Frank Borzage


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Grande lirico del rapporto sentimentale, Frank Borzage seppe sempre collocare i due amanti, stretti in un ideale eterno abbraccio, in mezzo alla folla di tutti i giorni; il suo trascendentalismo procedeva in tre direzioni: realismo intimista, realismo sociale e psicologia erotica. Esaltando i valori del focolare domestico e biasimando gli orrori della guerra, tratteggiò un sogno immerso nella realtà, con una strana delicata toccante grazia lo tenne in sospeso sull'abisso della depressione. Al centro delle sue storie è sempre la situazione precaria di una coppia; il tono del racconto è fra l'ironico e il patetico; l'ambiente spazia dagli uffici di Berlino (Little Man What Now, 1934) a alle fogne di Parigi (Seventh Heaven, 1927), dal fronte italiano (an adaptation of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, 1932) ai sobborghi dei disoccupati (A Man's Castle, 1933), dal cuore della foresta (The River, 1929),

The silent Street Angel (1928), adapted from Monckton Hoffe's play "Lady Cristilinda", employed sophisticted lighting techniques and a complex stage. Both the setting and the story are realistic, lower-class and occasionally crude despite the overall romantic message. Unfortunately it suffers from a ridiculous ending.

A circus walks into the destitute city of Napoli. As it marches through its narrow alleys, the manager is immediately caught stealing a sausage. After much confusion and acting, he gets away with just paying for it. The camera moves along the set in one long tracking shot, revealing a larger urban and human landscape. In one of the humble dwellings live the young and beautiful Angela. Her mother is sick and the doctor prescribes an expensive medicine. Angela has no choice but to walk outside and try to seduce two men. Since neither responds to her advances, she tries to steal money from a rich customer who is eating at an eaterie but the guards are right behind her. Arrested, she is sentenced to one year in prison. She takes advantage of some commotion at the entrance (shown via giant shadows of the convicts on the walls of the prison) to escape, but her mother is already dead. Fleeing the guards who are closing in on her, she is saved by the circus manager. Months later she has become the sexy star of the circus. One day an itinerant painter is stealing the audience from them, and Angela gets into a furious argument with him. He is conquered by her temper and personally leads the audience to the circus. Gino falls in lov with her, but she is a cynical girl who believes that love is only for fools, like her friend Maria. She performs in a small town against the backdrop of an idyllic gulf. Gino has painted a beautiful portrait of her and she is terrified when two guards stare at it, lest they might recognize her as the escaped convict she is. She falls and breaks an ankle. Gino lifts her in his arms and offers to take her to a doctor. Now she accepts her love. They travel on a boat in the mist back to Napoli, although she is fearful of the city where she is wanted. To pay the numerous creditors, Gino sells the painting. Angela is sad, but the money helps them get by. One day they witness a prostitute being arrested and Angela shows sympathy for her. Gino thinks that she doesn't understand what the woman was doing. In the same house where they live, Lisetta carries out the same trade, praised by the landlady, but Lisetta is secretely envious of Angela's love. The painting is of such an amazing quality that Gino is hired to paint a mural in a church: their financial troubles are over. Gino proposes to Angela, and she accepts. They have not slept together yet, and he assumes her innocence. Just then a guard knocks at the door: the guard has tracked down Angela and comes to arrest her. Angela is put in jail while Gino is asleep. The following day he looks in vain for her all over town. Devastated, he ends up losing his job at the church. Meanwhile, Angela dreams that his beloved Gino is becoming a great artist, when in fact he's descending into vice. When she is finally released from jail, she visits the church to see Gino's masterpiece, but instead learns that he was fired. She looks for him and eventually finds him at the harbor in the mist. She runs away, he follows her. They end up in the church where Gino's portrait of her is hanging: the collector sold it as a rediscovered classic. The portrait brings them to their senses. He forgives her, and she forgives him.

Secrets (1933) is a western of sorts, with virtually no action scenes (they are only implied or narrated after the fact) and relatively little violence. But the story keeps changing subject in a sudden manner that is not conductive to anything.

