Wow. I had high hopes for this, as I’ve been heard good things about it (not from a lot of people, as it’s pretty obscure), I loved the Frank Borzage film Jeremy gave me earlier (here’s that review), and I generally like film noir no matter what.
I was unprepared for how much I would love it.
The opening is a very expressionistic depiction of a man being hanged, all in shadows, followed by an ominous shot of a baby crying in a crib with a shadow over him cast from a hanging toy. Flashforward, the kid is getting bullied on the schoolyard about his dad being hanged. Flashforward again, the young man is still getting into fistfights over this spectre from his past.
All that is done with very little exposition, just letting us see and experience what this kid is going through and the violent, desperate man he becomes. The rest of the movie gets a little more conventional – he meets a girl, but the police are after him and he panics, etc. But it maintains this veneer of heightened romanticism. It’s set in the Deep South, which makes the role played by Rex Ingram all the more fascinating – it’s not a typical role for a black man in the 1940s.
It’s a crying shame that this film isn’t better known than it is – I couldn’t find it on DVD, and it left Amazon streaming before its week came up. Thankfully someone has uploaded it on YouTube in excellent quality. It’s weird that it’s fallen through the cracks. It feels very like Night of the Hunter, another noirish film steeped in mythic Southern Gothic Romanticism, and some of the interactions between Danny and the “slow” man played by a young Harry Morgan prefigures Sonny’s protection of Billy in The Last Picture Show. Ripe for rediscovery.
Thank you so much for giving me this to watch, Kristina. This is a special, special movie.
Stats and stuff…
directed by Frank Borzage, written by Charles F. Haas
starring Dane Clark, Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore, Allyn Joslyn, Rex Ingram, Harry Morgan
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Moonrise entered my chart:
Moonrise > A Day’s Pleasure
Moonrise > Mr. Sardonicus
Moonrise > The Mummy
Moonrise < Wings of Desire
Moonrise > My Cousin Vinny
Moonrise < Adaptation.
Moonrise < The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Moonrise < Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Moonrise < Red Dust
Moonrise < Dinner at Eight
Moonrise > The Woman in the Window
Moonrise > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Final #345 out of 3711 films on my chart (91%)
It is now my #1 Frank Borzage film, my #1 Dane Clark film, my #1 Gail Russell film, my #1 Ethel Barrymore film, my #20 Film Noir, my #10 Melodrama, and my #4 film of 1948.
Moonrise was recommended by Kristina Dijon, a film blogger friend. Averaging together this #345 ranking with my #928 ranking of her other film, Crime Wave, gives Kristina an average ranking of 636.
A few more screenshots…