The Rainmaker (1956)


Kino Lorber;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn, Wendell Corey, Lloyd Bridges, Cameron Prud’Homme, Earl Holliman, Wallace Ford, Yvonne Lime.

For a long time, it appeared as though The Rainmaker would remain unchecked on my list of films to see before dying. But if a studio is savvy enough to send me a Blu-ray, I’m sappy enough to review it. Why the decades of avoidance? I tend to favor movies told through the lens of a camera, not a typewriter or, worse, a proscenium arch. As a filmmaker, Joseph Anthony was an accomplished stage director. This was to be his first foray into motion pictures, and if the midnight blue construction paper sky that opens the picture is any indication, be on the lookout for a stagebound western that leaves one wishing male lead Burt Lancaster had thrown a chair through a painted flat to let in a breath of fresh air.

Lancaster delivers a one-note performance as Bill Starbuck, a charismatic traveling snake oil salesman working a drought-driven part of the Southwest who, in exchange for $100, promises the Curry family he’ll devote the next 24 hours to conjuring up a cats-and-dogs downpour of biblical proportions. Katherine Hepburn co-stars as Lizzie Curry, the town spinster whose father H.C. (Cameron Prud’Homme) and two brothers, Noah (Lloyd Bridges) and Jim (Earl Holliman), work overtime to marry her off to the best breeding stock their burgh has to offer. Deputy Sheriff J.S. File (Wendell Corey) is the pick of the litter, but there’s a problem: Rather than admitting that his first marriage ended in divorce, he tells the locals his ex is dead.

Lancaster preens while Hepburn burns. If I was uncertain of Anthony’s ability to command a feature, one thing was for sure: A little Hepburn in her ultra-virginal mode goes a long way. With the back of her wrist dramatically pressed to her forehead, she delivers a noisy “pay attention to me” performance, her pearl-clutching bursts of Bryn Mawr rah-rah spiked with enough “gollys” and “jeepers” to thicken (and sicken) the proceedings. Starchy spinsters like Lizzie and The African Queen’s Rose Sayer would eventually lead Hepburn down the decrepit path to Grace Quigley and Eula, the prig who put the “cog” in Rooster Cogburn.

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Working from his play, screenwriter N. Richard Nash whipped up a tsunami of obvious symbolism, starting with equating the drought and Lizzie’s barren lovelife. Lizzie can cook and sew, but there’s more to being a woman than that, something extra that doesn’t necessarily involve using the brain God gave her. The worst performances are those that allow an actor to draw attention to her/himself, and Hepburn’s Lizzie is more inflated than a self-basting turkey. Symbols begin clashing with clichés, and in quick time, Starbuck is letting the virgin’s hair down for her. Not surprisingly, the film’s most memorable moment takes place far outside Paramount’s Bronson Gate. It’s in a grassy field where Jim and his cute-as-a-button honey Snookie (Yvonne Lime) rig her red roadster to drive in circles while the young lovers partake in a brief but inventive backseat make out session. Of all the trips the film tried to take us on, this was the only one that proved necessary.

The special features include the trailer and a commentary track by Julie Kirgo that, like Anthony’s direction, devotes more time to the performances than visual storytelling.


World War II Classic ‘A Walk in the Sun’ Headed to Blu-ray Feb. 8 From MVD

The 1945 World War II film A Walk in the Sun will be released on Blu-ray Disc Feb. 8 from Kit Parker Films and MVD Entertainment Group.

The film is also available on DVD.

The release features a 4K Master from the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s 35mm photochemical restoration.

Lewis Milestone, Academy Award Best Director winner for All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), directs the drama of American soldiers in combat during the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943. Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, John Ireland, Lloyd Bridges and Norman Lloyd head an ensemble cast comprising the lead platoon of the Texas Division of the U.S. Fifth Army. The eclectic group of citizen-soldiers are thrust into a life-or-death mission to blow up an enemy bridge while attempting to capture a strategic farmhouse heavily garrisoned by German troops. The dilemma of the common soldier trudging to an unknown fate under a blazing Italian sun is captured by the different thoughts and personalities of a disparate group of men under stress. Robert Rossen’s script dramatizes the narrative from the perspective of the infantryman whose mundane routine of service-related ennui is interspersed with heart-pulsing action amid the ever-present specter of sudden death. 