In a fairy-tale rural town in the 19th century, before the advent of motor vehicles, a horse-drawn carriage is carrying two women: the old lady is talking about how to organize the wedding party for the other, her daughter, Mary, who has been asked in daughter by someone she doesn't love (in an age in which her opinion doesn't matter). The father complains that the country is going through an economic crisis and he cannot afford to spend so much for a wedding party, but then accepts. John, one of her father's employees, flirts with her while her mother dozes off. That night she walks outside to pick flowers: it's a ritual that allows her to meet with John. When her father intercepts a love letter, John's fate is doomed: the old man fires him and even refuses to give him a letter of recommendation, which means that he will never be able to work in that region again. During the ball, John shows up and convinces her to elope with him. They leave the fairy-tale landscape for a black hole (screen-wise). They get married and then join the caravans of pioneers who are heading to the Far West. It's a long touch journey, but finally they reach their valley and build a house. Years later they have a baby and a prosperous ranch. But one day a notorious bandit breaks into the house while John is away and terrorizes Mary, threatening to kill the baby. They leave taking most of John's cattle with them. John meets them along the way but is powerless to stop them. He later organizes a posse and recovers his cattle. They hang three of the bandits but their leader escapes. Back home their baby is very sick. The bandit returns and lays siege to the house, setting fire to it. Mary sees the baby die during the fight, and has to find the strength to grab a gun and fight the bandits. She personally kills the leader of the gang. They survive, but the ranch burns down. Years later, though, they have rebuilt and had many more children. John has become a well-respected politician and is running for governor of the state. There's a ball at their mansion. A Latin woman, Lolita, shows up uninvited, causing costernation among the guests: everybody knows that John is having an affair with Lolita. Even their elder son knows. Lolita even confronts Mary directly, confessing her love for John and claiming that John wants a divorce. But John walks in and chooses Mary, knowing that Lolita might destroy his political career. Mary understands the sacrifice, and forgives him. He goes on to become a senator. Many years later he announces his retirement. The four children, now middle-aged adults, are upset. John and Mary lock themselves in a room like little children. A Man's Castle (1933) is a romantic comedy but also a philosophical essay on the dilemma of individual irresponsibility versus marriage responsibility underneath the superficial optimistic message that love can redeem a dire economic situation. Borzage proves that he doesn't need to create a dream world in order to set his fairy tale in motion; he can do it with the ordinary (and ugly) world of the Great Depression. Bill (Spencer Tracy) is wearing a tuxedo and feeding popcorn to the pigeons of a park. Sitting on the same bench and staring melancholy at him is a young girl, Trina (Loretta Young), wearing humble clothes. She confesses that she has not eaten in two days. Bill takes her to a restaurant to eat a good meal. He looks at her eating, telling her that he is not hungry. At the end of the meal he calls the restaurant owner and tells him that he has no money either. He boldly accuses the owner of letting millions of people go hungry. He calls everybody's attention and begins a speech about poverty. The owner quickly agrees to let them leave without paying the bill, so as to avoid the scene. Trina is fascinated by Bill's bold and creative manners. Bill explains that his job is to wear the tuxedo to advertise a cigar. Bill takes her to the place where he lives: a shantytown by the railway. He romanticizes the place as if it were a paradise of sorts. His bathtub is the river. They start a conjugal life even though there never was a wedding. Trina has found a sense of security. However, Bill is jealous of his freedom and, when she wants to buy a stove, he tells her that he never stays put in one town for too long. But then he helps a friend serve a subpoena to a chanteuse (by simply walking into the stage during her act in front of the whole audience) to get the money to buy her the stove. Trina is overjoyed by the present (and probably not only because of the usefulness of the object but because of what it tells her about Bill's feelings for her). He is as experienced as she is innocent, but one seems to need the other one.
One day, while he is strutting in the streets on stilts and dressed like a clown to advertise another product, he peeks into an apartment and sees the chanteuse. She finds him attractive and invites him at her place.
In the meantime, Trina is busy turning Bill's shack into a real home. Bill is now all her life. When the sleazy neighbor Bragg tells her that Bill is seeing the chanteuse, she tells him that Bill is free. When a drunk woman, Flossie, warns her that Bill will get tired of her, Trina replies that she accepts her fate.
Bragg tells Bill that he plans to rob the factory where he used to work, but Bill is not interested in money.
She is not only affectionate, but devoted. He returns her affection with little gestures, but never admits his affection. One day he steals a flower for her, and then denies that it is for her, and even encourages her to throw it away, until the owner (a religious man) comes to complain. She prepares supper for him. He hears the whistle of the train. Then he sees birds fly in the sky. Both remind him of freedom. Then he looks at the stove, and reminds him of the opposite. But Trina's helpless smile wins him over all the time. She tells him that she is pregnant, and Bill's reaction is to jump on the first train. She is desperate, but he gets off the train and comes back. He has made up his mind: they get married, and the ceremony is officiated by the religious man who grows flowers. Feeling the responsibility turns Bill into a greedy man, though. He accepts Bragg's plan. They break into the toy factory. Bragg sets out to crack the safe open, but Bill is more interested in the toys. As he plays with the toys, he wakes up the guardian, who happens to be the religious man himself. The religious man opens fire and wounds Bill, while Bragg runs away. The religious man realizes who the burglar was and lets him escape, but also shows him how pathetic the whole plan was: they were trying to steal from the wrong safe in the wrong building. The despicable Bragg sets off the burglar alarm, figuring that the police would arrest Bill. Then he rushes to bring the news to Trina, hoping to take advantage of lonely woman. But Trina is saved by Flossie, who tells her that Bill is home. Flossie, having figured out what happened, advises Bill to leave the shantytown, and to take Trina with her. Bragg is ready to turn Bill in to the police, but Flossie the pathetic drunk has decided to defend the poor Trina and kills him.

Mannequin, one of his best

Bad Girl, one of his best

Stranded (1935) is a minor love story.

An old man arriving to the big city on a boat doesn't know where to go. He has no money. He refuses charity from a volunteer but then collapses to the floor (and later dies at the hospital). The woman, Lynn, is asked by her boss Grace to accept as housemate a new volunteer, Velma, who is the daughter of a wealthy woman: the charity organization desperately needs money. It turns out that Velma was just looking for a way to move out of her mother's house so she can date her lover Jack. The following day a rude business man, Mack, inquires at Lynn's information booth about one of his employees. Lynn recognizes him as the first man who kissed her, when she was still a teenager.
At work Mack, who runs a construction company building a new bridge, is being blackmailed by the boss of an "association" who wants money or will cause "plenty of trouble".
Lynn and Mack go out on a date and meet Velma and Jack who are also on a date in the same club. Mack falls in love with Lynn. He follows her on her charity errands and finds it hard to be alone with her.
Mack has problems of his own, with the racketeer who gives him a deadline to pay or else... They confront each other and the racketeer pulls out a knife and wounds him.
Lynn wants Mack but on equal terms: she is not willing to give up her job. He commands her to quit. She doesn't. They part.
When one worker dies on the bridge, because he was walking drunk on the scaffolding, the racketeer wants to organize a strike to bring down Mack's company. Lynn hears of it and rushes to Mack's workplace. Mack does not want to interfere with the workers' meeting because he trusts his men. However, Velma's father, one of the investors in the bridge, wants him to make personally sure that there will be no strike. First Lynn enters the assembly hall and addresses the workers trying to convince them that they are being manipulated. Then Mack stops the racketeer who is trying to kill one of his own men, the one who got the worker drunk. Mack exposes the racketeer to the workers and leaves him there for them to beat him up. Mack and Lynn leave the room together.

While inferior, Living On Velvet (1935), a melodrama about a flyer whose recklessness ruins his life and marriage, is sort of a counterpart to A Man's Castle, where the reckless one ended up happily married. At no point does the protagonist truly feel sorry for the catastrophe that he has caused. In fact he is bent on doing it again.

