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.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the kind words!

    As far as I know there are no plans for a wider release, but the film is in the public domain so if someone else were to distribute The Pride of Palomar or especially Back Pay (the far better of the two in my opinion) on a wider scale, I at least wouldn't have a problem with it. Not sure about the other members (who were admittedly much more involved than I ever was) and how they would feel about it, but I like the idea of the restored copies of both films being widely accessible and perhaps admired. Again, Back Pay especially. Love that film.