Friday, 23 February 2018

Weimar superstar… Christian Wahnschaffe (1919-21), with Stephen Horne, Berlinale 68 (Part Two)

Day three of the festival and it was back to the gorgeous Zeughkino for perhaps the major restoration, two films that were once considered lost and which had been painstakingly reconstructed over a two-year period… it was time for Conrad Veidt, a genuine Weimar superstar!

Directed by Urban Gad, the former Mr Asta Nielsen, the films were quite different with the first a sprawling tale of political subversion, nihilist revolutionaries on the prowl and the second a simpler, more entertaining tale of social injustice. We saw Connie the fashion plate, the feline sensitive, the noble hero, the Proteus - unfurling those steely limbs; defying the logic of form and substance… and always, always, carrying unconscious women.

Christian Wahnschaffe, Teil 1: Weltbrand (World Afire) (1919)

“You sacrifice thousands of souls in your desire for adoration…”

World Afire is still incomplete and whilst titles explained missing parts of the plot there were still some narrative jumps in a story loaded with character and sub-plots. Christian Wahnschaffe is the spoiled son of a wealthy industrialist whose eyes are opened to the struggles below his income bracket through his relations with a stunning dancer Eva Sorrel (Lillebil Ibsen) and her associate, a Russian Nihilist called Iwan Becker (Fritz Kortner, wide-eyed and febrile even without Lulu to push him through the gears…).

Lillebil Ibsen and Leopold von Ledebur
Eva is introduced with a great high-angled shot from Gad and his cinematographer Max Lutze who also perform similar service for the high-angled cheekbones of Herr Veidt. It’s Conrad the clothes horse with one combination of leather waistcoat and plaid jodhpurs being especially striking and we also see the Veidt ribs through a revealing satin dressing-gown – deliberate decadence setting him at the extremes of a long journey.

Christian fixates on Eva and drives his poor wife to misery as we meet the other players in Eva’s life Cardillac (Hermann Vallentin) a high-stakes investor and her step-father, the crippled dancer who made Eva dance over knives to succeed where he failed. It’s all very baroque – Eva’s father is introduced with a montage of naked dancers circling over his head – and as we skip from Paris to Russia the mood shifts.

Eva has attracted the interest of the Russian Grand Duke (Leopold von Ledebur) and the head of his secret police (Josef Peterhans) intercepts a secret document she has been hiding for Becker on behalf of the revolutionaries… As a revolution clearly very much like the one in 1905 gathers pace, Christian and Becker try to win them back.

The plot is considerably more convoluted than this of course but overall the film is a visually sumptuous melodrama incorporating fashion, dance and “nihilism”. But this was really only the set-up for Christain Wahnschaffe, the punch-line was to follow…

The Nihilists make secret plans
Christian Wahnschaffe, Teil 2: Die Flucht aus dem goldenen Kerker/ The Escape from the Golden Prison (1921)

The second “part” features far fewer characters and much more Veidt with a plot as taught as the sinews in the actor’s steely arms. This time Christian becomes drawn into the world of the poor by compassion and love although everyone’s motivations are at one time or another questionable, even Ruth (Rose Müller) the angel of the slums: wealth corrupts and Ruth is right when she tells Christian that “…your money sends people down the wrong path.”

Christian lives in splendour and is bored to tears at one of his own parties: tired of these “ceaseless revels”. His pal Amadeus Voß (Ernst Pröckl) suggests some slumming and takes him down to a dive bar well past the wrong side of the tracks. The denizens are drunk and feisty, and the posh boys cover up their bow-ties and try to look cool. It’s far too much for Christian though when a painter/pimp, Niels Heinrich (the excellent Werner Krauß) starts beating up his girl Karen (Esther Hagan). The violence is believably brutal from both actors – Krauß is so thoroughly menacing – that the intervention of Veidt’s character can’t come soon enough.

