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Moonrise

Screening on Film
Directed by Frank Borzage.
With Dane Clark, Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore.
US, 1948, 35mm, black & white, 90 min.
Print source: UCLA

Borzage started helming pictures in Hollywood way back in 1912, so masterful Moonrise is definitely a third-act wonder from this legendary studio-system filmmaker. The studio in question on this project is Republic Pictures, always a budget-conscious concern, so the usually lush’n’luminous Borzage’s work here is much leaner than usual, almost noir-like in its economics of shadows—darkness is the cheapest of all set dressings!—and the leanness is matched by the dark intensity of the story and its leading man, brooding Dane Clark. Clark plays Danny Hawkins, a small-town hothead haunted since childhood by the hanging of his convicted-murderer father. Sullen young Hawkins’ worst fears are realized when he himself suddenly commits a murder. Tortured by fear and guilt, and obeying the nightmarish imperatives of noir romance, Hawkins attempts to develop a relationship with the girlfriend of his victim, but this movie is no mere crime film, no simple genre picture. Borzage, more concerned with the murderer’s heart and how it can be reconciled to its painful past, concocts a remarkable denouement that makes me wonder out loud: Hey, what if Robert Bresson were a script doctor over at Republic!

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