30 Posts About Movies #10, Directors: Frank Borzage and Bryan Forbes

Post #10: Your Favorite Director (Part II)

In this installment, I’m going with two directors who’ve caught my eye (and who happen to come up next alphabetically), though I still really need to see more of their work. The first of these two is Frank Borzage. I know and like him for his anti-Nazi films with Margaret Sullavan–Three Comrades (1938) and my favorite, The Mortal Storm (1940). The films depict the rise of Nazism challenging old friendships and loyalties. An American director making pointedly anti-Nazi films so long before the U.S. actually entered the war was a big deal. His parents had emigrated from Austria-Hungary (now Italy) to Hazleton, Pennsylvania in the early 1880s and his father worked as a coal miner. They moved to Salt Lake City, where Frank was born. He started out in Hollywood as an actor in the 1910s and directed his first film in 1915. There is a moral certitude in his films that probably seems outdated to some modern viewers, but it’s the romance–and especially the sensitivity with which his films depict relationships and human emotion, that distinguishes them.

Like Borzage, British director Bryan Forbes takes chances with material in the excellent The L-Shaped Room (1962) and Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). Forbes died almost exactly a year ago, on May 8, 2013. Described as a renaissance man, in addition to directing Forbes was a screenwriter, producer, actor, and novelist. He directed The Stepford Wives (1975) and wrote and directed the aforementioned Seance and Whistle Down the Wind (1961)–which I really need to see as it is frequently mentioned in conversations about Rapture. He also wrote screenplays for other directors, including The League of Gentleman (1959). From 1969 to 1971, he was chief of production and managing director at Associated British Picture Corporation and oversaw production of several films, including The Go-Between (1971), an adaptation of L.P. Hartley’s excellent novel of the same name with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates (the film is good, the book is even better).

Seance on a Wet Afternoon tells the story of a troubled medium, Myra, who plots with her feeble husband, Billy, to kidnap a child so that she can claim to use her psychic abilities to find the child. It sounds a bit far-fetched, but Forbes’ film is so moody, and Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough give amazing performances as the desperate Myra, who hasn’t been right since she lost her only child, Arthur, and Billy, who will do anything in his love and sympathy for his fragile wife.

You can watch the entire film on Vimeo.

Seance is marvelous, but I think The L-Shaped Room is my favorite. In it, Jane Fosset (Leslie Caron), a young French woman, unmarried and pregnant, takes a room (yes, L-shaped) in a boarding house in London.

She becomes friends with fellow boarders Johnny (Brock Peters), a jazz musician, and Toby (Tom Bell), a frustrated writer. Not wanting to marry the baby’s father, Jane goes to a doctor to investigate her options. When the doctor assumes that she either wants to marry or have an abortion, she determines to have the baby. She and Toby fall in love, but she’s afraid to tell him that she’s pregnant.

The L-Shaped Room is friggin’ fantastic. I want to go watch it again right now. It’s heartbreakingly real. Aside from dealing with unwed motherhood and interracial relationships, it features a mature lesbian and a jazz club, it’s terribly British, AND it gave us this.

If that doesn’t ring any bells, go back through your Smiths albums again.

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