Camerawork by six-time Academy Award nominee Russell Harlan is supported by the title ballad written by Millard Lampell and Earl Robinson and performed by renowned African-American operatic singer Kenneth Spencer.

A Walk in the Sun was named as one of the year’s top films by the National Board of Review, was nominated for Best Film by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and was added to the National Film Registry in 2016 for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.

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Special features include commentary by Alan K. Rode; “Zanuck Goes to War: The WWII Films of Fox”; “Living History: Norman Lloyd on Saboteur and A Walk in the Sun” (2014); “The Battle of San Pietro,” an uncut version from the Academy Film Archive preservation negative; WWII Fox Movietone newsreels; and the theatrical trailer.

Airplane! (Paramount Presents)


$29.99 Blu-ray, $16.99 Steelbook;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Even though it’s celebrating its 40th anniversary, Airplane! Is one of those movies that just seems timeless. The comedy remains as funny as it ever has, despite the multiple viewings many viewers will have had of the film by now.

The story involves a passenger plane from Los Angeles to Chicago falling under trouble after the flight crew and many of the passengers fall ill due to food poisoning. The only other pilot on board is Ted (Robert Hays), the veteran of an unspecified war dealing with PTSD, and who is only on the plane to try to win back former flame Elaine (Julie Hagerty), one of the flight attendants.

Aside from countless sight gags, puns and deadpan recitations of absurd dialogue, the film’s great strength it spoofs the entire genre of disaster movies, rather than relying on specific pop culture references (though there are a few that will seem outdated, they are easy enough to move past considering the rapid pace of the gags).

But Airplane! also holds up thanks to its endearing characters and the memorable performances behind them. In addition to Hays and Hagerty, there’s Lloyd Bridges as the chief flight controller trying to keep the situation under control, to Peter Graves as the pilot hoping to impress young boys in his cockpit, to Robert Stack as the cocky pilot brought in to talk Ted through landing the plane. Then there’s Leslie Nielsen, former dramatic leading man whose late-in-life reputation for slapstick comedy roles kicked off with his pitch perfect performance as the dead serious doctor trying to treat all the passengers for food poisoning.

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The writing-directing team of Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker took special care to ensure that the touchstone gags were funny in their own right, not simply relying on audiences to recognize a reference to something that was popular at the time, as so many parodies of the past 10 years have done.

At the same time, film historians have had a field day picking apart the primary inspirations for the film. For the most part, Airplane! Is a remake of the 1957 air-flight disaster drama Zero Hour!, re-creating so many scenes and lifting so much dialogue verbatim from that film that the filmmakers ended up buying the rights to the original film’s screenplay. But the film also borrows heavily from 1970’s Airport and its increasingly preposterous sequels, even down to specific camera angles.

Interestingly, the original novel on which Airport was based was written by Arthur Hailey, who also co-wrote the Zero Hour! Screenplay. Maybe he should have received an honorary co-writing credit on Airplane! as well.

Ultimately, of course, Airplane! proved so effective at spoofing its source material that it’s likely to have a longer lasting legacy than any of the movies its aping. In fact, those older movies are now almost impossible to take seriously anymore without bringing Airplane! to mind.

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For its new 40th anniversary Blu-ray re-release, Paramount has cleaned up the film with a new 4K scan that makes the colors pop and brings out more textures and details than earlier HD releases.

However, the studio has continued its frustrating trend of eliminating legacy material for its new “premium” edition Blu-ray line. For those who don’t have the movie on Blu-ray yet, it’s an easy pick-up. But fans of the movie who want all the available extras aren’t going to want to switch out their older copies any time soon.

The only extra carried over from the 2011 Blu-ray is the audio commentary with producer Jon Davison, Abrahams and the Zuckers. The new Blu-ray does add an isolated track of Elmer Bernstein’s standout musical score (from this film to Ghostbusters and others in the 1980s, the veteran composer had picked up quite a reputation for scoring comedies).