Terry is flying a plane to a social event. The passengers are his parents and his wife. The plane crashes and the three die. Terry continues flying, getting in trouble first in China and then in Venezuela, until he is finally returned to the USA. One day he disrupts an air show just for fun. His friend Walter rescues him before the air force can find a reason to detain him. Walter takes him to a party to meet his fiance Amy. The guests mostly avoid Terry because of his reputation, but when Amy and Terry cross eyes it's love at first sight. They leave the party and wander through the city. But when Terry realizes who she is, he returns her promptly to Walter. However, Walter realizes that they love each other and sets her free. Despite the opposition of her guardian, she accepts to marry him on the fly. They move into a new house and he sets out to find a stable job. Terry is always funny and optimistic, but Walter tells Amy that Terry doesn't want any job, therefore he won't find one. A miracle saves them: they receive a huge sum of money. But it proves to be more of a curse than a blessing, as Terry decides to invest the money in building a runway and buying a plane to start a commuter service. Realizing that all he cares for is the airplane, Terry comes back from his first flight all excited like a child, but she tells him that she is leaving him. Terry begs her, but they cannot reconcile. So he goes back to his life. But one day Walter receives a call that Terry has been wounded in a car accident. Walter and Amy rush to the amusement park where he is lying. He tells Amy that he has no intention of dying on the ground, and in fact he doesn't. He is reborn as a devoted husband who loves his wife more than anything. Flirtation Walk (1934), starring two stars of the Broadway musical, is a lightweight and somewhat farcical musical comedy set among soldiers enjoying a relaxed life in peacetime, peppered with some naive ethnographic scenes that speculate on Hawaiian folklore. A funny and irreverent soldier, Dick, keeps getting in trouble with his stern sergeant, Scrapper. Dick gets assigned to escort the daughter of the general who came to visit her father. Kit is spoiled and he is a rascal but they end up liking each other and he takes her to a watch ritual dance of the natives. The couple falls under the spell of the romantic moonlight and kisses, but this causes a scandal. Dick is almost court martialed and Kit has to take the blame in order to save him. It turns out that Scrapper is Dick's best friend: he manoeuvres to avoid that Dick makes big mistakes. So Dick is sorry when they part ways. Dick, jealous of Kit's fiance who is an aristocratic officer, decides to enroll in the most prestigious military academy. The film indulges in details of the life of the cadets, particularly in showing the carefully choreographed parades. Years later Dick is charged with staging a variety show for the cadets' graduation. But when the other cadets want to stage the new girl as the protagonist, who is Kit herself, the daughter of the general who has just been relocated to the school, Dick refuses. The cadets go ahead without him. Out of spite, Kit accepts. Dick rewrites the show. Dick is cold and rude to her. The new script is a chauvinist farce in which women become the officers of the army and she becomes the new general. A number of songs bring the plot to a grinding and boring halt. The show ends with Dick kissing Kit, but that's only the show. The following day the general announces the wedding of his daughter and her fiance. Dick stops pretending and confronts Kit telling her how much he loves her. Kit tells her fiance that she loves Dick and breaks up the engagement.

No Greater Glory (1934) is a mediocre adaptation of Ferenc Molnar's anti-war parable "A Pal Utcai Fiuk/ The Paul Street Boys", just a faithful and a bit boring transposition of the novel.

A general during a bloody battle curses war. A teacher addressing his pupils praises war as a noble act. The teacher calls a few children to discuss a gang that they are creating. The children justify the gang, called "the Paul Street Boys", because they need to defend their playground against a rival gang, "the Red Shirts". The teacher tells them that gangs are forbidden. The children complain that he just told them that war to defend one's land is a noble act, but the teacher dismisses them. The children elect a chief, Boka, and proceed to create their little army, although they only have one private, the youngest and smallest, the son of the tailor, Nemecsek. The war starts badly for them: the chief of the Red Shirts, Feri, steals their flag from their own fort. Boka, chief of the Paul Street Boys, enters their territory (the botanical gardens) to recover it, leading two men including their only private, but they narrowly escape being captured. In the process Boka and the private discover that one of their own, Gareb, is a traitor. Having hideen in a pond, Nemecsek catches a cold. Nonetheless, he returns to the botanical gardens to spy on the enemy and steal the flag back. Discovered, he challenges Feri, who admires him and offers him to join the Red Shirts. Nemecsek proudly refuses and is thrown in the river. Nemecsek still swears allegiance to his gang and vows to continue the fight. Feri, impressed, lets him go home and orders his boys to give him a military salute. Ironically, Nemecsek is instead mistreated by his own chief, Boka. The traitor Gareb comes to offer his apologies and brings the flag back. The chief Boka still refuses to forgive him and take him back. Gareb goes home crying. His father comes to complain and demands to talk to the child who accuses his boy of being a traitor. The ill Nemecsek does not have the guts to tell the man that his son is a traitor and lies to him. Nemecsek is sent home because he is too sick to fight a war. Boys of the rival gang come to pay tribute to the valiant enemy before starting hostilities. Nemecsek receives the good news that he has been promoted to captain and is ecstatic, but his conditions keep getting worse: the doctor tells his father that the boy might die. Nemecsek, delirious, doesn't want to stay in bed, knowing that his buddies are preparing for the war, and eventually runs out wearing his captain berret. The great battle begins, with the two armies disciplined like real ones. Nemecsek shows up at the last minute just when Feri's gang is about to win. He attacks Feri but falls dead on him. All the children follow the mom as she carries her son through the streets of the town. The irony is that a backhoe is already at work to dig a hole where the foundations for a new building will be laid: the children fought for a territory that will soon disappear.

Shipmates Forever (1935) is a musical, but ultimately another pathetic melodrama.

