This is a review for the MURNAU/ BORZAGE FOX BOX which was released in late 2009 to much acclaim but
probably not much sales due to the high list price of the giant DVD/book set. But with that rather high price came 13 mostly unavailable titles and two very large coffee table size books about the films and the film makers.
This box set is an extraordinary collection of films that just have not been seen in years and in fact
are so obscure as to be mostly unknown to most everyone.
There are 12 DVD discs that contain 12 complete films, one partial film (THE RIVER), and a very informative documentary about the directors, F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage and their films. Along with the two very large
books this box set is one of the most comprehensive collections I have seen. And after watching all of it, this has to be the most satisfying film set ever put on the market.
Despite its still relatively high cost, I would hope that anyone who is interested will find some way to enjoy this remarkable set.
Here is a list of the films included in this box set:
LAZYBONES (1925) dby Frank Borzage. Buck Jones, Madge Bellamy, Zasu Pitts, Virginia Marshall, Edythe Chapman, Leslie Fenton. Frank Borzage's silent film about a town loafer who draws upon unknown reserves of kindness and love to help raise an unwanted litle girl who, after reaching her maturity, becomes the object of his affection. Buck Jones, nearly reprising his similar role in John Ford's JUST PALS (1920), gives yet another fine performance belieing his career as a B western star.
LAZYBONES covers over twenty years in these character's lives and does it with humor, grace and sympathy.
SUNRISE (1927) dby F.W. Murnau. George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Lindsay. Unsophisticated married farmer, played by George O'Brien, contemplates leaving his wife, Janet Gaynor, to take up with a hot to trot city woman, Margaret Lindsay. Eventually, the situation spirals into a possible murder plot just to get rid of the wife. Rather pedestrian plot can't disguise the fact that this startingly beautiful film is one of the supreme cinema achievements. Fox films allowed their new hire, German immigrant Murnau, to virtually take over the studio for the few months of filming and required thier established directors, Frank Borzage, Raoul Walsh, John Ford and Howard Hawks to watch the master at work. Murnau's influence was felt almost immediately, even though SUNRISE was not a box office smash. A truly great movie.
SEVENTH HEAVEN (1927) dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Janet Gaynor, Ben Bard, Albert Gran, David Butler, Marie Mosquini. The famous silent romantic classic that set box office records during the last days of the silent era. It all takes place in the city streets of Paris
where a free spirited street sweeper played by Charles Farrell, falls for a waif played by Janet Gaynor, who is walking the streets to survive. Once their love is established, WWI starts and the sweeper is swept up in the war, leaving the much stronger and independant girl to fend for herself. SEVENTH HEAVEN is a work of almost blinding romanticism, with many fine studio built sets and some exciting war scenes. Directed with almost painstaking care and precision by the king of romantic films, Frank Borzage.
STREET ANGEL(1928 dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Janet Gaynor, Albeto Rabagliati, Cino Conti, Guido Trento, Henry Armeta. This is Borzage's follow up to SEVENTH HEAVEN and is similar in story but not quite as intense as his previous film. But Janet Gaynor is just as great in STREET ANGEL where she plays a Neopolitan "woman of the streets" who is doing time for stealing. She escapes, joins a circus and meets Charles Farrell whose character is a painter. STREET ANGEL is usually described as lushly romantic and that is putting it mildly. A more than memorable movie, certainly worth seeking out.
THE RIVER (1929) dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan. All that's left of this picturesque film is most of the middle portion, the "romantic part." But included in this print is a photo reconstruction of the beginning and the end of what surely was a marvelous film.
Someone said the romance is reminscint of the romance in MAN'S CASTLE, Borzage's 1933 classic.
That's not too far off, but still THE RIVER is a movie, even if only parts of it are left, that can stand on its own.
THEY HAD TO SEE PARIS (1929).dby Frank Borzage. Oklahoman Will rogers hits it big in the oil business and his wife and daughter eventually decide to do likewise in society. Only Paris seems much more preferable than
Oklahoma City. Very early talkie still hits its satirical targets and Rogers is already making off-hand remarks
in the direction of the camera. A fine movie, enjoyable from start to finish.