Both these audio options are found not in the extras section, but in the audio setup section.

The two newly produced featurettes debuting with this Blu-ray are pretty good. The first is a nine-minute “Filmmaker Focus” mixing interviews with Abrahams and the Zuckers with clips from the movie as they recount the production. The other is a 35-minute Q&A with the directors filmed at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood at an event held Jan. 10, 2020.

Missing from earlier releases are the trailer, a trivia track and the “Long Haul” version that offered prompts during the film for viewers to access deleted scenes, interviews and other bonus content. Surely some of these could have been repackaged as standalone extras.

Compounding the confusion is why Paramount would include a digital code with a less-expensive Steelbook edition containing the same disc, but omit the digital copy from the version with the standard Presents packaging that includes a slipcover with fold-out movie poster. It’s almost like a dare to not to buy the Presents titles.

Canyon Passage


Kino Lorber;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Patricia Roc, Lloyd Bridges.

So it’s sometime in the mid-late 1960s, and one of the local TV stations was giving my adolescent self his first chance to see Canyon Passage, a Walter Wanger-Jacques Tourneur Western that sounds as if it has a lot going for it even beyond its status as a generously budgeted undertaking by Universal Pictures in 1946 — shortly before the merger that transformed the studio into Universal-International for close to 17 years. I notice that an unexpected curiosity in Passage’s fairly pressure-packed cast is brilliant songwriter, surprisingly engaging singer and sometimes actor Hoagy Carmichael, which inspires the broadcast’s host to ask during one of the commercial breaks (yes, kids, this is how they did it until the dawn of the 1980s), if anyone knows which Carmichael movie was the one where he sang the Oscar-nominated “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” which was among his best compositions.

That’s the setup. Later, my host came back sheepishly to admit that just as it said in the opening credits, Carmichael sang it in this one — though in a way, he could be forgiven. Here’s a song that ended up going No. 2 Billboard for Hoagy himself and No. 1 for Kay Kyser (a super-catchy rendition with future talk show host Mike Douglas as vocalist). Even so, the movie throws it away just before the end credits roll. I’m going through all this because it’s indicative of an impressively budgeted production that always seems to be a little “off,” though you can make a case that some may regard its idiosyncrasies as a plus. Plus, in addition, as noted, it has a lot of ‘A’-list components.

Set in pre-Civil War Oregon amid a settlement that’s pretty isolated even by Northwest standards of the day, Passage was, I think, only the second Technicolor Western Universal made following the previous year’s Frontier Gal. That one was no more ambitious than the usual Rod Cameron picture, but Passage had no lack of casting cred (note the actors listed up top here); Edward Cronjager (Heaven Can Wait, The Gang’s All Here and Desert Fury) behind the Technicolor camera; Ernest (Stagecoach) Haycox providing the original literary source; and director Tourneur taking his first stab at color in any genre between his black-and-white masterpieces of Cat People and Out of the Past. Of course, the visual component meant nothing on early ’60s TV showings because mass purchasing of color sets was a couple years off, and stations weren’t yet even running color prints. Thus, this Kino Lorber release makes for a fairly stunning visual experience, though you can’t tell at first because the opening shot is set of muddy streets during a monsoon.

Dana Andrews is the lead, from during that remarkable three-year run in which he also starred in Laura, State Fair, Otto Preminger’s Fallen Angel, A Walk in the Sun (if you like), The Best Years of Our Lives, Boomerang! and Preminger’s Daisy Kenyon. More interested in conquering the new frontier financially than getting serious about romance despite his definitely enjoying the company of women, he’s part of a situation that we don’t usually see in Westerns, at least as a major subplot: the inability of its protagonist to decide which comely lass in the territory (there’s more than one) he might want to wed, despite not exactly being awash in passion. The same is true of the women as well, which can sometimes threaten to induce viewer whiplash.

