Man's Castle

Screening on Film
Directed by Frank Borzage.
With Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Marjorie Rambeau.
US, 1933, 35mm, black & white, 75 min.
Print source: Swank Films

Frank Borzage made a smooth transition from his late-20s run of mystically romantic silent masterpieces starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell—7th Heaven (1927); Street Angel (1928), Lucky Star (1929) —to this luminous Depression-era talkie, along with Moonrise, his most sophisticated narrative. Martin Scorsese has famously observed that Borzage’s films unfold in “lovers’ time,” a storytelling rhythm that gives two people together lots of space to do the little things that people falling for each other do, and this pre-code picture about a young homeless woman (Young) taken in by a lover (Tracy) unwilling to commit to her, even in the face of her pregnancy, examines at length the love-besotted couple in their shared Hooverville shanty during periods of playful tenderness, panicked possessiveness and bitter recrimination. Tracy is shown kidding and teasing his soulmate in ways one never sees in film, and the viewer feels with sinking heart his altered attitude toward her as power shifts between the two. It is one of the great portrayals of the human heart at war with itself.

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