Christian protected by Ruth
Christian takes Karen to a hotel and she is naturally confused by Christian’s charity – good emoting from Esther Hagen. Sadly, they have been followed by Niels and so any relief will be short-lived…

Back in his mansion, Christian works out by boxing, allowing Veidt to show some impressive combinations, and thinks through what he should do. “The most exhausting work a man can do is nothing…” and spurred on he once again must rescue Karen on finding her being assaulted by Niels. Carrying her away from the hotel and back to her mother’s apartment, he passes through dozens of children lining the rickety stairways of their slum.

Here he meets the saintly Ruth who has devoted her life to helping and is transfixed by her example and, naturally, her smile. He offers his wallet, but she tells him to think harder. Voß cannot understand his friend: “… why are you here? Are you attracted by poverty?” no, replies Christian, “but I hate wealth”.

He follows this up by liquidating his assets and, sixty years before the KLF, sets flame to his fortune, causing a riot in the tenement. But there is one asset he wants to share and he gives his mother’s pearls to Ruth an act that does not go un-noticed and one thing leads to another, leads to a murder and more. Given the hyperinflation of this period – wheelbarrows of notes were required to buy groceries – this fascination with wealth and currency speaks for itself but we are also in the time when genuine alternatives to capitalism were closer to the mainstream. Whatever goes around…

On the Zeughkino’s Steinway, Stephen Horne was on top form and, having played the double the day before, was all over the narrative and emotion with multi-tasked inspiration. The closing passage to the second film was spectacular with a stunned audience hanging on the final, devastating, suspended notes and cinema staff putting in urgent calls to the piano tuner (possibly)… a fitting climax for that astonishing ending.

Die Unehelichen/Children of no Importance/Illegitimate Children (1926), with Maud Nelissen

Another film from Gerhard Lamprecht, this quite different from the first (Sins of the Father), but equally earnest in its pursuit of the social issues of the day namely child abuse in foster care. Lamprecht was the son of a prison padre and a humanist committed to moving society forward, a forward-thinking agenda that it’s all too easy to shake your head at: the rise of the most socially-destructive regimes was never inevitable and that is precisely why the recent history is so widely recognised in this city.

Peter Hewer (Ralph Ludwig), Lotte (Fee Wachsmuth) and Frieda (Margot Misch) are three illegitimate children in foster care with the Zielke’s. Herr Zielke (Max Maximilian) is a violent drunk who jokes with his pals in the bar that he’s off to have some fun beating his other half (Margarete Kupfer) who is just as hard on the children. Eventually this miserable existence takes its toll on Lotte and Peter is handed possible salvation by the well-off Frau Berndt (Hermine Sterler) only for his biological father (Bernhard Goetzke) to exert his legal right to take his child and work him hard on his barge…

Clearly there were injustices to be addressed but the film is naturalistic, well shot and delivers its message whilst entertaining. Lamprecht directs his young stars well and all three do very well… reader, there were moist eyes in the fifth row of the CinemaXx.

The Light of Asia / Prem sanyas (1925), with recorded score from Pierre Oser, and the ensembleKONTRAST

Lastly, I should mention the first film I saw, Die Leuchte Asiens, the first of the classic trilogy commissioned by Himansu Rai and Peter Ostermayer that came before A Throw of Dice and then Shiraz. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the excellence of the new Anoushka Shankar score for Shiraz, but I was slightly disappointed with the score that was played: a mix of chamber orchestration and electronica. There were treated instruments playing the leading lines and whilst these were not unpleasant I found them distracting and not always sympathetic.

Franz Osten directs this Indo-German co-production, which is never-the-less a special film with my main man Himansu Rai on top form as the Prince who wants to find peace with his god and the – rather young, 13/14?! - Seeta Devi, even then a performer of intensity and casual power, as his devoted wife.

A reminder, if one was needed that there’s more important philosophical work to be done to free ourselves from the mindsets of national identity and tribalism that bind our souls firmly to the ground.

Danke Berline, wir sehen uns nächstes Jahr!