Dick (Dick Powell) meets a cute girl, June, at the harbor. She is with her sour cousin, who doesn't like Dick's playboy attitude. They both come from navy families: his father is an admiral, and her family has been decimated in the war. Dick's father is about to retire as admiral and would like his son to enlist in the navy, but Dick is more interested in his career as a singer and in seducing June, especially after she tells him that she doesn't want to marry someone who is in the navy. His father thinks that Dick is too dumb to pass the examination to be admitted to the naval academy. Dick decides to prove that he can pass the examination if he wants. He does pass it, but then he can't help enlisting for real. He abandons his singing career and joins the academy with all the other aspiring officers. Dick goes through the academy with a mixture of fatalism and indifference, until one day June tells him that she would never forgive him if he dropped off. Dick doubles his efforts, although he isolates himself from the other students because he feels that he doesn't belong with young men who truly mean to become shipmates. After two years at another examination his friend Coxswain fails and is sent back home, almost in tears. On the other hand, Dick has become a honor student, albeit one with no friends. The aspiring officers finally sail for a naval exercise. Dick meets Coxswain, who found a way to stay in the navy: as a humble helper in the engine room. When a fire threatens the ship, it is Coxswain who gives his life to put off the fire. Seeing his friend die, Dick takes over and completes the mission impossible. Both bodies are rushed to the hospital, unrecognizable except for the ring that they wear. One is dead, and it's Coxswain. When Dick recovers, he is finally converted to the navy. Hearts Divided (1936) was a historical costume drama about the love between Napoleon's younger brother and an American girl.

Green Light (1937) adapted a Lloyd Douglas novel, is a didactic (and disposable) allegory about both faith transformed into a profound meditation on self-sacrifice. The core of the story is the self-sacrifice of the doctor, but another self-sacrifice takes place in order to redeem this one: the self-sacrifice of the nurse who loves him and instead helps another woman marry him for his own good.

Newell (Errol Flynn) is a kind surgeon. He is chatting with the beautiful nurse, Frances, who is in love with him (he thinks it is not a good idea) when he learns that a colleague (his mentor) is late for the scheduled surgery on a middle-aged woman. Newell visits the woman in her hospital room: she is listening to the radio that is broadcasting the sermon of a popular priest, Dean. She is a much loved woman, and a benefactor of the hospital, with a beautiful and devoted daughter, Phyllis. While Newell is walking the dog on the beach he meets the priest: science faces faith. Back at the hospital he is told that the woman is getting worse, but they still can't locate the surgeon who is supposed to operate her. Newell decides to break the rules and proceed with the operation. The woman smiles at him, confident that he is able. During the operation Newell's mentor finally arrives and demands to take over. He makes a mistake and the woman dies. Newell's mentor, who is clearly under stress for problems in his private life, realizes that his career is finished. During the investigation both the senior surgeon and Newell refuse to tell what truly happened. The hospital's board decides to lay all the blame on the younger Newell, and he is fired. Frances is prohibited from testifying. Newell's friend John begs Frances to tell what happened, but another doctor explains to her how her action would backfire against Newell. The priest explains to Frances that whatever the mysterious reason for Newell's self-sacrifice she has to respect it. As she is leaving the priest, Frances meets Phyllis, the daughter of the dead woman, who is coming to talk to the priest, full of hatred for the doctor who is deemed responsible her mother's death. They become friends and Frances invites Phyllis to her apartment. While they are there, Newell pays an unexpected visit. Frances conjures to keep Newell's real identity secret, while Newell realizes that he is talking to the daughter of the dead woman. They seem to like each other and Phyllis hopes to see him again. Meanwhile, John has resigned from the hospital to pursue his own mission: to replace a doctor who died fighting a dangerous epidemics in a remote corner of the nation. When Newell visits the priest to get advice, the priest makes sure they meet again. Phyllis finds out who he really is and is disgusted. The priest and Frances tell Phyllis that Newell is a good man, not a killer, but it's too late. Newell has decided to follow John in his dangerous expedition. They work together day and night to come up with a vaccine. Eventually Newell decides to carry out a dangerous experiment on himself. Having learned his whereabouts from Frances, Phyllis sets out to join Newell. She arrives that Newell has fallen severely ill. Alerted by Frances, the senior doctor comes out of retirement and hires a plane to reach John and Newell. The two women and the two colleagues unite in the effort to save the courageous Newell. The old doctor reveals that it was greed that caused him to neglect Phyllis' mother and eventually make the deadly mistake. Newell gets better, proving that the vaccine works. Hundreds of lives are saved. Newell is accepted again at his old hospital. Newell and Phyllis attend a sermon by the priest and listen to the choir singing "amen".

alla metropoli alienante (The Big City, 1937), tipica del suo elegante fluttuare fra commedia e melodramma;

