A small-town fable about violence and redemption, Moonrise is the final triumph of Frank Borzage, one of Hollywood’s most neglected masters. Stigmatized from infancy by the fate of his criminal father, young Danny (Dane Clark) is bruised and bullied until one night, in a fit of rage, he kills his most persistent tormenter. As the police close in around him, Danny makes a desperate bid for the love of the dead man’s fiancée (Gail Russell), a schoolteacher who sees the wounded soul behind his aggression. With this postwar comeback, Borzage recaptured the inspiration that had animated his long and audacious early career, marrying the lyrical force of his romantic sensibility with the psychological anguish of film noir in a stunning vindication of faith in the power of love.
Frank Borzage’s final film Moonrise comes to Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, sporting a new 4K restoration taken from the 35mm original nitrate negative. The film has been encoded here at 1080p/24hz and is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc.
An unbelievable amount of work has gone into the restoration and the final image is a nice little surprise. The restoration has cleaned up most of the damage, a good majority of the film looking spotless. Still, some issues remain. The biggest and oddest imperfection occurs during the fight scene between Dane Clark and Lloyd Bridges at the beginning, with some large scratches flying through on the left hand side (sprocket marks maybe?) After this moment nothing all the significant pops up again. The last little bit of the film presents some noticeable scratches and some flickering, but nothing truly problematic.
As to the final digital presentation and encode it’s all pretty spotless as well. I think some of the photography is intentionally soft but a majority of the film is crisp and razor sharp and the digital presentation delivers natural looking textures and finer patterns that are easily discernable. Contrast looks wonderful, with superb tonal shifts in the grays, while black levels are nice and inky when needed, aiding nicely in the rendering of the shadows in the film. Crushing is not an issue. Film grain is very fine but it’s still clearly rendered and it doesn’t look like noise at any point.
Altogether it is a really stupendous looking picture, looking absolutely natural and clean.
The lossless PCM 1.0 mono audio sounds pretty decent for the age of the film. There is some background static that can become more audible in the latter section of the film (with some minor crackling), but in general the audio sounds clear and manages to also have a fair bit of range between the highs and lows.
With Borzage making his debut in the collection it would have made sense for this release to be packed with great material on the director, working as an introduction to newcomers. Surprisingly we only get one 17-minute feature, an interview between Peter Cowie and Hervé Dumont, the latter author of the book Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic. The interview is primarily an overview of the film’s production with a few tidbits about Republic Pictures and its failure at the box office. They also manage to talk a bit about the director’s dislike of crime pictures and typical noir, stating this film is his attempt at his own noir but this topic isn’t delved into much. A poster insert, featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, does actually get into a great amount of detail about the director, his career, his frustrations at Republic, and what I guess could be labeled as a rediscovery of his work decades after this film’s release, so it does fill in some of the gaps left from the interview. But this does feel like a missed opportunity and has a real rushed feel, the interview feeling sort of put together last minute as well.
The restoration and final image look wonderful but the lack of special features and the higher price make it a bit hard to recommend, especially when a release like Criterion’s The Uninvited has more content and goes for less. Definitely wait for a 50% off sale.