Rocking the leather look

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Festival in Berlin… Weimar Film at 68th Berlinale

My first trip to the Berlinale - indeed to Berlin - and a long weekend in which the best pictures included work from Johannes Vermeer and the brightest star was probably a lass named Nefertiti born in about 1370 BC. Berlin is indeed a wonderful town and has many artefacts, ancient and modern, that demand investigation. It presents twentieth century impacts like the thousands of bullet marks on its Victorian museums, as part of an ongoing civic culture of recognition and renewal with the recent past and its wounds not overlooked but given their due. As we walked along a section of the Berlin Wall, we discovered the remains of basements used by the Gestapo and SS in the 30’s and 40’s as well as a control centre for the concentration camps.

Berlin has been reconstructed and you have to look hard for the kind of old neighbourhoods you’d find in London or even Paris. The roots of this architectural devastation lie in the events after the ending of the Weimar Republic and this year’s Berlinale celebrated that rich period of creative and socio-political hope between 1919 and 1933, including 28 features films of which I'd previously seen just two. I managed to catch about a third before departing and these included a rich variety of styles all containing themes reflective of yesterday and tomorrow. One short film, Streets of Old Berlin (1928), was a poignant reminder of how the city looked before disaster, it’s still out there, but this history doesn’t hold Berliners back it propels them forward.

The first full day was spent in the comfy seats of the Zeughkino, part of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, in an elegant screening room complete with a grand piano from those Steinway people. The first two films dealt with the Franco-Prussian border and eternal enmities…

Kameradschaft (1931)

Regina, or The Sins of the Father (1927), with Maud Nelissen

This film, whilst not the greatest print, was still satisfyingly-dramatic, well-acted and well directed with oodles of late-period silent style. The camera tracks a horse in full gallop, it follows the hate around the room in the festering alehouse and there are many atmospheric night shots along The Cat’s Bridge; a thin trail between the village and the castle housing the disgraced Baron… also the scene of the Berlinale Retrospective’s poster.

It’s 1807 and Prussia is at war with Napoleon’s France and in Schranden, the local Baron is co-operating with the French and when his son, a lieutenant in the Prussian army, is returning on leave, they put an ambush into play before he arrives. The Baron forces the local undertaker’s daughter, Regina, to lead the French along the “Cat’s Bridge” – throttling her if she doesn’t - and they massacre the Prussian forces.

Regina (Lissy Arna) is at the heart of this complex tale of incompatible love and loyalty… where even familial ties do not bind: “My Mother was Polish…” says the Baron (Gustav Rodegg) and “My mother was Prussian…” responds the son, Boleslav (Jack Trevor). Both act out of loyalty, but the son tries to find a higher sense of duty, arranging the burial of his traitorous father and turning even his most loyal men against him in the process.

Regina lives with Boleslav in the ruins of the family castle and as she clings to their last chance, he initially treats her with Baronial indifference – there are no simple paths taken and no easy resolutions in director and writer Gerhard Lamprecht’s world.

The hatred in the town is something to see and the sins of the fathers are not only passed onto the sons, they are also unforgivable. Regine’s father (Max Maximilian) cannot forgive her in his drunken rages whilst the townsfolk, revel in his acceptance of his father’s position, washing down the bitter tastes of hatred with flagons of ale supplied by the town’s Mayor (Rudolf Lettinger)

Napoleon escapes and once more Prussia calls on its men to defend the flag. Boleslav enlists the locals to fight under him yet even then he is challenged by one of the ring-leaders, the mayor’s son, (John Mylong) and has to have him arrested. His former lover Helene (Louise Woldera) pleads with Boleslav to show lenience for her new man; she is the daughter of the local priest (Andreas Behrens-Klausen) who also just cannot forgive. As the angry mob waits to ambush him at the bridge, Regine runs off to protect him…

There’s always a price to pay and the sins of the fathers do indeed pass onwards as Germany and France discovered so many times after the Napoleonic wars. As with all Weimar Cinema, hindsight makes every warning doubly poignant and the film makers were not wrong in the slightest. So it went and so it goes…

Gerhard Lamprecht directs this sprawling tale well and even though the subject is nominally a costume drama the real issue is perhaps a consideration of the “Great Betrayal” that festered in the post-war years – the act of national denial which ultimately led to further calamity. Lissy Arna is superb as the woman outcast - guilty but brave - whilst Jack Trevor is also tremendously nuanced as the war hero who discovers moral courage is more important than physical: the power to forgive is what we need to move on whatever the endless backlog of injustice.