Taxi driver Joe and his foreign-born wife Anna are a jovial couple that lives of practical pranks. At the beginning he approaches her on a sidewalk and touches her. She reacts as if he is a complete stranger, turning away from him and telling him to keep his hands off. A police officer comes to her aid, but only to find out that the woman is the wife of the taxi driver and she was just teasing him. And so forth. Joe's pal in the business is Anna's brother, Paul, an immigrant with a strong accent. Paul gets attacked by a mob of taxi drivers from a rival company. This causes a battle between the drivers of the two companies who rush to either support Paul or beat him up. The owner of the rival company is tired of these fights and fires the gangster-looking man who has hired the strong arms. Paul doesn't know, though, and he decides to take justice into his hands: he applies for a job at the rival company. The gangster sees it an opportunity to get back in business... Joe and Paul give a radio to Anna for her birthday. Then Paul drives to his new taxi company to start his shift. Anna sends another man to bring him the raincoat that he has forgotten, packed in a box. As Paul walks out of the garage, a man of the gangster blows up the garage and then shoots him dead. It is made to look like Anna's package contained a bomb, Paul blew up the garage, and he was then killed by the watchman. Paul's friend who delivered the package knows the truth but the gangster threatens to kill him if he speaks up. The district attorney believes that Anna is innocent but she would certainly be convicted by a jury. Therefore the best is that Anna be deported. She is not a citizen yet. Agents go to pick her up right after Paul's funeral. Anna flees, helped by Joe's coworkers. Joe plans to hide her until she becomes a USA citizen, just a few weeks time. The other taxi drivers of his company help out. The police cannot find Anna, no matter how many of them are combing the city. The district attorney warns the taxi drivers that only if she is found will they avoid a trial. They refuse to talk and they all get arrested. The wives are preparing to pool their savings to survive, but Anna doesn't want anyone to sacrifice for her anymore: she calls the mayor and surrenders after he promises that all the men will be released. She is pregnant. She is put on the first ship to be deported. Joe is heartbroken. By accident, he walks into the house of the friend who witnessed Paul's killing, who has decided to confess everything in a letter to the district attorney. Joe grabs him and takes him to the party that the district attorney is attending with the mayor. Joe forces the witness to confess in front of all the politicians and then, desperate, begs the mayor to stop the ship. The mayor and his political friends jump into the taxis of Joe's friends. They reach the ship in time to stop it. Anna, who is about to give birth, is taken away in an ambulance. In the meantime the evil cab drivers have decided to attack Joe's friends who are parked outside the port. A colossal fist-fight erupts. The mayor could call the police but instead lets his political friends jump into the fight. The gangsters are beaten up. Anna gives birth. e la coppia è tipica di tale ambiente: un tassista lotta contro la mafia e contro l'estradizione della moglie straniera, il soldato americano e l'infermiera inglese(A Farewell to Army), l'operaio delle fogne e la ragazza sfruttata (Seventh Heaven), il boscaiolo e l'amante (The River), il giovane disoccupato e la giovane affamata (A Man's Castle), il commesso e la moglie (Little Man What Now), il tassista e l'esule russa (The Big City), il gangster e la sua donna (Strange Cargo, 1940).

Strange Cargo (1940) is a moral parable.

Verne (Clark Gable) is a criminal who has been sentenced to life and is deported to a penal colony in Guyana. He is attracted to Julie (Joan Crawford), a young woman who lives in the nearby town and works at the saloon (a prostitute?). He escapes from the prison just to go and see her in her room, but the sleazy Pig, who loves Julie, alerts the warden. When the guards storm the saloon, Julie, annoyed by Verne's arrogant attitude, turns him in.
Verne then finds out that a group of inmates are planning to escape. He asks to join them, but they initially refuse. Then another convict, Cambreau, offers them money to take both Verne and him with them. Cambreau talks like a prophet and seems very interested in Verne's fate.
Julie is trapped in that horrible town and can't wait to find a way to get out. Pig offers to help her, but she is disgusted by the coward. So she accepts another man's offer to give her a ride on his boat. This man is not any better: he takes her to his house and keeps her there as his sex slave. She even tries to kill him but a mysterious voice stops her and leaves money for her. In the meantime, the convicts escape and trek through the jungle. Verne is betrayed and left behind and has to trek by himself. He stumbles on the house where Julie is de-facto kept prisoner. He and Julie despise each other, but she is happy to run away with him in order to escape from her captor. They argue all along, but they continue together through the jungle. Cambreau is taking care of the others: he finds food and he finds a boat. As the convicts are about to board the boat, Verne and Julie also reach the beach. After a confrontation with the convict who betrayed him, Verne and Julie board the boat with the others and take off. The journey turns out to be a journey in hell.
Cambreau becomes their spiritual oracle: he shows them who they are, and what they are doing, and what is likely to be of them. They end up in a boat adrift in the ocean, and start dying. But Cambreau leads them to salvation: a hut on the coast, and the owner has a boat. Verne gets excited at the idea that he could soon sail towards a foreign country. Julie is madly in love with Verne, but she also hates him for being so selfish and evil. She only wants to go to America.
In the meantime, the warden has decided that they all died in the ocean, but the sleazy Pig (Peter Lorre) finds a bracelet that tells him Julie is alive. The wind is rising: a storm is on the way. Pig finds Julie and follows her: he wants her back. Verne leaves the cabin after a last kiss to Julie. Pig walks in to take advantage of Julie's distress. But Verne has sensed something and walks back in: finding them together, he draws the conclusion that they are together and they are planning to betray him, a conclusion reinforced when she stops him from killing Pig (Cambreau has told her to "save him", meaning "save Verne", not Pig). Incapable of explaining, Julie follows Pig out. Now Verne and Cambreau are alone. The storm rages on. Cambreau tells Verne that he will not follow him: Cambreau is basically calling his bluff. Verne kicks him out of the boat, and then yells at him while Cambreau is drowning. Verne even screams that he is God, because Cambreau's life now depends on him. But when Cambreau's body goes underwater, Verne jumps and saves his life. Redeemed, Verne looks for Julie and (the storm having subsided) boards the ship she wanted to take for America. As Cambreau leaves, the fisherman smiles and makes a cross on his chest.

Il presente è il grande nemico dell'amore, il futuro la grande speranza. La folla che circonda la coppia è sovente amica, una vera famiglia che li protegge e li aiuta (i baraccati che favoriscono la fuga dell'uomo sandwich e della sua compagna, i tassisti di Big City che nascondono la russa ricercata, i commessi di Berlino). Il nemico è una folla più astratta lontana e oscura, il sistema stesso, per sua natura indifferente o repressivo nei confronti dell'amore (la polizia che bracca l'uomo-sandwich, il governo che chiama alle armi l'operaio, il principale che licenzia il commesso). E' l'apologia del "due cuori e una capanna".