Andrews’ ostensible sweetheart is played by Patricia Roc, a major screen star in Britain seen here in her only Hollywood film, though she did reunite with Tourneur back home a few years later for the sleeper Circle of Danger, opposite Ray Milland. Though she and Andrews seem to have an “agreement” of some sort, he also has a repressed attraction to buddy Brian Donlevy’s semi-betrothed (Susan Hayward), who is much more obvious about a yen that’s more obviously reciprocated, though she mostly maintains decorum. Adding further complications are: a) a younger man in town who’s really crazy about Roc; and b) the fact that Donlevy is a very flawed and self-destructive character, albeit one of some sympathy. This is the kind of role underrated Donlevy knew how to play, though he could also do through villainy (Oscar-nominated for Beau Geste); comedy (The Great McGinty); military brass (Command Decision and playing Gen. Leslie Groves in The Beginning or the End) — all top an array of Westerns and sci-fi, some of it memorable. To say nothing of The Big Combo (now, there’s a movie).

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This is a mining boom town, and Donlevy is kind of a banker of the miners’ gold holdings, shelling out crystal dust (same as money) to customers whenever they need it for day-to-day expenses or reveling. But because he’s in heavy gambling debt to the town’s professional gambler, Donlevy has started filching a little here in there from the bags left in his care, and you know that’s not going to have a happy ending. Meanwhile, we have Ward Bond playing the town’s utter slug — one so lacking in a single virtue that I sensed that Blu-ray commentator Toby Roan (who knows Westerns as well as anyone) couldn’t get over it. Yet Bond was such a great actor despite having the most odious politics in Hollywood that the character seems real and not a cartoon stereotype.

He and Andrews have longtime bad history, and the entire town (not just the local goons) keeping egging them on to settle things with a fist-fighting so they can place bets for pure entertainment — not unlike the way the Irish villagers do during the John Wayne-Victor McLaglen climax to John Ford’s The Quiet Man. The only one above all this is Carmichael’s town songbird on a mule; has there been a bigger market for them, he could have cornered the market on all Ichabod Crane parts. When the two adversaries finally do mix it up big-time, the result is one of the most brutal brawls I’ve ever seen in a vintage movie; Roan says that that both actors needed stitches at its conclusion, and I can believe it. The other major issue is attacking Indians (more often than, egged on by worthless whites), and Bond naturally has to be a major catalyst here as well.

According to Roan, Wanger and Tourneur had diametrically opposed ideas on the movie’s tone: producer Wanger wanted more emphasis on punched-up characters, while Tourneur (who won out) preferred distancing the story to make it more about the land and the era. Roan thinks Tourneur was right, but I don’t agree because that approach makes the picture just chilly enough to make it highly watchable but without that ultimate oomph that enables it to break from the historical pack.

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Not too many years later, Andrews’ heroic battle with alcohol started hurting the quality and certainly budgets of his pictures— intermittently at first and then permanently, though some cult movies remained here and there including his Tourneur reunion on Night of the Demon. By the time the actor reunited with Hayward on 1949 for My Foolish Heart, he still commanded top billing, but she’s the one who got an Oscar nomination (her second since Passage). Life comes at you fast in terms of Hollywood careers, something that’s never changed and still true today. For a while, at least, Andrews came pretty close to being a superstar.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Beau Brummell’ and ‘Canyon Passage’




Flicker Alley;
$34.99 Blu-ray/DVD;
Not rated.
Stars Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt.

For a tawdry, if seductively so, minor melodrama that director Richard Fleischer apparently didn’t even mention in his memoirs despite early-career finesse with noir, Trapped is full of what genre enthusiasts, at least, would count as curio compensations. At very least, for any academic who’s thinking of penning a thesis on Lloyd Bridges’ versatility or at least adaptability, this resourceful cheapie is from the actor’s early malevolent period that was and still is 20,000 fathoms away from “Sea Hunt,” the syndicated ’50s TV series in which Bridges spurred a lot more boomer males to don flipper footwear than Dustin Hoffman later did in The Graduate. And an even further distance away from Airplane!, though that’s something you can say about most movies.

