Danny Hawkins, who lives in a psychological shadow because his father died by a hangman's noose, accidentally kills a man in a fight over a girl, Gilly Johnson, and is afraid to notify the police. He wins the love of the girl but when she tries to influence him to admit his guilt, he runs away. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Moonrise is made with such care. It is visually both expressive and restrained. It exhibits a remarkable feel for nuance in language (the words of the soda jerk who constantly speaks in late '30's hipster slang being the most obvious sign of this). The film is morally complex and avoids any easy resolutions. For example, Dane Clark as Danny Hawkins seems genuinely disturbed and doesn't turn this into some kind of Ray Milland/James Dean tour de force. Probably he didn't have the chops. But still, this is one of the most affecting things about the film: his hurt goes so deep, neither friendship nor love nor pleasure nor any sense of purpose can really sway it. His emotional violence seems so chimerical that it barely feels like "acting". Rex Ingram as Mose plays his role with an enormous sense of gravitas and dignity, something one rarely sees in Black characters in films of this period. He enables, sure, but he also speaks in his own voice. This is consistent with the film's palpably Southern, swampy atmosphere - it is amazing how Borzage can make studio sets speak like that.The brilliant expressionist opening is often remarked upon, but I also love the elegant, understated crane shot that privileges the couple's ghostly, beautiful dance in the abandoned mansion. And Moonrise (like Murnau's Sunrise, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, Sirk's Tarnished Angels, Lewis' Gun Crazy, Siegel's The Lineup etc.) makes use of the beloved German Expressionist trope which counterpoises the calculated mass entertainment of Carnivals with the particularity of an individual's crisis or tragedy. I wish there was a whole study written on this theme. While on this subject, I just want to say a little more about the traces of other films I perceive here. Moonrise's connection to Night of the Hunter has often been noted, and the debt to Murnau and Sunrise seems obvious, although Borzage was making a couple of his greatest films at the same moment Murnau was making his masterpiece (both were using Janet Gaynor as their star). One small caveat: I find the ending of this film perhaps a little abrupt, but it is consistent with the film's "moral universe". Which is not too high - faluting a term to use while speaking of this film. Moonrise is a minor masterpiece - why isn't it better known?
14 of 17 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?