Seventh Heaven (ambientato in un villaggio francese)

In un misero stanzino vivono due sorelle orfane, una timida e buona, l'altra ladra e ubriacona; quando due ricchi zii si propongono di adottarle, la prima rovina tutto raccontando la verità, e la seconda la insegue in strada per strangolarla; il povero essere indifeso viene salvato da un operaio delle fogne, ateo e un po' cinico, che le impedisce anche di suicidarsi, ma che lì per lì la tratta come una reietta e sta per abbandonarla in mezzo alla strada; visto però che un vecchio prete gli ha appena procurato un lavoro migliore e gli ha regalato delle medagliette d'oro, si sente generoso e mente per salvarla dalla polizia che, dopo aver arrestato la sorella, vuole arrestare anche lei; temendo che la polizia venga a controllare se è veramente sua moglie, la porta a casa sua; poco a poco lei si affeziona a quell'uomo rude e un po' borioso; anche lui finisce per voler bene a quella ragazza fragile e spaventata, così premurosa verso di lui come una brava mogliettina; e l'appartamento al 7 piano che dà sui tetti diventa il loro paradiso; ma prima che possano sposarsi scoppia la guerra e lui deve partire soldato. La giovane, rimasta sola, sa difendersi dalla sorella, non è più una donnina debole e anonima; così quando lui torna cieco dal fronte, trova ad attenderlo una ragazza felice e piena di speranza nel futuro. Un delirio di tenerezze, esaltato dalla lunga attesa (ogni mattina alle undici i due si parlano a chilometri di distanza).

A man's castle: una ragazza affamata cerca di farsi sfamare da un signore in frac, ma è soltanto un disoccupato che si adatta a fare l'uomo-sandwich; i due vanno a vivere in un villaggio di baracche, in mezzo a profeti poeti e ubriaconi; l'uomo tenta anche la via del furto, ma, braccato dalla polizia, soltanto grazie alla solidarietà dei baraccati riesce a scappare insieme con la moglie e il neonato: saltando su un treno merci, diretto in un'altra città, dove li aspetta un altro futuro.

Little man what now: un giovane commesso sposa la giovane che ama anche se il modesto stipendio che percepisce dal padrone dispotico non consente loro alcun agio; i suoi colleghi sono macchiette, vittime come lui della povertà e della paura di perdere il posto: perde l'impiego proprio quando la moglie deve partorire il primogenito.

Questi film culminano in grandi scene d'illidio, come quella di The river (lui è malato, è scosso dai brividi: lei si denuda e lo abbraccia).

Three Comrades (1938), scripted by the novelist Francis Scott Fitzgerald, is one of his best melodramas. The portrait of the gentle fragile woman who falls in love with an immature man, and treats him like he is not strong enough for her tragedy, and maybe loves him precisely for that reason, is one of the most poetic of his career.

World War I has ended. An old major toasts to the soldiers of all the armies. Erich, Otto and Gottfried are three comrades that bid farewell to the arms and prepare to return to civilian life. Two years later they run a mechanic shop. Gottfriend is worried by the violence of intolerant militias. On Erich's birthday they go on a road trip. Along the way a car tries to pass them and they briefly race through the dusty roads. The driver is an aristocratic middle-aged name and the passenger is his friendJ Patricia (Margaret Sullivan), a beautiful young woman. Gottfriend and Patricia's friend almost get into a fight over the political violence goind on, while Erich and Patricia exchange compliments. Erich keeps seeing and entertaining Patricia, although his more mature friend Otto guesses that there is melancholy under that smile, and she tells him of an illness that kept her in bed for one year. At home she declines a generous business offer from her middle-aged friend, who is honestly worried about her future. Friedland attends political meetings that gets him in trouble and eventually get their car destroyed by vandals and almost get him killed. Erich is desperate because he, a humble mechanic from a poor family, doesn't belong in Patricia's high society. She invites him to go dancing with her friends, but he doesn't know how to dance and his tuxedo soon breaks down. He leaves the party, humiliated. He gets drunk to forget, but then finds Patricia sleeping on the steps to his home in the freezing cold of the night. She is coughing, but happy to see Erich. When Erich hugs her, she tells him that she is home. One day Otto asks her why she's not encouraging the immature Erich to marry her. Patricia confesses that her disease (tuberculosis) will come back. Otto wins: Patricia accepts to marry Erich. They spend the honeymoon at the sea. But she collapses coughing and Erich learns from the local doctor that she has a chronic illness. They need the specialist who has been taking care of Patricia, and Otto drives like a maniac to drive him there in time in the middle of the night on bad roads. The specialist orders her to return to the sanatorium, but she doesn't want to tell Erich. Now that he is married, Erich looks a better job but it's not easy. While he is walking pensive in the street, one day he causes an accident, and immediately offers to repair the car. A rival company wants the job and starts punching him in the middle of the street. His friends arrive and kick their ass. In winter the specialist calls Erich and he learns that Patricia must leave immediately for the sanatorium. In the meantime Gottfriend got in trouble again with the political agitators. Erich and Otto arrive just when he gets shot in the back by a young man. He dies in their arms. It starts snowing as they carry his body on their car through the streets of the town. They have seen the killer but it's pointless to tell the police: they have to find him themselves. In the meantime Patricia is told that she needs an expensive operation that might restore her health. Otto finds the killer and chases him to a church. The killer cannot find shelter in the church because the door is shut. He runs down the steps and, from the bottom of the stairs, shoots Otto and wounds him. Otto shoots back from the top of the stairs and kills him. Erich and Otto visit Patricia and learn how expensive the operation is going to be. To pay for it, unbeknownst to Erich, Otto sells their car, which is all their savings. After the operation Patricia is even sadder than usual. She is told to stand still, but instead she gets up one last time to see her Erich from the balcony. Then she collapses and dies shortly afterwards in his arms.

The Shining Hour (1938) is a (mediocre) melodrama of jealousy and self-sacrifice.

