Frank Borzage

Street Angel (1928)

Street Angel 1928When Angela’s (Janet Gaynor) mother is gravely ill and needs medicine, she becomes desperate to do anything to get the money she needs. She tries prostitution, but when she doesn’t succeed with that, she steals the money. She’s arrested and sentenced to spend time in a workhouse, but she escapes to her home to see her mother, but her mother has died. With no money and nowhere else to go, she hides from the law by joining a traveling circus.

Despite everything she’s been through, Angela is content with her life in the circus. Although she isn’t specifically out to find love, she ends up falling in love with a street painter named Gino (Charles Farrell). While she can’t forget her past, he sees her for who she really is. But when she falls and breaks her ankle, she has to give up performing in the circus so she and Gino go back to her hometown of Naples. She hasn’t told him about her past and it’s not easy being back home. Gino continues to paint and although he’s improving as a painter, they struggle to get by until he get hired to paint a mural for a church. She’s also afraid of her secret past being  revealed.

Gino really wants to marry Angela, but then her worst fears come true when a police officer recognizes her and she has to serve her one-year sentence in the workhouse. The officer gives her an hour to say goodbye to Gino, but she still won’t tell him what’s going on so she simply disappears from his life. Without Angela around, Gino is completely lost in life. His once promising painting career has gone downhill and he’s fired from painting the mural. When Angela is released, she’s once again, completely alone and penniless. With no other choice, she heads down to the wharf with the other prostitutes. It just so happens that Gino is down by the wharf looking for a woman to paint.

Street Angel is one of three movies that earned Janet Gaynor the honor of being the first actress to win a Best Actress Academy Award, the other two movies being Sunrise and 7th Heaven. Both Gaynor and Charles Farrell deliver great performances, they had great, very natural chemistry together. Gaynor in particular had the perfect amount of vulnerability that the role needed.

In both Street Angel and 7th Heaven, Gaynor was directed by Frank Borzage, who does an exceptional job with Street Angel. For a movie full of mundane settings, Borzage found ways to work in some extremely dramatic shots and beautiful cinematography. Thanks to him, not only is the movie’s story beautiful, it looks just as beautiful, too, and Janet Gaynor’s performance was the icing on the cake.

The Circle (1925)

The Circle 1925When Arnold Cheney (Creighton Hale) was just a baby, his mother Lady Catherine (Joan Crawford as the young Catherine, Eugenie Besserer as older Catherine) leaves her husband Lord Clive (Derek Glynne as young Clive, Alec B. Francis as older Clive) to run off and elope with his friend Hugh (Frank Braidwood as young Hugh, George Fawcett as older Hugh). When Catherine leaves, she leaves baby Arnold at home to be raised by Clive.

30 years pass and Arnold hasn’t seen his mother since. Naturally, Arnold and Clive have a lot of resentment toward Catherine and Hugh. Arnold is now married to a woman named Elizabeth (Eleanor Boardman) and they live together in the big family estate, enjoying all the privileges that come with wealth. But Elizabeth is in love with Edward Lutton (Malcolm Mc Gregor) and is considering leaving Arnold for him. Since she knows the situation she’s in sounds somewhat familiar, she decides to invite Catherine and Hugh over so she can see what their relationship is like now.

Arnold is very anxious about this meeting and when they arrive, things are awkward at first. But when Elizabeth sees Catherine and Hugh having a sentimental moment together, she thinks leaving her husband would be the best move. But when Arnold finds out about it, he isn’t about to give up on his marriage so easily.

For some reason, I didn’t have terribly high expectations for The Circle, but I ended up liking it a lot more than I expected to. Frank Borzage directed it and did a fine job. The story has a very healthy balance of humor and drama. It’s the kind of story that might have become cheesy and cliched in less capable hands, but it worked out very well. The cast is excellent and I really enjoyed the cinematography and sets. This is the kind of movie I don’t hear mentioned too often, but it’s a real gem.

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

During World War I, Lieutenant Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper) serves the Italian Army as an ambulance driver and in his free time, enjoys going out drinking with Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou).  When one of their nights on the town is interrupted by an air raid, Frederic takes shelter alongside nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes).  However, their first meeting is less than ideal for other reasons — he mistakes her for a prostitute he had been talking to earlier.

But Frederic gets another chance to make an impression on Catherine when Rinaldi arranges a double date for them and Catherine and her friend Helen (Mary Philips).  Rinaldi is in love with Catherine and had intended Helen to be Frederic’s date, but Frederic and Catherine fall madly in love with each other that night and start having an affair.  Army regulations forbid their romance, but rules suddenly don’t seem to mean much to Frederic.  Before he is sent off to the front lines, he insists on stopping to say goodbye to Catherine.  Rinaldi, still bitter that Catherine prefers Frederic over him, sees to it that Catherine is transferred to Milan to keep her away from him.

As fate would have it, Frederic is injured and is taken to Catherine’s new hospital.  Their feelings for each other are still as strong as ever and they are secretly married in Frederic’s hospital room.  Frederic spends the next three months recuperating and he and Catherine couldn’t be happier together.  But when he has to go back to the war, there’s one thing he doesn’t know — Catherine is pregnant.  She leaves the hospital for Switzerland to wait for him and even though they write to each other regularly, Rinaldi sees to it that neither of them receive their letters.

When Frederic becomes concerned over Catherine’s lack of letters, he deserts the Army to find her.  He eventually manages to find Helen, who tells him about the baby, but she’s so angry about what he’s done to Catherine that she refuses to tell him where she is.  Now even more desperate to find her, he takes out an ad in the newspaper looking for her, which gets Rinaldi’s attention.  Finally realizing just how much Frederic loves Catherine, he finally tells him where she is.  But when he finally makes his way to her, she’s not in good health.

When people talk about pre-codes, A Farewell to Arms isn’t one that comes up very often and I have no idea why that is.  In terms of shocking content, A Farewell to Arms has got plenty of stuff to make your jaw drop: rape, forbidden love, very frank discussions of relationships,  and of course, the scene with the prostitute early in the movie.

But A Farewell to Arms has a lot more to offer than risqué scenes.  Frank Borzage offers up some top-notch direction and Charles Lang completely deserved the Academy Award he won for his beautiful cinematography.  I absolutely loved Gary Cooper’s performance as Fredric and Adolphe Menjou is an excellent supporting player.  As for Helen Hayes, I haven’t seen very many of her movies, but her work here made me want to see more of her.  I’ve never read A Farewell to Arms so I can’t critique it as an adaptation, but I do know Hemingway didn’t care for the movie.  All I can do is take the movie for what it is and I very much enjoyed it, much more than I expected to.

What’s on TCM: May 2012

Happy May, everyone!  It certainly looks like it’s going to be a busy month on TCM.  Joel McCrea is the star of the month, which is something I know a lot of people have been wanting to see for quite some time.  He’ll be featured every Wednesday night this month.  Every Thursday night will be all about movies based on true crime stories.  Plus there’s the annual 48-hour war movie marathon for Memorial day will run from May 27-28.  So without further ado, let’s get to the schedule:

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