Also for starters, it’s another in the delectable run of Eagle-Lion’s semi-documentary procedurals — all from the late ’40s, all touting the arduous crime-busting work of government agents and a film cycle generally more identified with Anthony Mann, who had a few more features on his resumé at the time than Fleischer but was roughly at the same point in his career. Both before and after, Fleischer made quite a B-noir name for himself ay RKO, though I never quite figured where the filmmakers’ girl-and-her-dog Banjo fit into the same-era equation.

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As for Eagle-Lion’s brand of noir, you know the drill: We begin with a government insignia on screen, followed by an on-screen real-life official or stolid actor/narrator (usually Reed Hadley but sometimes, as here, a Hadley wannabe) who talks up government worker cooperation as a key to apprehending felonious slugs. In this case, it’s the Secret Service pursuing counterfeiters, often with the benefit of location shooting because Eagle-Lion lacked cavernous sound stages — something that turned out to be a then-and-now bonus when it captured locales that now exist in different form. Trapped, however, is the only one of this ilk to feature Barbara Payton, which certainly makes it unique on the casting level (noir follow-up Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, which teamed her memorably with the immediately post-White Heat James Cagney, was a much higher-profile Warner Bros. release).

Trapped was, in fact, Payton’s de facto screen debut, and despite the fact that she became the all-time poster child for how to deep-six your career in a blink with outlandish off-camera behavior, it shouldn’t be forgotten that she could really act and that the viewer’s eye (at least in 1949 and ’50, her presto/paput prime) automatically gravitated toward her whenever she entered a scene. I don’t think anyone was going to cast her in some new version of Vanity Fair, but in terms of film noir, she could play with the big kids. And in this case, she’s seen in cigarette-girl garb that almost looks tailored to her precise specifications — one that further helps attract an elderly nightclub patron who’s perceived to be a high roller (John Hoyt). All of this makes boyfriend Bridges jealous over the attraction.

But he’s also pragmatic. Bridges is just out of what Cagney used to term “the stir” — though the deal for his release has been predicated on his willingness to track down long unseen plates used to counterfeit money and to which he may still have access. We can’t tell at first whether Bridges is really going to go along with this all the way or eventually go rogue, but in any event, he thinks Hoyt’s green can give him what in a mining Western would be called a grubstake to operate. Unfortunately, the so-called associates with whom Bridges left the plates during his long visit to the Hotel Slammer aren’t what President Trump used to call “all the right people.” They operate like someone Tonya Harding’s husband might hire for a kneecap caper, except that they snivel too much.

Eventually, Bridges does go rogue, and there’s another surprise as well, which sets up a showcase for the actor to display a nasty side that pretty well defined his early screen career, something of which my childhood self was unaware of for a while. I remember as a kid watching him in “Sea Hunt” and then having my eyebrows raised by seeing how two-faced he was with hero Gary Cooper in High Noon the first time I saw it in 1959. This was quickly followed that same year by a viewing of Bridges’ truly psychotic turn in 1950’s Try and Get Me, a supremely powerful chunk of nastiness that the deservedly esteemed Alan Rode references a couple times on this Blu-ray’s commentary as culmination of Bridges’ persona in Trapped.

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His character here is definitely hot on the trigger, and there’s a convincing and not un-lengthy indoor fight scene involving Bridges that hasn’t too many edits and looks pretty close to the real deal. He’s a real presence here, and a lot of gas goes out of the picture when he basically disappears for filmmaking reasons that remain unclear. When the film showed on Turner Classic Movies a couple months ago, host Eddie (“Czar of Noir”) Muller could only speculate that Bridges might have caught a bad cold, an educated guess repeated by Rode here. Tightfisted Bryan Foy was Trapped’s producer, and he was just the kind of guy to barge on through with the cutting and pasting to make a bad-break vehicle “play” — somehow.

The mention of Muller and Rode (plus Flicker Alley as the Blu-ray distributor) is a tip-off that Trapped is the latest restored movie orphan by the dual godsends of their Film Noir foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, which leads to one of the most important additional reasons the picture is of interest. I won’t say that the existing 16mm prints of the film were eyesores for the ages, but sometimes I wonder if they were responsible for my eventually needing cataract surgery. It was on the Foundation’s “wish list” without much hope of fulfillment until someone mentioned a pretty decent 35mm print that had been deposited at Harvard (presumably not in an archival Barbara Payton Collection). There are still blemishes to be seen, but the result is pretty stunning in before-and-after examples — the way that Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour was in Criterion’s release of it last year. The latter starred Tom Neal, and if you know your Neal-Payton movie history, well … that’s another story and one of mutual destruction.