Passengers wake up on a long-distance flight and discuss the gossip of the day: a night-club dancer, Olivia (Joan Crawford), is dating a celebrity, the rich farmer Henry. Henry's brother David is on the plane and overhears the conversation. At the night-club, where David has just been watching Olivia's performance, Olivia tells Henry that she is scared. She is aware that Henry's spinster sister Hannah hates her. Looking for his brother, David shows up uninvited to a party thrown by another young tycoon, Roger. The crowd of wealthy socialites is making fun of the marriage just before Henry and Hannah walk in announcing their engagement. While David tries to change Henry's mind, Roger chats with Olivia: Roger is one of the many boyfriends she has had and is convinced that she will dump Henry too, but she confesses that this time she is really in love. They get married anyway and then fly to Henry's farm, where she is met by hostility from everybody except David's wife Judy, who is powerless in the kingdom ruled by Hannah. As David gets to spend more time, he becomes clearly jealous of Henry (who is designing a new house for himself and Olivia) and finds himself attracted to Olivia. Olivia reproaches him, and swears her faithfulness to Henry, but both Henry and Judy have noticed what is going on. Judy confesses that David never loved her and falls into depression. In the meantime Olivia confronts Hannah, who plainly tells her she is not welcome there. David keeps romancing Olivia, who desperately tries to push him away but cannot resist him. So she asks Henry to go away. Henry blames Hannah for convincing Olivia that she doesn't belong there. July, tears falling down her cheeks, tells Olivia that she should go away with David. Hannah sets fire to the new home that Henry was building and then tries to accuse Olivia of the fire. David finally rebels to Hannah's dictatorship. Olivia saves Judy who has run into the fire and then gives David a lecture about real love, the love of Judy and Henry, not the selfish love of David and of past Olivia affairs. Now Olivia feels that she has to leave alone, but this time it is Hannah herself, moved by Olivia's self-sacrifice, that tells Henry not to let her go. The Mortal Storm (1940), one of the first anti-nazi films made in Hollywood, follows a German family during nazism contrasting the simple life of good people with the brutal ideology that takes over their world. From a quiet domestic comedy the film turns into a tragedy of moral chaos and impotence in the face of history's devastating maelstrom. The story takes place in a town nested in the idyllic mountain landscape of Germany, just before Hitler's election to chancellor. Two young men, Otto and Erich, celebrate the 60th birthday of the head of the family, who is actually their stepfather. His wife, his teenage son and his daughter Freya, together with her boyfriend Fritz (one of his students), are also nice to him. The warm atmosphere of the family matches the beauty of the mountains. He's a professor at the university. When he enters the class room, he is welcomed by a standing ovation, from both his students and the rest of the faculty. At the birthday dinner Fritz asks Freya's hand. At that very moment the news arrives that Adolf Hitler has been elected chancellor. Most of the young men in the room are enthusiastic, starting with Fritz himself. The professor is worried because he is a Jew. Martin (James Stewart) is the one skeptic among the students. But the professor and Martin are the exception to the rule: for everybody else Hitler's election is an injection of hope. The party is spoiled when the nazists call an emergency meeting at the university: Martin is the only one who prefers to celebrate the professor's birthday. There is another reason why Martin is unhappy: he is secretely in love with Freya, and now she's engaged to Fritz. The atmosphere in town has completely changed. Pub customers sing patriotic songs extending the nazist salute. Martin and Freya are the only ones who do not join the masses in their enthusiastic demonstrations of nazist loyalty. An elderly man who refuses to sing along is almost beaten by the nazists and only Martin defends him. The professor's stepsons and Fritz are ashamed of his action. Fritz calls him an enemy. Outside the young nazists are beating the old man. Martin sends Fritz to hell and rushes outside. Freya follows him and later Fritz reproaches her.
The professor is soon a victim of racial discrimination. The nazi leader asks all loyal nazists to boycott the classes held by a Jew. And Fritz is one of the first students to abandon him. The same nazists burn books in the square. The professor, once a happy man, now lives inside a nightmare. Freya, realizing that Fritz's friends are the ones who will persecute her people, breaks their engagement. Even Freya's brother are on the nazist side: they forbid Martin to visit the professor's house ever again. And to make it clear they and their nazist friends beat him when he ignores their warning. When her mother and daughter run out to stop the fight, the nazist boys tell Otto and Erich that they will report the unpatriotic behavior of their relatives. Otto and Erich are so ashamed that they decide to leave the house.
Martin risks his life to help the schoolmaster (the old man who resisted the nazists at the pub) flee to Austria. Freya is proud and worried for him, and kisses him fondly. She confesses to Martin's mother that she's in love with him. The nazists enter the house and interrogate the women about the schoolmaster. Both Martin's mother and Freya refuse to talk. Martin remains in Austria, a fugitive. The professor is arrested by the police for being a Jew and pretending that there is no biological difference between Jews and Aryans. His wife and Freya can find no help from old friends. Freya even begs Fritz, who now works for the nazists, but Fritz is more loyal to Hitler than to old friends. The professor dies of a heart attack in jail.
The two women and the young boy decide leave for Austria, which is still free of nazism. But at the border the guards detain Freya because she is carrying a manuscript by her father. They take away her passport. Martin has to travel through the mountains to come and rescue her. They set out immediately for the return journey through the snow. The nazists put Fritz in charge of the posse that chases them. Freya slows Martin down. Martin and Freya are almost in Austria when the patrol closes in on them. Fritz order the soldiers to shoot. They hit Freya. Martin carries her across the border, but she dies in his arms.
Fritz returns to the barrack and tells Freya's brother how she died. One of the brothers curses Martin, but the other one now hates nazism.
The last scene is a masterpiece of cinematic metaphor. As Freya's repenting brother walks out of the room, the camera continues into their old house. There is nobody inside the house but we keep hearing the sound of the footsteps. The camera moves around the empty house, and in every corner we hear a voice from the past. Then the footsteps accelerate and walk outside in the snow. We see the footprints in the snow. And the snow slowly covers them.

Flight Command (1940) is about a cadet who wants to prove himself during flight training.

Smilin' Through (1941), from a stage play that had already been filmed twice, is a badly acted and scripted romantic melodrama.

