Sunday, October 4, 2009

Liliom (Frank Borzage) ***

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Charles Farrell, Rose Hobart, Estelle Taylor, HB Warner, Lee Tracy

Background: Liliom is a play by Ferenc Molnar. A previous adaptation in 1919 by Michael Curtiz was abandoned midway through. Borzage and Farrell had worked together with much success on four previous films.

Story: Liliom (Farrell) is an amusement park worker who loses his job for flirting with Julie (Hobart). The two end up getting married, but the unemployed Liliom does not make for a very good husband. He comes up with the idea to pull a robbery so he can earn money for his family, b ut the idea ends in tragedy.

Thoughts: It's nice to see that Charles Farrell is completely at home in talkies and he gives a solid performance here, playing someone much less likeable than he has in the past. Once again, we get a melodramatic romance from Borzage set against a fanciful visual backdrop. The main flaw here is for once Borzage and Farrell don't have a strong leading lady. Rose Hobart certainly doesn't match up to the wonderful Janet Gaynor, who worked with Farrell so well in previous Borzage films (Seventh Heaven, Lucky Star). Hobart's line delivery is incredibly flat and there is very little chemistry between her and Farrell. In fact, there's a tragic scene where she just stands there and barely reacts to what has just happened. But this is still a movie with some great moments thanks to Farrell's fine performance and Borzage's very impressive visualization of heaven.

Postscript: The film was not very successful. Fritz Lang would follow up with his own version of Liliom in 1934. The play was later adapted into the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel.

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