Frank Borzage Edit Profile
As a teenager he went on the stage and he began his movie career as an actor. Thomas Ince gave him his chance as a director and, by the mid- 1920s, Borzage was one of the most successful Hollywood directors.
War, and the consequent taste lor realism, destroyed the world he had created and after The Mortal Storm, only one other film—Moon rise— properly revealed his talent. The loss of romance during the war is all the more ironic in that Borzages most poignant films of the 1930s involve lovers under the shadow of Hitler, fascism, or the slump. There is a dreamy preoccupation in those films, based on what Andrew Sarris called “a genuine concern with the wondrous inner life of lovers in the midst of adversity.’ Above all, this faith in the enchanted complicity of sentiment is borne out in three films starring Margaret Sullavan—Little Man, What Now?, Three Comrades, and The Mortal Storm, (ust as Borzage ended the decade with Sullavan, so he had begun with Janet Gaynor—in Seventh Heaven. Street Angel, and Lnckij Star.
Among the rest, he emphasized the romantic undertones of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (with Gaiy Cooper and Helen Hayes); directed Mary Bickford's last movie, Secrets; made Man's Castle as true a picture of hope amid the Depression as You Only Live Once (37, Fritz Lang) is of fatalism; directed Dietrich in her best non-Sternberg film. Desire; and teamed Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer in the uncanny History Is Made at Night. That film, beginning as a romantic comedy but turning to tragedy once love has been proved, is typical of Borzage s serene confidence in the imagination when faced by material destruction.
The delicate pathos of Three Comrades should not conceal the chance that it might have been better still. Its central scenarist was Scott Fitzgerald. harrowed by the way MCM and his producer, Joseph Mankiewicz, handled the script: “Oh, Joe, can’t producers ever be wrong? I'm a good writer—honest. I thought you were going to play fair. Fitzgerald’s letters show some of the things lost between script and film, and certainly Three Comrades is the bones of a marvelous, Nicholas Ray—like movie.
Borzages political intuition is reliable, even if he treats it in conventional romantic terms. The Mortal Storm is a more perceptive and frightening study of fascism than, say. The Great Dictator (40, Charles Chaplin) or the Capra films. The shot of James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, emotionally and philosophically hemmed in by a forest of saluting arms, is typical of Borzage's faith that love is a manifestation of political nature.
He was recognized as a master.