Rode’s commentary partner is the luminous Julie Kirgo — a good pairing (let’s see more) and the source of the factoid that Trapped didn’t even make Fleischer’s autobiography, which I’ve had in galleys for decades now but have never read (she says it’s one of the best). Also included along with Flicker Alley’s typically high-grade packaging — the quality of paper used for photo and poster reproductions is gloss-Y — is an interview with son Mark Fleischer, who seems like a good guy, plus a production look-back featuring Muller and more. Throughout, we catch tantalizing glimpses of L.A. geography from a long-gone time, as in The Man Who Cheated Himself (which previously got Film Foundation treatment), Without Warning and Kiss Me Deadly, to name three.

After a rough period with HUAC where he semi-cooperated, and not happily, with the Blacklist, Bridges kept at it with steady employment, most of it in TV, and became a steady working-actor while not doing too badly in the father department. Hailing from Cloquet, Minn., the same town as Jessica Lange, Payton didn’t have the same caliber of JL’s career or anything close. It’s well known that she descended into boozing and even prostitution before dying at 39, but in an attempt to be at least a little upbeat here, there’s a definite amusement factor thinking about her showing up on the Paramount lot amid a fling with the serially unfaithful Bob Hope (double standard here?) and spurring one of the studio’s two biggest stars to put out frantic emergency word to bar her from the lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this led to Dolores Hope, an early grad of the Camille Cosby School of Public Denial, to build an extra wing at the mansion to supplement any others as places of primary residence. (“But I just wanna say …”)

Mike’s Picks: ‘Holiday’ and ‘Trapped’



$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Dane Clark, Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore, Allyn Joslyn, Rex Ingram, Lloyd Bridges. 

Frank Borzage’s Moonrise marks a milestone of sorts, albeit one that’s beyond arcane, as the first movie from Republic Pictures to appear under the Criterion banner. Of course, Olive Films has its own deal with that long defunct studio’s quirkily lovable library, which is currently under control of Paramount — meaning that the John Ford Republics, Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar and Orson Welles’s Macbeth have already gone the high-def route, to name a few goodies that otherwise might have merited Criterion treatment. And yes, it’s true: Republic may have been the premier home of ‘B’-Westerns and the entire Vera Ralston oeuvre — and had it not been for that magnificently perched eagle that became its logo, Rod Cameron probably wouldn’t have had the career standing to land a gig recording those snicker-bait radio spots for 4-Way Cold Tablets that regaled my early adolescent self around 1960. But the studio raked in a lot of cash during World War II, and in the postwar period, it occasionally got ambitious.

Even though Borzage was only in his mid-50s in 1948, his glory days were behind him — though the days had been pretty glorious, to be sure. He’d won the first Oscar for direction (7th Heaven) and soon followed it with a second (Bad Girl, which now looks like a voting stretch). But even in the ’30s through 1940, he could claim the Gary Cooper-Helen Hayes A Farewell to Arms (whose rep has improved over the years), Man’s Castle, Little Man, What Now?, History Is Made at Night, Three Comrades and The Mortal Storm (hey, that’s a hell of a list). By post-1940, however, Borzage was basically working under a for-hire banner and on less impressive projects, and his first two Republics hadn’t made a ripple, though I’ve Always Loved You was ambitious (if stillborn), and the studio even sprung for three-strip Technicolor when shooting. (On Criterion’s bonus interview, Borzage biographer Herve Dumont says Loved You was Republic’s only release filmed in that process, though The Quiet Man not only was, but also got its year’s color Oscar — and Herbert Wilcox’s super-strange Laughing Anne was Technicolor as well).

