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  Moonrise To Forgive, Divine
Year: 1948
Director: Frank Borzage
Stars: Dane Clark, Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore, Allyn Joslyn, Rex Ingram, Harry Morgan, David Street, Selena Royle, Harry Carey Jr, Irving Bacon, Lloyd Bridges, Houseley Stevenson, Phil Brown, Harry Cheshire, Lila Leeds, Virginia Mullen, Oliver Blake
Genre: Drama, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Danny Hawkins (Dane Clark) has a shadow hanging over his life, the shadow of his father who was executed for murder when Danny was a baby. Since his mother died young, he was an orphan, which did not help him growing up in this small town in the American South, constantly picked on and victimised for being the son of a killer. He would do his best to fight back against his tormentors, but it was no use, the more he fought the more they would bully him, leaving him a touchy, hunted adult. Tormented by his troubled childhood, now a young man, he is still attacked by the majority of his peers who recall him all too well from school - but he can be pushed too far.

Director Frank Borzage created what many regard as his greatest work with Moonrise, a strange, vivid, dreamlike account of a man wracked with more than one form of guilt. The question is whether he will overcome that before "The End" appears on the screen, and the fact that in the first ten minutes we see him murder one of his tormentors (played by a young Lloyd Bridges) may well indicate he will have a problem getting over the demons that drove him to it, both in and outside of his head. This is filmed in such a way that we can understand Danny could just about get away with a self-defence claim, for Bridges picks up the rock to hit him with, and Danny wrestles it from him.

Before this violent act there is the introduction, a strikingly shot series of stark, expressionist imagery that leave us in no doubt Danny is mentally wrecked by an upbringing marked largely by his victimisation. It wasn't his fault that his father killed someone (and from what we find out later, his father was not exactly evil, more unfortunate and pushed over the edge), but he is tainted by what amounts to a curse: in a different movie, he would have become a werewolf, but while Borzage toyed with the Gothic visuals, it was a beautifully presented production that emphasised the romantic in the outsider's dilemma, as was his wont. Indeed, it is clear that his father is not responsible.

No, the people responsible for Danny's lapse into murder are those who have spent their lives bullying him, for it is the bullies who create the misery in this world, misery that leads to tragedy all the more anguished for being completely avoidable had there been an ounce of compassion in their psychological makeup. This was by far Clark's best role: often described as a second-rate John Garfield, he was a hard worker but rarely inspired, specialising in ordinary but punchy folks in a long career. However, one reason Moonrise is recalled is not down to him, but to his leading lady, the painfully sensitive Gail Russell, a star terrified of acting who turned to alcohol to survive and died early as a result. This captured her just at the point where the booze had started to erode her ethereally beautiful looks, but her heartbreaking appeal was retained.

Also of interest in the cast was Rex Ingram, notable African American star who had an interesting career often as twinkly, wise old fellows, which indeed he was playing here, but with such obvious empathy (he was a registered doctor away from acting) that he transcended the cliché to make something valid of the role of Danny's only real friend. Star Wars fans will be intrigued to see Uncle Ben himself, Phil Brown as a heptalking soda jerk at the local diner, and Ethel Barrymore of the famous acting dynasty showed up in the last act to dispense wisdom and forgiveness. But while it was both contrived and fanciful when you examined it closely, Moonrise did bring up magical scenes: Danny finding solace with the puppies of the dogs that will hunt him down, or Russell play acting a Southern Belle in the old, abandoned mansion house to captivate Danny. What you take away was the old "product of your environment" theme: it wasn't your fault, Danny, you were forced into it. Music by William Lava (miles from his cartoon scores).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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