Moonrise - 1948
Director(s): Frank Borzage
Writer(s): Charles F. Haas (screenplay) / Theodore Strauss (novel)
Cinematography by: John L. Russell
Editor(s): Harry Keller
Cast: Dane Clark, Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore, Allyn Joslyn, Rex Ingram and Harry Morgan
I have recently been on a Noir kick; maybe it is the fact that I have the Criterion Channel and their collection is impressive, or it is merely because it is one of my favorite genres. There is something magical about a noir film - the way the character walk and talk, and how every decision seems to push them towards an inevitable dark fate. While most associate the genre with a PI entangled by a mysterious, attractive woman - to me it is the tragic lead (such as in Detour or Blood Simple) that make the genre so compelling. That is why today we are talking Frank Borzage's Moonrise, a small-town story about how the son pays for the father's sins.
The story takes place in a small southern town. We watch a brief montage in where a man is hung for the murder of a doctor (he blamed him for the death of his wife). His child is bullied throughout all his childhood by his schoolmates, as they always remind him of the fact that his father is a murderer and got hanged for his crimes. Beaten up and mocked all his life, Danny (Clark) has grown up full of rage and resentment towards his father and his surroundings. Danny has a long-standing affair with an engaged school teacher, Gilly (Russell), the only person that sees the wounded man behind the rage. One-night Danny can no longer take the mocking and torment from his lifelong bully (and Gilly's fiancé), Jerry (Bridges), and in a fit of rage, he kills Jerry – sparking a town-wide chase.
Haas’s screenplay, adapted from Strauss’ novel, exploration of how our parents, surroundings, and friends (or lack thereof) mold the persons we become, while tragic, is the most compelling aspect of the film. Danny deep down is a good man, trying to overcome the legacy of his father, the heartbreak of growing up without both his parents, but the people around him cannot see past that and have chosen to define him by his father – permanently depriving him of his future. The town without knowing, created a cycle in where history repeats itself, instead of encouraging the son of a murdered become an integral part of society, and not a stigma or a reminder of the towns dark past.
Director Borzage, and cinematographer Russell (Psycho and Alfred Hitchcock Presents) visuals further expand on this theme, as they cast long and dark shadows over young and old Danny. The darkness of his father's sin that he cannot escape and dictate his actions in the end. Another visual that I loved was the sequence of the Ferris-wheel, as it showcases the town, and the guilt looming over his head. The montage at the beginning of the film is incredible as it sets up Danny's journey – and the editing by Harry Keller helps condense an entire childhood in minutes. Dane Clark acting is excellent, not because he loses control and expresses the rage he has built up through the years – but because he tries to hold it back, and you can see it behind his eyes building up after each scene.
Moonrise is a Glass Half Full.
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