Archive for the 1930s Category

Best of… Series – 1937 – Big City

Posted in 1930s, 8/10, Best of... Series on October 1, 2013 by chrisfilm

Big City (Frank Borzage, 1937)

Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. –Galatians 6:2-3

So how does a film so rich in its presentation of a loving marriage and a selfless community not become one of my favorite films? By leaving a sour taste in my mouth with an absurd ending. (I won’t get into this; if you’ve seen the movie and you know my tastes, this won’t surprise you.) But to focus on the positives – the opening sequence of loving flirtatious exchanges between a man and his wife, starting on the streets of the big city followed all the way back to the couple’s humble apartment was about as much fun as you’ll see a married couple have in a movie. It was a breath of fresh air especially considering the way Borzage applies the realism of the ‘new love’ relationships of many of his other films to this seasoned love. And he follows it up with as refreshing a presentation of a surrounding community as you’ll see. Friends, family, and co-workers gather for celebrations, to discuss troubles, and to fight for and protect one another. I don’t know if this was exaggerated or just a product of the time period, but it was heartening. Perhaps Borzage fills this up with too much heart to where the film’s dangers never feel as dangerous as you’d think, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that people can be good.  7.75/10

big city

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To the Last Man (Hathaway, 1933)

Posted in 1930s, 8/10, American Classic Western on July 16, 2013 by chrisfilm

To the Last Man (Henry Hathaway, 1933)

After being saved from an uncomfortable situation, 20-something backwoods Ellen Colby seeks out her rescuer later that evening while wandering the wooded hills as she no doubt does frequently. After stumbling upon him, she stays the entire night with him, not a sign of her promiscuity, but because she doesn’t know she shouldn’t, innocence and naivety spilling from her pores. This level of innocence and sweetness accompanies she and her rescuer’s relationship throughout the film. The only problem – he’s a Hayden – and their families are feuding! So a bit trite in conflict creation, yes, but Hathaway succeeds in other areas to compensate. The aforementioned relationship is a beautifully portrayed chance encounter, the feud (and the resulting inner family disputes) leads to several haunting and daringly disturbing images, and the rural setting creates a layer of peace and acts as a chance to catch your breath amongst the chaotic events. A fine western and family drama, and even boldly original in places if you can look past some flaws in storytelling.  8.25/10

to the last man

Young America (Borzage, 1932)

Posted in 1930s, 6/10 on April 23, 2013 by chrisfilm

Young America (Frank Borzage, 1932)

Lot of cheese in this one. Much of the film is a strong, honest, and harrowing presentation of the highs and lows of adolescent friendship, though there are sprinkles of a corny ‘poor misunderstood youth’ message throughout. Luckily, these instances are somewhat subtle and mostly fitting to the dynamic of the central friendship. These friends are like brothers; they fight for each other, sometimes get the other in trouble, but always ending up having each other’s backs. As a result, there last two scenes together are heartbreaking and set up a sorrowful but fitting ending. But at this point the corny message comes out in full force which results in a theme shift, awkwardly forced dialogue, and a jarringly misplaced tone. This has to be Borzage’s worst.  6/10

young america borzage

Best of… Series – 1930 – City Girl

Posted in 10/10, 1930s, Best of... Series on April 18, 2013 by chrisfilm

As a way to mix some of my old reviews in with my new reviews, I’m doing a Best of… Series. In this series, I will review my favorite movie of each year.

