s life-size replica walls), the Rhapsode (Elmer Clifton, prolific director of westerns in the 40’s, also made the marijuana scare flick Assassin of Youth) is a warrior poet, agent of the High Priest of Bel, who falls for a Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge, with the most modern look in the movie, despite wearing a hat that looks like a spinach salad with olives). Their leader is great and Tolerant, but the high priest is annoyed that some people worship a rival goddess, so he schemes to assist the Persians when they attack Babylon by having the impenetrable gates opened for them.

Mountain Girl joins in the battle:

So all the stories (not counting Judea) are about poor, pretty girls having their lives ruined because of greedy decisions made by rich, powerful people. The movie is incredibly obvious, so I got bored and spent much of the second half imagining the bloody murder of everyone involved. And then that’s pretty much what happened.

But first – two doves pull a chariot carrying a rose:

In the present: “When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice” – cue montage of the ugly women of the reform movement. But the reformists’ actions have simply moved the drinking and partying underground, where it’s more dangerous for being unregulated. The Boy returns home, the Musketeer gets involved in their lives again, then the jealous Friendless One kills him. Boy is blamed and sentenced to hang, but T.F.O. confesses at the last minute, so a car carrying her races to beat the governor’s train and stop the execution in time.

Robert “Boy” Harron (star of Griffith’s True Heart Susie, who killed himself in 1920) with Dear Mae Marsh (appeared in small roles in John Ford movies through the mid-60’s):

Babylon is attacked by Persian “Cyrus, world-conqueror” with his sword “forged in the flames of intolerance,” assisted by the jealous high priest. Hilarious moment in the fight when a warrior knocks another’s head clean off – then it happens again, in case you missed it.

In France: The Massacre of St. Bartholemew: a morning army assault on the unsuspecting protestants.

Unsuspecting Prosper (Eugene Pallette!) and Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson, later author of The Pocket Book of Etiquette and The Complete Book of Charm):

After hours and hours of long setup, the movie picks up the pace, cross-cutting between two battles and the final hours before the Boy’s hanging.

Brown Eyes is speared to death while Prosper runs through the city to reach her, then when he curses out the soldiers for killing his beloved, they blow him away with rifles.

Brown Eyes meets spear head:

Every character we’ve met in Babylon is killed, the Mountain Girl shot full of arrows.

But the Boy is spared and reunited with his Dear One, though their missing baby is never mentioned. IMDB says all sorts of alternate versions and deleted scenes exist, one of which shows the baby coming home with them. The site also says that after filming, Babylon was declared a fire hazard, and that Jesus Christ was deported for having sex with 14-year-olds. I need to watch Buster Keaton’s parody (only an hour long) The Three Ages again sometime.

Crazy ending:

People supposedly involved in this movie who appeared in minor roles whom I failed to spot: Tod Browning, Frank Borzage, Douglas Fairbanks and W.S. Van Dyke. Behind the scenes: Erich von Stroheim, Victor Fleming, Billy Bitzer, Jack Conway, Allan Dwan, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes co-author Anita Loos and Howard Hawks head writer Charles Lederer.

Sharp looking romantic comedy. Dull engineer Gary Cooper (this opened one day before his Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, according to IMDB) meets glamorous jewel thief Marlene Dietrich. I’d only seen Dietrich’s later films – Rancho Notorious, Touch of Evil and the documentary Marlene – great to see her in her prime. Watched with Katy who liked the movie except for its bland title.

First non-silent Borzage movie I’ve seen. He had assistance from Lubitsch, but Borzage doesn’t seem to have taken to sound as readily as Lubitsch did. The dialogue scenes are very straightforward, airy with no background noise or music. The editing and camerawork is fine, but it seems like it’s lacking something, some energy. Maybe it’s Gary Cooper’s fault.

Cooper is an auto engineer, kicks off the movie with a bang by asking his boss (William Frawley, in both versions of The Lemon Drop Kid) for vacation time, then discussing marketing slogans. Good transition to Dietrich’s character, then we spend what feels like a half hour on her heist, which involves pitting a famous jeweler (Ernest Cossart of a couple Lubitsch movies) and a famous psychiatrist (Alan Mowbray, played a dullard in My Man Godfrey the same year) against each other then slipping away with a two million dollar pearl necklace. She meets up with Cooper again, slips the necklace into his pocket to evade customs, then steals his car, accidentally leaving him with the loot.