Maud Nelissen accompanied with well-practiced pacing: I liked the lyricism in her playing, well-formed and dynamic structures and I also loved her clever use of paused playing, showing, as Miles Davis used to say, the power of the spaces between the notes. Given the rich emotional textures on show, she trod the cat’s path with balanced poise.

Sons and Fathers

Kameradschaft / La tragédie de la mine Comradeship (1931)

Next up a talkie based on an incident on the German/French border in which German mine rescue workers went to the aid of hundreds of French miners stranded underground by a fire.

One of Georg Wilhelm “Pandora” Pabst’s first talkies it is a remarkable well-realised early talkie and one that was naturally in French and German. The theme of men being united more by common workman’s pride: miners helping miners, did not play well in Germany where the film sank, possibly with some behind scenes encouragement, but in France it was a huge success.

You can see why, it’s a taught, action-oriented thriller, with substantial supporting characters and some lump-in-the-throat bravery. There’s some lighter touches and a good cast, signs that Herr Pabst had mastered the new art of sound.

The rescue crosses the same borders fought over in Regine, and showed that power of worker solidarity… Again, as with other films of this period, hinting at what could have been.

Der Kampf ums Matterhorn/ Fight for the Matterhorn (1928) with Maud Nelissen

This being a Weimar Retro, I was desperate to see at least one “Mountain film” but with Leni R’s Blue Mountain sold out, settled for this long but frequently breath-taking adventure. Based on the “true story” of the Matterhorn first completed ascent, it featured some gorgeous vistas with sun shining through menacing clouds at 12,000 feet and probably higher! Directors Mario Bonnard and Nunzio Malasomma hauled their kit so far up the alpine peaks you figured they deserved their fair amount of triumphant views.

The film is very reminiscent of The Holy Mountain (1926) especially given that Luis Trenker features in both. Trenker may not have been the best actor in the world but he was almost certainly the best mountaineer who could act. His face is bronzed through continuous exposure to sun and snow and he looks the part standing, sitting or climbing.

The story is loosely based on the truth and the novel it inspired, Der Kampf ums Matterhorn (1928) by Carl Haensel. Trenker plays mountain guide Anton Carrel who is improbably married to the beauteous Felicitas (Marcella Albani) who is also the centre of attention for Anton’s annoying step-brother Giaccomo (Clifford McLaglen, Stepney-born brother of Victor and Cyril… they were everywhere those boys!)

A British climber, Edward Whymper (Peter Voss) arrives wanting to climb the Matterhorn… Anton won’t accompany him, but he does save him and them allows his brother to wind him up as the suave Whymper impresses his wife. Step-bro needles and pushes Anton so hard he takes Whymper up to challenge the summit and possibly ensure he has a climbing accident…

The brother is so unfeasibly annoying and yet this aside a fine adventure develops although it could easily have been half an hour shorter… Still, stirring stuff all the same aided by fine accompaniment from Maud Nelissen who filled those airy vistas with some beautifully patient lines and stayed with the mood as resolutely as Trenker clung to the granite.

Luis Trenker holds on

Ihre Majestät die Liebe/Her Majesty, Love (1931)

The end of day two and we have a madcap delight in the form of a Joe May comedy that could have been filmed for the Brothers Marx. If you like songs about the sexy benefits of gymnastics and stories in which the rich guy must find the courage to love the poor girl, that this one is right up your 42nd Strasse!

Playboy Frederich von Willingen (Fritz, later Francis Lederer), is more concerned with the clubs and cabaret of Berlin than with contributing to the family business. This is dominated by his big – in every sense – brother Othmar (Otto Wallburg) who would like him to settle down, preferably in exchange for further investment in their business.