City Girl (F.W. Murnau, 1930)

In honor of my recent purchase of this film on blu ray, I’ve decided I need to review one of my favorite silent films that just missed being on the blog after initial view. This is a great movie. Really, the only thing that didn’t work for me here is the extremely fast start of the main characters’ relationship. Actually, the development worked for me, but the quick marriage was a bit too much of a plot device. (A simple intertitle stating ‘3 months later’, and a slight plot modification could have solved this.) Regardless, though, this might be the best newlywed movie I’ve seen.

city girl2

Despite the hard contrast of upbringings, Murnau does a great job avoiding stereotypes; she’s from the city but is basically a bumpkin, and he never leaves the farm but feels comfortable in a crowd. And as the new man and wife retreat to his family’s farm, the camera sweeps across a field of wheat as the two run playfully together, he clumsily grabbing her into his arms as the sight of endless stretches of land and sky reach infinitely behind them – a beautiful rural setting for a love story. And despite those polar opposite backgrounds, the personality nuances portrayed by Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan and the naturalness of their connection create the sense that these two are in the same ‘place’ in life. It isn’t long, though, before conflict ensues within his family and their acceptance of his marriage. So while love is definitely the central theme, the fear, heartache, humility, and sheltering that sometimes accompany love are honestly presented as well, and an important part of what makes this film so special. A fantastic drama with just the right level of relational complexities.  9.75/10

city girl

Three Comrades (Borzage, 1938)

Posted in 1930s, 8/10 on October 25, 2012 by chrisfilm

Three Comrades (Frank Borzage, 1938)

A cute little romantic love story, a weird tale of friendship, a few stunning scenes, and a clunker of an ending. Borzage’s take on Fitzgerald is uneven but pleasant. Having not read the source material, I can’t really make comparisons, but I found it odd that Borzage (who is normally a master of relationships) could be so erratic. As is commonplace with him, the film’s romantic plot is perfect. Our male protagonist is nervous but bold, unafraid to put himself out there despite his shy and bumbling persona. His lady is no stranger to life, but finds his innocence contagious, and Margaret Sullavan nails this realistic blend of contrasting personalities.

But then there is the relationship between the three comrades. The way they ‘share’ Sullavan’s character is perplexing and just weirded me out. Sorry, I don’t have any real insight here other than I think someone really didn’t know how to handle this. The actual relationship between the three men is fine, though, and leads to one of the most haunting scenes of revenge I’ve seen, so at least there’s that. But every time the film’s romantic momentum started to pick up, it was often interrupted and made for a more disjointed experience than what it could have been.  8/10

Frontier Marshal (Dwan, 1939)

Posted in 1930s, 8/10, American Classic Western on September 18, 2012 by chrisfilm

Frontier Marshall (Allan Dwan, 1939)

The story of Doc Halliday, with his cold and murderous presence chipped away by the revelation of his past as well as his friendship with Wyatt Earp, should not be told in 70 minutes. There’s too many important relationships, too much emotional weight, and too much tragedy to help but feel rushed here. But Randolph Scott, Cesar Romero, and Nancy Kelly give such great performances that the two most important relationships are salvaged. There’s such an honesty in the comradery and mutual respect from the two male leads, and the attention to detail of the nuances of their relationship was excellent. And, yes, despite my previous complaint about feeling rushed, the tragedy of central romantic relationship is still poignant and did manage to tug on my heart strings. I still prefer My Darling Clementine when it comes to this story, but this one did come before, and is very strong in its own right.  8/10

The Lost Patrol (Ford, 1934)

Posted in 1930s, 8/10 on August 16, 2012 by chrisfilm

The Lost Patrol (John Ford, 1934)

How can a film set in the desert be claustrophobic? When every time a man makes a move he is shot down by an unseen enemy. A troop of British soldiers find themselves without orders when their leader is gunned down. They make their way to an abandoned structure where they are quickly trapped by an invisible foe. From here their troop decreases man by man, their numbers dwindling so slowly that the weight of each is felt at its fullest. Some men go down fighting, some go crazy, and every so often hope is dangled in front of their faces like a carrot in front of a mule. Overall, it’s a solidly made film, and the pacing and tone are perfect, but I can’t say I found it overly fascinating. It’s intriguing seeing how different men react to the same situation, but it does become a bit repetitive, and doesn’t rank up there with top-notch Ford.  7.5/10