How Gary Cooper sees himself:

Things heat up when her partners in crime show up, Carlos (John Halliday, Hepburn’s dad in The Philadelphia Story) and Aunt Olga (Zeffie Tilbury, one of the few times she didn’t play a grandmother). But there’s never a sense of danger, even when Olga mentions her time in prison and Carlos pulls a gun, because we know that Dietrich can outsmart them both. And since she’s unaccountably fallen for Cooper to the point that she’s willing to throw away her riches and become a Detroit housewife with a criminal record, that’s just what happens. Actually I think Cooper beats up Carlos, but same difference.

Jeweler vs. Psychiatrist:

H. Dumont:

The film may be divided into two parts: the first funny, cynical, and airy, extremely ‘Lubitsch-like;’ the second tenderer, more cheerful, almost a little serious, unmistakable carrying Borzage’s mark. On one side style and irreverence, on the other, playful acting and delicacy.

G. Kenny:

What Borzage finally pulls out from his hat is not a repudiation of the Lubitsch ethos, and its devil-may-care quasi-amorality, but, arguably, a transcendence of it. In other words, it isn’t so much that Tom makes an “honest woman” out of Madeleine as he enables her to realize the good within herself.

I’ve enjoyed all the Frank Borzage movies I’ve seen so far, so this week I watched all three that he released in 1929. Not only in the same year, but according to IMDB they all came out within a two-month period – can that be right? I’ve only seen seven feature-length movies from 1929, so now 43% of them are by Borzage.


Lucky Star

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Hunky, brave Tim (Charles Farrell, of course) meets a cute girl (Janet Gaynor, of course), then goes off to war in France and gets his legs blown off delivering food to the troops in a crappy horse carriage whilst his old boss at the telephone company takes the proper army truck to meet girls. There is no such thing as subtlety!

Chuck and Big Boy fight atop a telephone pole:
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Janet watches, impressed:
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Back home, Tim’s boss (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams of a couple Lang and Renoir movies) is passing himself off as a brave sergeant in town and wheelchair-bound Tim is making friends with the dirty, savage young girl (TOO young, as Tim eventually finds out, backing away slowly). But the girl’s parents promise her to Big Boy. Can Tim rise from his wheelchair for the first time since the war and crutch-walk into town (in the snow) in time to stop the marriage and claim the girl as his own, publicly revealing Big Boy to be a war coward along the way? Yes!

Big Boy and Janet’s mom Hedwiga Reicher:
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Paul Fix (After the Thin Man, El Dorado, Red River), who sadly never worked with Tom Mix, is a buddy of Tim’s, his only human contact besides the girl. That’s probably him driving by, as Tim leans on a crutch at top of the frame.

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Shot as a part-talkie with dialogue and effects, but that version has been lost, leaving behind a silent masterpiece. As silly as the plot can be, I got caught up in the (melo)drama of it all and the glorious visuals. Also loved how the film is sped up to make Tim look more wheelchair-proficient than he actually was.

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They Had To See Paris

Good ol’ down-home mechanic Will Rogers (I liked him better as Judge Priest) strikes it rich as an investor in the town oil field. His wife acts just like Effie in Ruggles of Red Gap, packing up the family (unattached older son Rod, and daughter Opal who’s in love with a hometown boy) and heading to Paris to get them all fine clothes and high culture.

Rod with Christiane Yves, probably:
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What would a Borzage movie be without beautiful cinematography, fluid camera movements and heartfelt performances? Well, it would be this one. Sound pictures were in their clunky infancy, and even a prestige director like Frank couldn’t make much of a talkie in 1929. No music, but could’ve used some – full of stagey, awkward, staticky silences in the dialogue. It’s also his first comedy that I’ve seen, and I wouldn’t say it exactly had the Lubitsch Touch. But it’s not late-Keaton bad, just disappointing.

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Poor Will is saddled with increasingly unlikable wife Irene Rich (Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Champ, Fort Apache), aristo-dating daughter Marguerite Churchill (Dracula’s Daughter) and wannabe-bohemian son Owen Davis Jr. (All Quiet on the Western Front). Will raises some hell, wearing a suit of armor to a party and having a non-genteel, drunken conversation with guest of honor Grand Duke Mikhail (above), but eventually his family has him depressed so he fakes an affair with tedious slut Fifi (below) to horrify his family into returning home.