But Fred spends his time in idle pursuits, making bets on who can break the ice with attractive barmaid Lia Török (Käthe von Nagy), although even he can’t.

A meeting of the family board leads to his having to marry a rich potential investor, but he rebels and offers to marry Lia… Of course, it won’t be as simple as that and the pressure for Big Brother - a raise and a promotion – tests his will… Time for Lia to take the lead and so she does with hilarious results.

It’s frothy fun and with some excellent dance routines and if it had been made in Hollywood you’d class it and the gymnastics dance in particular (Tibor Halmay and Gretl Theimer, selling it well!), as definitely “pre-code”!

Where ever you looked there were fun, fantastic supporting performances, giving us the character and cabaret, we’d been hoping for, making us glad that we’d made the effort to come hear the music play and not stayed in, alone in our room…

Francis Lederer and Käthe von Nagy

And the winner for best picture...

Friday, 9 February 2018

A river runs through it… The Bride of Glomdal (1926), John Sweeney, Kennington Bioscope

For a good portion of this film the narrative ebbs and flows in pleasing ways without really hitting you hard. The scenery is, of course, stunning as photographed by Einar Olsen and the cast, especially willowy, steel-blue-eyed Tove Tellback, are superb making a believably real rustic romance with stubbornness, jealousy, a fight and an injury… but suddenly, just when you think the narrative is ready to wind down, events take a dangerous turn and in a closing sequence of jeopardy, thrilling stunt work and fast-paced, anxious direction you find yourself thinking once again that no one can quite “play” fast moving water like John Sweeney!

Mr Sweeney was on excellent form throughout, pastoral accompaniment holding the story easily within his hands and a pitch-perfect flavouring for the romance and the resentment on route to the rapids that engulf the finale. These are moments to cherish when player and projection are completely in sync each adding to the other’s efforts and taking away nothing at all.

Harald Stormoen and Alfhild Stormoen look on...
Lillian Henley was in similar flow at the start of the evening as she accompanied newsreel of actual Pankhursts in startlingly clear action from 1913 and earlier as a Bioscope tribute to a century of suffrage (at least for those women of standing who got the vote in 1918). Lillian has form her of course having scored the BFI’s excellent Make More Noise compilation and her sympathy for the period and the cause was in evidence again as we saw the, so called, Trafalgar Square “riot” and 66,000 marching through London in a suffragette “pageant”. There were banners celebrating Sylvia and declaring that Fortune Favours the Brave. Odd that, in 2018 you could almost be certain that it’s favouring the deceitful and the salesman…

In 1913 people believed in democracy and, of course died for it. Two films showing the 1913 Derby were screened and there was a collective gasp when Emily Davison collides with the King’s horse – whatever her motivations, her death still carries meaning. There was footage of her funeral and a poignant sight it was too; we can each take our own meaning, but this isn’t just history but an ongoing process, just like Ireland, the Union and Parliamentary democracy itself.

Good on you Widnes!! My Granddad Bill no doubt was one of them.
A little light relief followed in which a confused fellow becomes A Suffragette in Spite of Himself (1911) after schoolboys tack a “votes for women” sign on his back. He gets into a fight with some chaps at an anti-suffrage meeting and is saved by the suffragettes before being enlisted to walk, shoulder to shoulder. There are some wonderful backdrops of Trafalgar Square and Bloomsbury and the gent is played by Marc McDermott who went on to feature in Hollywood, in Laugh, Clown, Laugh, Blind Wives, Flesh and the Devil and many more.

We even had time for Charley Smiler Takes Up Ju-Jitsu (1911) and early and very brief comedy from Fred “Pimple” Evans which featured some sisterly slams from a suffragette trained in the martial art in question.

George Lewis faces off against Rex Lease both in the race and for Mildred Harris...
Finally, we saw one of the US Collegians series, this one a racing tale called The Last Lap (1928) in which our hero Benson (George Lewis) must overcome the college bully to win the freshers vs sophomores cross-country race and the heart of Mildred Harris. It’s predictable and slightly infuriating but has its moments… maybe if we saw more of the series? This was episode 37!