John lives a lonely and melancholy lives, mourning the bride that he lost on his wedding day. Friends convince him to adopt the little niece, Kathleen, of his beloved. Years later, Kathleen has become a beautiful young woman, the mirror image of the dead woman. During a storm, she and a friend take shelter into an abandoned house. She senses that something terrible must have happened there. They hear a horse and then steps. It is a mysterious and handsome man, Kenneth, the son of the old owner. She falls in love with him, but when she mentions the name to her uncle John, he is terribly hurt. He tells her that Kenneth's father, Jeremy, is the man who killed his bride. A flashback (a lengthy and tedious sequence) shows what happened during the wedding. Jeremy was madly in love with the woman and couldn't stand the rejection. He showed up drunk at their wedding. He shot to kill the groom, John, but hit the bride, Kathleen's aunt. As she was dying, she told John that their love would never die. Jeremy left his house (the abandoned house) and ran away. She understands her uncle's feelings, but she can't resist her heart. Kenneth is about to leave for the war and she wants to go with him, but John forbids her to marry him. He even breaks up with his best friend of many years, who tries to talk sense into him. Wounded in the war, Ken comes back briefly. Kathleen has been waiting for him, but he treats her coldly. John's friend comes to John to tell him what is going on: Ken is a fine fellow, and wants Kathleen to forget him rather than be a wedge between Kathleen and John. John stil refuses to change his mind, even though Kathleen's happiness is at stake. But, seeing Kathleen cry, eventually he gives in. And he dreams of his bride walking into the room in her white dress. Seven Sweethearts (1942) is a charming fairy tale, despite an inept ending. A rude city reporter, Henry, drives into a fairy-tale village that has no signs, looking for the place where the Dutch festival of tulips that he is supposed to cover. He meets an old man who plays a gentle melody with three other men who are located in three different houses. The town is so quiet that they listen to each other from a distance. The old man tells him that he has found the Dutch village. They obviously don't like to put up signs, because the old man is also the owner of the only hotel but the building doesn't say so. Henry meets the gorgeous manager of the hotel, Victor, who is the daughter of the old man. Henry tells her that he is going to stay only a few days but she points to another guest, who came to stay a few days and has been there for 15 years. And there's a couple who came for their honeymoon and their honeymoon never seems to end. And there's a pianist who has been staying at the hotel for years, for no apparent reason. There are no keys for the rooms, and there are no phones.
He sees the "bell boy", another gorgeous girl also named like a man, Cornelius, and tries to flirt with her too. He is clearly a cynical womanizer. Later he summons the waiter to order a meal, and, yet again, the waiter is a gorgeous woman with a male name, Albert. He has an argument with her over diet. Then he meets Billy, who is also a gorgeous girl, and she explains that they are all sisters (seven of them, BIlly being the youngest), and they all work at the hotel for their widowed father, and they all have male names except the oldest one, Regina. He has an argument with Billy over music. They all have old-fashioned taste that drive him crazy. Billy can read the weather in the tulips like everyone else in town, and the forecast is for rain. That ruins Henry's job because his duty is mainly to take pictures of the festival. He has to stay and wait for the rains to stop, and feels he's in a jail. One night Henry finally meets Regina: she'a sexy, sophisticated, vain and spoiled. She dreams of becoming an actress. Henry doesn't feel like being in a jail anymore. While the two chat, all the other male-named sisters eavesdrop. When Henry invites Regina for a ride, the father is ecstatic. Five boys come to visit five of the girls, except Billy. The moment their father goes to sleep, each of the five girls jumps on one of the boys: they are all secretely engaged, but Dutch tradition wants that they cannot marry until the elder does. Billy is the only one who cares for Regina: the others just want Regina to marry someone, anyone. A nice pianist is in love with her, but she does not encourage him. Henry comes back from the ride with Regina, he is bored and annoyed by her spoiled manners. Billy, by comparison, is mature and caring. Henry falls in love with her, and she is not indifferent. All her sisters except Regina realize it. The following day Regina, more annoying than ever with her dreams of cinematic glory, wants Henry's attention, but he finds a way to elope in the rain with Billy and he tries to kiss her. The rains finally stop and Henry can go to work. During the festival Henry, encouraged by the sisters except the unaware Regina, proposes to Billy. Billy is indeed in love, but she knows that she could not survive away from the village, and also reveals to Henry the tradition that wants the elder daughter to marry first. At the hotel Henry is approached by the pianist who is in love with Billy. Henry talks him into pursuing Regina instead of Billy. Then Henry decides to confront the father. The father thinks that Henry is asking for Regina's hand and accepts without listening to Henry's protestations. Regina trapped him because she wants a chance to leave the town and move to the big city, where she can have a chance to become an actress. Henry tells her to get ready to leave and then begs the girls for help him to elope with Billy. But Billy does not want to break her father's heart. She refuses to run away but decides to confront Regina. Regina does not care about any of them, nor about her father. Billy slaps her, and Regina promises that she'll regret it for the rest of her life. Henry is waiting for Billy in the car, but, instead, Billy returns on the stage of the festival to sing a song. Her father realizes that something is very wrong. She doesn't want to tell him the truth, but Henry arrives and proudly proclaims that he's in love with Billy not Regina. The father is heart broken by consents that they leave right away. Billy, however, still cannot leave her father and bids Henry his goodbye. Henry has to leave alone. Back at his office in the big city, having delivered his article on the festival, Henry receives a call from... Regina. She has found a way to move to the city and her dreams of becoming an actress are coming true. She is even more vain than before. She leaves the door ajar for Henry, but instead her father walks in, dressed in a traditional suit that contrasts with the luxurious furniture of her apartment. The father has decided to send Regina to acting school and the pianist will be her guardian. When Henry arrives, the father himself offers Billy to him. Papa is happy at Henry's eager acceptance because he now has a son--Henry the Eighth. Finally, at a large wedding ceremony in Delft, all of the sisters marry their fianc‚s, including Regina, who returns home, happily in love with Randall. Back home six weddings take place: Henry with Billy, the five sisters with their fiances.

The Spanish Main (1945) was a costume pirate movie set in the Caribbeans.

Borzage was a master of the "mise en scene".

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