Screens of Dark, Light, Pain, Love, Guilt, Innocence, Grief and Rapture. The movie could only be Frank Borzage’s last total masterpiece, Moonrise (1948), adapted from a then popular “redemptive” novel by Theodore Strauss. This is a movie that grabs you by the throat with the opening shot of a man about to be hanged played in both life and shadow play, and doesn’t let you go for more than six minutes until it’s punched its way through every conceivable emotion, wrenching you with it into some sort of stunned, heightened state. (Click on the screen captures to enlarge.)
|Dane Clark, Moonrise|
Borzage’s astonishing mise-en-scène begins with a low angle and high contrast shot of a pending execution. The background then morphs into a surreal undulating shadow play of nightmare, and lap dissolves into the child of that hanged man first shown from above as a baby crying in a room with a hanging doll, then as a boy, now photographed even higher from the top of a high crane for over a minute in a single travelling during which he’s tormented for the “sins” of his dead father by the other boys, in a shot that can only be described as the POV of a “higher being”.
|Lloyd Bridges, Moonrise|
|Dane Clark, Gail Russell, Moonrise|
Borzage’s dramaturgy takes the picture away from an original concept of a Noir style film which Republic and producer Charles Haas originally wanted. Borzage crafts the narrative line into a range of moods and tones to allow the picture to breathe, after the unparalleled intensity of the opening sequences. In fact, what he gives us is an ecstatic film composed around a small number of what the cinéphile world used to call “privileged moments”.
|Gail Russell, Dane Clark, Moonrise|
|Rex Ingram, Dane Clark, Moonrise|
|"...they dance together in the shadows against a ghostly score..."|
|Henry Morgan, Moonrise|
The Blu-ray delivers a flawless image of this masterpiece which, like most people, I first saw back in the late 60s, in 16mm. During the dying days of Laserdisc Republic itself published a line of Lasers including this and Borzage’s earlier I’ve Always Loved You (1946). The image was serviceable but dull and the film has effectively been a “lost” item for 50 years in repertoire programming. Until now.