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December 11, 2008

Two by Frank Borzage - 1932

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After Tomorrow

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Young America
Frank Borzage - 1932
20th Century Fox Region 1 DVD

He calls her "funny face". She calls him "You big mug". Not everything that Frank Borzage filmed was a masterpiece, but this lesser work is still very entertaining, and revealing what kind of films could be made before the Production Code was enforced. It also marked the last time Borzage worked with Charles Farrell as his leading man. Instead of Janet Gaynor, the tiny brunette is Marian Nixon. The two play a couple whose extended engagement stretches to four years following financial difficulties and family problems. The New York City rear projection shots may be fake, but Borzage balances the romance and idealism with emotional reality.

Farrell's mother, ready to spout one homily after another, clings onto her son too closely. Nixon's mother has little interest in her daughter, and is planning to leave her husband for another man. Contemporary audiences may be intrigued to hear the young couple discuss abstinence with the absence of religious authority or "purity rings". This is a depression era tale where nobody has much money, and a date consists of gazing at the city from the top of the Empire State Building or sitting on a park bench during the evening.

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After Tomorrow is lovingly photographed by James Wong Howe, especially the shots of Farrell and Nixon together. The title comes from a song the two sing, an expression of hope for a day that seemingly doesn't seem to come with each unexpected obstacle. Even if this film is not highlighted by Andrew Sarris, it still fits in with his description of Borzage's, "genuine concern with the wondrous inner life of lovers in the midst of adversity".

There are more stark reminders of poverty in Young America, a film about a delinquent boy. The boy, played by Tom Conlon, lives in what is little more than a shack, sharing the house with dirty children in torn clothing. His best friend, Nutty, played by young Raymond Borzage, lives in a modest cottage with his grandmother. Borzage's film falls uncomfortably between Wild Boys of the Road and Boy's Town. As a socially conscious message, Young America is not very convincing. Where Borzage succeeds is with the affection his two friends have for each other.

Top billed Spencer Tracy is on screen far less than his credit would suggest. He plays the drugstore owner married to married to do-gooder Doris Kenyon. The couple takes in Conlon much to Tracy's objections. Young America can be viewed somewhat ironically in light of what became one of Tracy's signature roles, with Kenyon in the proto-Father Flanagan role. Tracy would used more effectively by Borzage in Man's Castle. Here he serves mainly as a foil to Conlon and Kenyon. Young America is Borzage fulfilling his contract before going off to Paramount to made A Farewell to Arms. Even while the folksy solutions doled out by Judge Ralph Bellamy are unconvincing, Borzage makes the friendship between the two boys feel genuine.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 11, 2008 12:45 AM