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Unfortunately this wasn’t a career-killer for the grating Fifi D’Orsay. She appeared in They Just Had To Get Married, then in Joanna’s favorite film What a Way to Go. TJHTGM isn’t a sequel to this (though it sounds like one) but apparently They Had To See Paris was enough of a hit to engender follow-ups, first the semi-sequel So This Is London then the full-on sequel Down to Earth, both of which starred Will Rogers and Irene Rich (and Grand Duke Mikhail even returns in Down to Earth). This is some corny flick, and with Borzage (and let’s also blame the writer Owen Davis Sr., young Ross’s dad) unable to hide his cheesy melodrama behind the artifice of title cards and artful silent cinematography, it just sits out stinking.

Family reunion:
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The River

Another gorgeous Borzage silent about simple-minded youth in love, ho-hum. This one is a different viewing experience because it’s incomplete, reconstructed with stills and titles a la the TCM version of Greed. Something else that’s different: Charles Farrell plays opposite Mary Duncan, not Janet Gaynor. Duncan (also of City Girl, 4 Devils) lived till the 90’s but only acted through ’33, and was obviously better-suited to this part than Gaynor, since the character is not at all the innocent sweet girl.

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Farrell, polite and capable but so dumb, builds a riverboat to see the country but stalls at a dam for the winter. There are six more trains into the city where he plans to spend the season, but busying himself with skinny-dipping and wood-chopping, he can’t seem to manage timetables and misses them all. Now it’s just Farrell and somewhat cruel sexpot Duncan. Finally she stabs him and he proposes to her, in that order, but she laughs off the proposal until he almost dies in the cold.

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Take it, D. Callahan:

The fragment ends with an extraordinary sequence that stands with Borzage’s best work. Allen John has chopped wood all night in the snow, trying to prove that he’s man enough for Rosalee, and he falls deathly ill. Snow is rubbed all over his bare chest in an effort to break his fever, but his heart stops beating. Desperate, realizing how much she loves him, Rosalee climbs into bed with Allen John and tries to warm him alive with her body. Borzage films their faces in close-up with a religious intensity reminiscent of Dreyer, lingering on Farrell’s beatific eyes as his soul slowly seeps back into them. The communion of bodies here is both a rebirth and a renewal, of Allen John’s life and Rosalee’s hopes.

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Just then, Mary Duncan’s old boyfriend, the murderer Marsdon (Alfred Sabato, who directed the first talkie in Italian) escapes from prison to reclaim her from the weakened Farrell, but fortunately hulking deaf-mute Sam (Ivan Linow, of the Unholy Three remake, who has played characters named Rako, Red, twins Loko and Boko, Tossilitis, Slumguillion and Heinie) appears just in time. The closing titles are outrageous:

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IMDB mentions lost characters The Miller and Widow Thompson, but the fifth lead of the surviving footage has got to be Marsdon’s pet crow, left behind to watch the girl while he’s imprisoned. I’m always glad to see a bird as a major character.

Mary Duncan with crow:
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Charles Farrell is Chico, an athiest who works in the Paris sewers (I’m not sure what he does down there – looks like he’s doing his laundry, or fishing rags from the water) and dreams of being a mighty street washer up on the surface. Janet Gaynor lives with her abusive sister, possibly both as prostitutes. As usual for the beginning of a Borzage movie, Something Good happens to the guy (he’s given a better job) while Something Bad happens to the girl (a rich uncle comes to take them in, asks if they’ve been “clean” and Janet answers no, so relatives leave and Janet’s sister tries to kill her). Chico saves her but gets himself in a pickle with a cop… he says she’s his wife, so now the cop will come by Chico’s house tomorrow to verify the story.

Standing in the gutter, looking at the stars:
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What to do!? If you said “why doesn’t Janet stay at his house for a day” then you’re as smart as the screenwriter. Chico lives on the seventh floor, whose set is actually seven stories high, as noted by the outrageous vertical tracking shot following the pair up the stairs. There’s some business about who’s sleeping where and some talk about God, work, fear of heights and whether Chico is a very remarkable man (he is), and the next day he buys her a wedding dress.

A very remarkable man:
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I don’t know how long afterwards (a day? a year?), war breaks out, and it breaks out in a hurry – Chico has about an hour to report to duty. The war lasts a few years, he and his street-washin’ buddy flamethrow some dudes, the local cabbie is roped into a huge cab-driven troop movement (which actually happened, and which Borzage recreated with either an awful lot of cars or a clever model).

Papa Boul and what’s left of his cab:
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Chico is feared dead, so Janet’s admirer back home (not a slimy villain or anything, just a suave dude who likes her) is making his move when Chico bursts in, alive but blind and believing in God, for a happy-ish ending (he’s still blind).