LUCKY STAR (1929) dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Janet Gaynor. Janet Gaynor plays a tomboy type who eventually meets and "becomes interested" in Charles Farrell's character. But WWI intervenes and when Farrell returns to his bucolic home he is missing a leg. So the road to romance meets another detour until a bully shows up and shows interest in Gaynor's character. I sometimes forget to mention the as usual astounding visuals in Borzage's films, this one qualifies
as astounding plus.
SONG O'MY HEART (1930) dby Frank Borzage. John McCormack, J. Farrell MacDonald, Alice Joyce, Maureen O'Sullivan, JM Kerrigan. "Youth, Love And Comedy Woven Into A Wistful Romance By The Golden Voice Of John McCormack." Yes, a full length movie starring legendary tenor John McCormack who does a very nice job as a former local singing star shying away from a chance at the bigtime while helping various village characters with their problems. cliches abound but this curio is worth seeing more than once. I'm surprised that I liked it so much.
LILLIOM (1930 dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Rose Hobart, Estelle Taylor, H.B.Warner, Lee Tracy. A truly amazing fantasy film and again all rests on Borzage's belief in the mystical power of love, even from beyond the grave. There are any number of reasons to see this film, but above all is the chance to witness Borzage's restatement of love conquering all. Frank Borzage was a master director and LILLIOM is just one more piece of evidence should there be any doubt. Remade by Fritz Lang in 1934 in France and eventually remade as CAROUSEL in 1956.
CITY GIRL(1930) dby F.W. Murnau. Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, David Torrance, Edith Yorke, Anne Shirley, Jack Pennick, Guinn "Big Boy"Williams. Sort of a variation on SUNRISE but a wonderful silent film that can stand on its own. I understand that there was a partial talkie released but the silent version is the one that survives. The story concerns a farmer's son from Minnesota who comes to Chicago to sell this year's crop of wheat under strict orders to hold the price by his unyielding father. When the farmboy meets a city girl waitress, and falls in love, all plans are off and although this story seems almost defiantly old fashioned, it's one of the most enjoyable films that I have ever seen. Another beautiful film by Murnau, and his last fictional work before his untimely death in a car crash.
BAD GIRL (1931). dby Frank Borzage. James Dunn, Sally Eilers, Minna Gombell. A depression era story, yes, a romance, showing that even the lack of money can't halt "doin' what comes naturally." The titled "bad girl" is actually more defiant of social conventions than anything else. Frank Borzage won an Oscar for his direction on this really well done small scale film.
AFTER TOMORROW (1932) dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Marian Nixon, Minna Gombell, William Collier Sr. Another Depression era social drama but this one involves the entire family of the girl who is engaged to Charles Farrell, in a much improved performance than in his earlier talkies.
One thing after another hinders the would be mariage, most of the problems stem to the lack of money by almost everyone. Frank Capra's thirties movies are always associated with the Depression but Frank Borzage's characters seemed to know as much if not more about the Big Bad Wolf and exactly how many knocks their door will take..
YOUNG AMERICA (1932) dyb Frank Borzage. Spencer Tracy, Doris Kenyon, Ralph Bellamy, Tommy Conlin,
Raymond Borzage, Beryl Mercer. Teenager Tommy, the worst kid in town, breaks into a drugstore owned by Spencer Tracy's character and thus begins the journey into social drama that I'm sure
was supposed to be almost a B movie. But Frank Borzage turns this modest small scale picture into a plea for understanding of today's teenagers and hard up folks in general. Fascinating, well done glimpse of yet another angle of economic hardship and how people might try to get along as best they can.
By the way, I have decided to store the DVDs in plastic CD cases for now, at least.
Of the 12 discs I had trouble removing 3 or 4, getting my fingerprints
on the discs.
I rate the MURNAU/BORZAGE FOX BOX set five stars, although it really should be more like five hundred stars.