Borzage was one of the screen’s great romantics (possibly even the romantic), which may help explain why third-outing Moonrise in 1948 wasn’t popular at the time nor even particularly well received, despite having film noir trappings at a time when noir was in its heyday. The picture certainly isn’t soft-boiled but might leave some liquid residue if you dropped it on the floor — a lousy metaphor, actually, because I do like a lot of it, even if I can’t quite go all the way. Its opening, though, is superb, as a condemned prisoner is led to his execution — setting up his son for a life of preordained doom, much of it in his mind. Dane Clark, who’d been a back-bench John Garfield at mutual studio Warner Bros., has the role — just as Clark was coming off the best role and movie of his career playing a not dissimilar character in Jean Negulesco’s underappreciated Deep Valley opposite one of Ida Lupino’s very best performances.

Clark’s tortured Moonrise protagonist may be bringing some of his problems on himself — but still, it’s a marshy rural community, and his adolescent peers don’t let him forget his heritage when they’re growing up. Worst of his tormentors is the banker’s son (Lloyd Bridges), who’s quickly dispatched to that great country club in the sky after a brutal fight with his less privileged lifelong adversary. At this point, Clark becomes a fugitive of sorts despite still hanging around town, always looking over his shoulder. The woman who has attracted both men is an essentially innocent schoolteacher, though one who rather surprisingly manages to keep her job despite repeatedly being caught in compromising situations, or at least ones that look that way. Gail Russell plays her, and the tragic actress’s haunted demeanor makes the movie for me. As one of the disc’s two bonus interviewees notes (longtime film historian Peter Cowie is the other one, appearing with Dumont), you can’t watch melancholy Moonrise without thinking of Russell’s fate: severe alcoholism brought on by grinding it out in a profession that she basically didn’t like on her way to death at 36).

Borzage is great at emotional milieu, and this is quite the mood piece — despite, or possibly because, the entire film was shot on a set. Per his preference, this helped the director control the light — note that Charles Lang had gotten the cinematography Oscar for A Farewell to Arms —and I have to say that it’s a thrill seeing what a 1948 Republic can look like when its bountiful shadows rate 4K Criterion treatment. The cinematographer was John D. Russell, not to be confused with actor John Russell (later of TV’s “Lawman”), who appeared in a slew of Republics. John D. is best known for his work on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and for having shot the only Hitchcock feature from Strangers on a Train through Marnie not photographed by Robert Burks (Psycho) because Hitch wanted that much more twisted variation on The Accidental Tourist to have a rawer and less studied look. Or, to put it another way — given that Psycho’s cosmetics suggest the sickest ’50s TV show ever — Russell could turn in quality work on a speedy schedule and modest budgets, which was the Republic way.

Allyn Joslyn plays what must be the kindliest Southern sheriff ever seen on screen, a nice turn by an actor who never got his due (think of his role here, as the prig in Lubitsch’s magnificent Heaven Can Wait and in the amusing ‘B’ “Thin Man” knockoffs at Columbia with Evelyn Keyes). Rex Ingram, long sprung from the genie’s bottle in The Thief of Bagdad, has one of the meatiest roles for a black actor from the era — a shack-dweller who offers the burg’s wisest sage advice, though I have to say that the screenplay pours it on here, and you half-fear that Ingram will suddenly break into “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” (And if I read it right, he also seems to be excusing sexual aggression or worse against an unwilling party). Even Ethel Barrymore has a scene late in the picture, as Clark kin.

The ending is too rose-colored for my taste — like it or not, this was the Borzage way — but I’m still with most of the rest, thanks primarily to Russell (Gail), the photographic mood and resonant individual shots. I first saw Moonrise in either ’70 or ’71 when I was in NYU’s Graduate School of Cinema — courtesy of William K. Everson’s personal print (he was an admirer of the film, as was Andrew Sarris, if you read The American Cinema). Whatever else one can say, there’s a hallucinatory image here during a rainy auto trip after a group outing at a (dirt) roadhouse — one that has remained vividly with me for five decades and one that still delivers the creepy goods. Real Carnival of Souls stuff, I’d say, just speaking off the top of my head — but in any event, it’s not one you get everyday.

Mike’s Picks: ‘No Down Payment’ and ‘Moonrise’