Chuck on the stairwell:
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The story doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a gorgeous movie. The street set (which looks familiarly like the one from Street Angel) and the apartment are wonderful, and the war is remarkably shot (dig the silhouette-soldier who attacks Chico).

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Farrell and Gaynor are as good as in their other movies (well, maybe Gaynor has less to do here), and Gladys Brockwell (dead two years later after a car crash) shines as Gaynor’s whip-bearing sister. Simone Simon and James Stewart starred in a sound remake ten years later, which is not quite as highly regarded.

Gladys Brockwell:
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“If I had to choose between Elmer and the itch, I’d start scratchin'”

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Kind of an unexpected story. Not that Street Angel was business as usual, plot-wise, but somehow I expected this one to be more normal and boring, which is maybe why I put off watching it for four months. Lazybones is a very lazy boy with an amazingly patient mother. He’s hot for neighbor Agnes Fanning but doesn’t do much about it, just expects her to marry him someday. Her sister Ruth is summoned home from college by their dour, domineering mother to marry snotty businessman Elmer, but Ruth has already been secretly married and widowed and has a baby. So she does the natural thing: puts the baby safely in a basket then jumps into the river to drown herself. This is the only act of free will performed by the Fanning sisters in the movie… they do everything their forbidding mother demands, to the ruination of both of their lives. Ruth spends the next 15 years unhappily married to Elmer, sneaking glimpses of her daughter through the window, having no more kids and finally dying of illness/madness, and Agnes breaks up with Lazybones and spends her days shut up in mother’s house, only learning the truth at the end.

Ruth (left) and Agnes:
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Lazybones, meanwhile, agrees to raise the baby (it’s a girl, his mother tells him). Raises her well with the help of mother, but doesn’t get any less lazy. He goes off to fight in the WWI trenches and stumbles into heroism when he sleeps through a battle and finds himself behind enemy lines, helping take 20 captives. Comes home and finds his adopted daughter has become a young woman, so he starts falling creepily in love with her, until she’s fortunately whisked away into marriage by a nice local boy. LB grabs his fishing pole and heads for the river, as if the last eighteen years was just one long afternoon.

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Lazy Buck Jones was in 150+ westerns and this, and his grown stepdaughter (above) Madge Bellamy starred in John Ford’s The Iron Horse a year earlier, would later appear in White Zombie.

Emily Fitzroy (of The Bat and the original Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) played the evil mother of sisters Ruth (Zasu Pitts of Greed, Ruggles of Red Gap and Stroheim’s The Wedding March) and Agnes (Jane Novak of some Harold Lloyd shorts).

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Senses of Cinema refers to Ruth’s “illegitimate daughter.” Has the author not seen the movie lately, or is it like Miracle at Morgan’s Creek, where we know that Hollywood must provide a girl with a lost or deceased husband in order to have a child, but it’s understood by the viewer that the girl wasn’t actually married – a complicit understanding between film and audience of the limits imposed by censorship? Ah, Michael Grost agrees: “While there is a censor-placating marriage ceremony for Ruth (Zazu Pitts in a great performance), this is a thinly disguised look at the problems faced by unwed mothers and illegitimate children. It recalls Way Down East (D. W. Griffith, 1920). The negative look at small town life, and the wasted lives full of pain of rejected people who live there, also recall True Heart Susie (D. W. Griffith, 1919).”

M. Grost again:

Borzage’s heroes love technology. The hero’s main passion is tinkering with his car. Unfortunately, he never does anything serious with this interest, unlike later Borzage heroes who become engineers or scientists. The hero’s car links him to high technology and progress in the opening scenes. By contrast, his well-dressed, well-to-do rival drives a lavish horse-and-buggy. This suggests that respectability and social prominence are linked to backward, anti-progress forces. Kit and her boyfriend eventually open a garage, while the hero is away at war. Such garages, run by the heroes of later Borzage films, are a principal locale of Borzage’s cinema: Big City, Three Comrades. They too are signs of technological modernity.

A. White for New York Press:

Comparing Lazybones to its contemporary literary landmarks The Great Gatsby, Manhattan Transfer and An American Tragedy helps define how movies transmit deep insight through visual power. Steve, a feckless young man at the dawn of the automobile age, anticipates the existential protagonists who wait for life to happen. Letting romance pass him by, Steve helps an unwed mother raise her child and then slowly awakens to passion. Borzage shows Jones and Madge Bellamy’s sensuality with startling erotic attention—throughout his career he was certainly a master of the romantic dual close-up—and this conveys a profound sense of lost opportunity, of everyday tragedy. And this insight compares well to 1925’s other cinematic landmarks: The Gold Rush, Greed, Seven Chances, The Last Laugh, Master of the House—less ostentatious but no less deep.

