Edited by Don Malcolm on 5/14/2018, 9:35 am
Even with its extra booster shot of swoony romanticism and the sometimes labored rhetoric of the "doomed man" (needed at the end to provide Ethel Barrymore a reason to appear in the film's closing moments as an avatar of eternal grand-maternal wisdom), MOONRISE comes closest of any American noir to being a "provincial Gothic," though the French did not allow the hero of such films to wallow in his existential plight in the extended way that Dane Clark does here. It does follow a small group of American films in the late 40s that feature a thoughtful, philosophical policeman (Allyn Joslyn, following in the footsteps of Robert Young in CROSSFIRE)--a formulation that is far away from a hard-boiled paradigm.
The film manages to be fevered and reflective in equal measure, with the feeling that the protagonist is slowly waking up from a dream (even though there are scenes in which he does not appear that advance the action in ways that would not make sense if they were omitted--for example, Russell's second interaction with Joslyn in the sheriff's office). The repetitive, theme-and-variations nature of the scene progression is also in concert with one of the more common manifestations of dream logic, which is to create close variants of the original traumatic action in order to "work it out." In a film that operates analogously to such a pattern, the success of this depends on the visuals; Criterion's 4K restoration brings us the best representation of those yet, maximizing the immersiveness of the experience.
The overall package is extremely short on extras--no commentary accompanying the film, and only one conversation between two academic critics (who are a little on the "bloodless" side in their commentary, but otherwise are just fine). But perhaps that's OK--the usual production details or "insider" comments quite probably don't add much to the overall experience...and, in terms of this film, might actually detract from it. The viewer should decide if Borzage's go-for-broke romanticism works; if Clark is either "one-note" or if his facial gestures and body language represent a troubled young man slowly emerging from a life-long curse; if Gail Russell is too wholesome by half or if her own character arc develops organically from her reactions to events; if Rex Ingram's character is contrived or delicately balanced in a world that (still) doesn't quite know how to allow public dignity for those ostracized by race or creed; and if any law enforcement official would employ a modus operandi like the one used by Joslyn. (Note--watch MOONRISE and then look at the character/plot entanglements in THREE BILLBOARDS IN EBBING, MISSOURI and see how analogous issues are handled in these two strangely attuned films made seventy years apart).
In other words, highly recommended. :-)