It wasn’t in the same league as the main feature but then Dreyer is one of the most accomplished film makers of the era, and well beyond. Whilst I’ve seen some of his early films, The President, Leaves from Satan's Book, Michael as well as Joan and Vampyr, he was so productive between the first of those films and the last producing about one feature a year. This film came after Master of the House and before Joan and stylistically it’s quite different.

As John Sweeney said in his introduction though, it is interesting to see yet another strong female lead, in this case, Berit Glomgaarden (Tove Tellback) whose insistence on making her own choices drives the story.

Berit chooses her man
Based on the novel by Jacob Breda Bull, John said that the photo play was partly improvised – led by Dreyer - which might explain part of the differences from the film around it. Filmed in the Norwegian countryside, this is also a canvas wide enough to make the dedicated fan of Joan’s compact, claustrophobia, more than usually agoraphobic. It almost feels like a Victor Sjöström film so glorious is the backdrop. Also, what we now see is some 75 minutes long and just over half the original length although this doesn’t impact the story too much apart from rendering the jealous lover/would be murderer, Gjermund Haugsett (Einar Tveito) a little under-developed.

Gjermund’s father, Berger Haugsett (Oscar Larsen) agrees with Berit’s father, Ola (a moody Stub Wiberg) that she should marry his boy but, rather crucially, the bride-to-be has not signed off on the deal. Indeed, Berit has a different romantic course in mind, she is in love with Tore Braaten (Einar Sissener) the son of a small farm holder, Jakob (Harald Stormoen), who has big plans to expand operations and works feverously laying out new fields.

Einar Tveito
Once this preference is known tension bubbles across the village… Gjermund fights with Tore and the two have to be pulled apart. But Haugsett has made his choice and refuses to budge. Berit runs away as her father takes around wedding invitations and falling off her horse is rescued by Tore who takes her home for recuperation. Time for a reconciliation you’d think but there’s no chance as Haugsett hardens his heart, confounding expectations of a simple resolution – these farmers are so stubborn!

But there’s more to come as we head for the final nerve shredding conclusion!

Well played Bioscope, Mr Sweeney and Ms Henley, another memorable night at the Cinema Museum and this time I was early enough to grab a slice of the KB’s excellent home-made quiche!

Everywhere you look in Kennington, there are treasures

Monday, 5 February 2018

Kickstarted… The Pride of Palomar (1922)

Crowdfunding has played an increasing role in securing the future and wider-distribution of silent films. It is indeed the internet done properly with like-minded people connected to projects that match with their specific interests just so long as the target group is big enough and the rights holders are pre-disposed.

This project, the clean up and release an early Frank Borzage film, The Pride of Palomar, was eventually able to also “rescue” a second film, Back Pay (1922) and to support an excellent pdf document on the director, Frank Borzage - A Dossier as well as a smaller document featuring contemporary details and much else on the main film.

I am very glad that I supported True Film’s project and impressed with how Patrick McInerney, John Heath and Patrick Ford Bowerin realised their objectives and then some more. Gentlemen, well done!

These works may not feature the Frank Borzage who directed some glorious late period silents but they still show an interesting film-maker honing the vision and subtle emotional flavours he would display in Lazybones, The River and Seventh Heaven. Back in 2006 Slant magazine ran a career appraisal which mentioned “…embarrassments” in Borzage's career giving specific mention to “…a shameful anti-Japanese drama for William Randolph Hearst (The Pride of Palomar) …” but, whilst the racism is not comfortable (lazy Mexicans, scheming Japanese…) it’s not enough to damn the entire work 90 years on and Palomar is a fun film to watch with some lovely emotional peaks and enough narrative edge to leave you aching for the final resolution.

As Molly Haskell notes in her dossier essay, Borzage Soulmates, the director often features “…lovers who cannot be separated by distance or time…” and, whilst this is true of our two leading characters Don Mike Farrell (Forrest Stanley) and Kay Parker (see-saw, Marjorie Daw) – who are mostly blocked by family interests and the various arts of The Deal – it’s also the case with Don Mike and his father, Don Miguel (Joseph J. Dowling) who dies in mourning after hearing that his heroic son has been killed in the Great War.

