Year: 1929
Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, Ivan Linow, Margaret Mann, Alfred Sabato, Bert Woodruff

Rosalee (Duncan) is the mistress of the wealthy Marsden (Sabato), who is sent to prison for murder. She meets Allen John (Farrell) while he’s swimming in the river by which she lives. Allen John wants to take care of the lonely woman, and while Rosalee at first finds his innocence and naive nature amusing, the pair begin to fall in love.

This reconstruction is one of the biggest reasons I was so excited about the Borzage DVD set. I’d seen it once a few years ago, and I couldn’t wait to see it again, becuase I remembered it being extremely romantic and sexy. No complete print exists. Several reels are missing from the film. What remains is most of the middle part of the film. The beginning and ending (and a scene or two in between) are shown through the use of stills. But what survives are the love scenes, which are among the best of all of silent film. Borzage was an incredible romantic director, and these scenes have a sort of ache to them that’s beautiful.

It’s definitely Borzage’s most sexual film. Unlike the innocents in his films with Janet Gaynor, Mary Duncan’s Rosalee is almost a vamp and a femme fatale. Certainly a woman of looser morals since she is allowing herself to be kept by a rich murderer.  That contrast with Allen John’s innocence is perfect. It’s almost like, through simply meeting Rosalee, he’s receiving his first sexual education.

It’s kind of hard to really get in depth about this movie since so much of it is missing. The reconstruction through use of still is very good, and we know exactly what the story is. But, like I said, what remains are the love scenes. And those scenes are beautifully atmospheric. There’s definitely more of a sexuality than most of Borzage’s films, but it’s also extremely spiritual.

Farrell is, as always with Borzage, very good and dependable. But it’s Mary Duncan as the troubled woman that makes the film shine. She’s sexy yet vulnerable, cruel but sweet. It’s her indecision about the relationship that drives the film.

The River may not be complete, but it sure feels like it is.

By Katie Richardson

Advertisements