Lazybones doubtlessly influenced the Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael song that celebrated Southern ease; more proof that Borzage’s films once touched the core of pop mythology. (Just as Bad Girl and After Tomorrow are quintessential Depression-era films, containing emotional values the recovering nation still hurries to forget.) In its sublimely simple way, Lazybones epitomizes the potency of American pop art at its most morally sophisticated—the same greatness that is underrated in Spielberg.

A. Kendall for TCM:

Lazybones, made prior to Murnau’s arrival on the lot, helps illuminate the degree to which Borzage’s visual style was influenced by the emigre. Borzage is in full command of the emotionally complex characters and moments of bitter pathos that highlight his “prime” work, but it lacks the visual eloquence that Murnau brought to the studio. … The emotional texture of Lazybones is remarkable for a film of 1925, and it would surely stand alongside Borzage’s best-known works, were it not for a misguided turn in the final reel, when Lazybones falls in love with his adoptive daughter Kit, who has just come of age. The sudden shift from paternal affection to sexual desire derails our identification with the hero, and makes us aware of the filmmaker trying to pile more pathos onto the story than its narrative framework can support.

Hooray, my first Borzage movie, and certainly not my last thanks to the giant Box o’ Borzage that Katy gave me.

Camera glides around a giant street set of Naples, while inside her room Janet Gaynor is being told by the doctor that she needs expensive medicine for her dying mother. Janet goes outside to imitate the local prostitute, gives up in about one minute and steals some money, is immediately caught and sent to the workhouse. What crappy luck.

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Escapes just in time to watch her mother die, then evades the cops by hiding in a drum owned by the travelling circus.

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Works at the circus for a while, meets a handsome painter (dark, curly-haired Charles Farrell of City Girl and Seventh Heaven)

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Still thinking about her secret fugitive life, Janet falls when she sees a cop talking to Charles and breaks her leg.

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They return to her home, he gets a huge contract and proposes to her. The night before the wedding she’s caught by the cop.

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Cop incredibly gives her one last hour with her man before getting arrested (this hour feels like an hour, though it’s Janet’s big oscar-winning chance to get emotional).

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Dark days follow… our painter, abandoned, can’t work so gets fired from the mural job, while a painting he sold for very little is manipulated by an art fraud group and sold for a fortune, and of course Janet’s slaving away in prison.

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The day she’s out, Janet wanders the streets ashamed, while upstairs the neighborhood prostitute tells Charles his fiancee is a dirty streetwalker arrested for stealing. Charles finds Janet, chases her around, is about to strangle her when he looks up and sees his painting of her transformed into an angel – he repents, they have happy ending.

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I know when they say Borzage was heavily influenced by Sunrise I’m supposed to look at mood and style, but the whole almost-killing-your-wife thing was similar as well. Good story (I thought), not overburdened with intertitles. Favorite bits were the wild street set, the drum escape, the strangulation rage scene (very dark) and the leg-breaking bit (excellent editing there mounts tension from both the cop questioning Charles and Janet’s balancing on stilts).

The movie likes to show us FEET:
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Katy seemed underwhelmed but probably didn’t want to disparage the mighty Borzage. Not having watched the documentary on his career yet (or knowing a damned thing about him), I expect the thing is that he was creating artistic features at a time when few others were. This fact doesn’t hit me as hard because I didn’t go to the pictures in ’28, watching a steady stream of whatever crappy, gimmicky dramas were in theaters at that time… I’ve been seeking out the artistic ones all along. So films I’ve seen from the year Street Angel came out include great comedy like Speedy, Steamboat Bill Jr. and The Circus, thrillers Spies and West of Zanzibar, early avant-shorts like Überfall and The Life and Death of 9413, and all-time great The Passion of Joan of Arc – not exactly a representative selection.

Our introduction to Janet’s circus life:
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Pan down:
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Janet Gaynor won the first best-actress oscar for this (in conjunction with Seventh Heaven and Sunrise).

Janet with monkey:
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Director of photography Ernest Palmer shot a pile of Borzage pictures, also Michael Powell’s Lazybones (not to be confused with Borzage’s Lazybones), later won an oscar for Blood and Sand.

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According to IMDB, the director of All The President’s Men was born the week this came out – neat.