There’s a terrific sequence when Don Miguel goes into the old mission at San Luis Rey to pray for his loss, he is connected to his son through his faith just as much as his housekeeper who believes that the still flaming lamp in his room, lit by his mother, shows he still lives.

Don Miguel in mourning
Indeed, young Mike is very much alive, a tragedy for father and son, and the film is as much about his saving the family honour as finding the love of his life… rights must be wronged and the Spanish-Irish Farrells must recover their ground to overcome both Yankee corporate manoeuvres and opportunist land-gabbing from Japanese property investors… specifically, and this is the difficult bit, Warner Oland in heavy make-up as Fuji Okada: a clumsy stereotype of the yellow peril.

“Land deals with Japs are not very popular in California…”

Okada’s business is buying up Californian land for “Japanese colonization” and he relies on the “shiftlessness” and “short sightedness” of the fun-loving but commercially incompetent Latinos… living la vida loca without managing cash-flow or sustainable business strategies. It is a bit rich but at least we have a baddie and injustice to be prevented.

Okada is travelling by train along with Kay Parker and her father John (Alfred Allen) who is going to foreclose on the mortgage on the Farrell’s El Palomar ranch, which the family has seemingly failed to manage. A young army officer joins them, instantly charming young Kay with his impressive character and firm jaw… he is, of course, Don Miguel “Mike” Farrell.

Travelling in style... Forrest Stanley, Alfred Allen, Warner Oland and Marjorie Daw
The two talk on the train and it’s only when he departs that she realises who he is and how he will be affected by her father’s business aims. A war moratorium means that Mike will now have twelve months to raise the $300,000 needed to settle the mortgage his father was forced to take. It’s a tough task but he soon finds that Loustalot, an ill-shaved local rancher (bad moustache) not only owed his dad over $100,000 but continues to graze his cattle on Farrell land. He’s a tricky customer backed by Parker and even more so by – boo! – Okada.

There’s also an irrigation project under construction which would, interestingly, turn the land into a bit of a goldmine  (worth $5 million!) if only Farrell could afford to keep it… so close yet so far from redemption. There’s also a rather splendid racehorse called Panchito that might, if I were you, be worth a few bob in the Kentucky Derby…

Now, I think you’ll be in little doubt how all of this will develop but its skilfully wrought by director, cast and crew. As Patrick Ford Bowering says in his essay The Path to the Summit, Palomar “demands to be seen” serving as “an important stylistic link for Borzage, with hints and treats not seen in Borzage’s prior feature films, but would appear again in his later work.” with the director’s “romanticized and gorgeous approach” in evidence, even amidst the stranger moments of the film. Back to those stunning visual set-pieces and an almost magical realist approach… life, death, balancing of the books, love and honour.

An almost mystical return...
I especially liked the repeated shots of the line of trees near the opening to the ranch; characters come and go through this tunnel as though to another world. When Mike walks back home for the first time, Kay waits for him behind a tree and as his faithful pet dog runs to greet him, the light is lovely and love is, indeed, in the air. Borzage stages some great set-piece action scenes, the pursuit of Loustalot is across stunning valley views and the horse racing scenes are genuinely exciting. It is a satisfying and well-made film.

Yes Don dresses up in disguise as a Mexican slobby gambler and he is wounded by a Chinese man with a grudge (they’re all in together these "orientals"…) and his house servant Pablo (Tote Du Crow) gets caught dozing a few times, but there are far more loyal and decent people all round than baddies. Mike even has a childhood sweetheart Anita Supvelda (Carmen Arselle) who Kay thinks will be his wife… Most importantly, the "Mexicans" win and the Gringo’s have to respect them.

I hope there are plans for The Pride of Palomar's wider release - I will try find out! I look forward to more such projects, would it be too much to ask if the Norma Talmadge/Borzage collaborations could be next? Maybe it’s time to get more involved - we're ready to help in any way we can silent compadres.