The gutter and the garret, the lows and highs of emotion, the realm of Frank Borzage. Venice has its garbagemen (Trouble in Paradise), so here with the sewer underneath Parisian lights: the street-washer (Charles Farrell) is "a very remarkable fellow" in his own mind, down in the sludge he keeps his eyes on the stars. Elsewhere, the wounded waif (Janet Gaynor) suffers under her sisterís whip and Absinthe-crazed eyes, scrawny yet as luminous as a Fra Angelico maiden. The man is on bad terms with God, he prays for a tawny bride and instead gets the suicidal orphan, their marriage is a faÁade for the police. En route to the would-be honeymoon abode, the camera tracks past the portals then up seven floors in a slow, single move, following the characters while insinuating its own delicate presence. Gaynor shivers beneath the bed sheets while Farrell makes himself comfortable on the rooftops, a new environment painted with nervousness and eroticism. (Hitchcock in Blackmail has a darkening send-up of the whole sequence, ascending staircase and all.) Faith mended and vertigo conquered, a mutual redemption "for those willing to climb it." The Great War intervenes, the crucial test for transforming a sham union into a genuine one: impromptu marital vows are traded while the big parade marches outside, a dissolve from the heroineís trembling form to a clock on the wall establishes the telepathic bond that will be continued in the battlefield. "Iím not used to being happy... Itís funny, it hurts." A world of hard cobblestones and exploding trenches softened by romance made tangible, the screen as an organism shuddering with slivers of passion, such are Borzageís miracles. The sweep of the war sequences, with their marshaling of "the whole French army of taxi cabs" into a blazing No Manís Land, is merely a set-up for the true spectacle, a flash of intimate belief tested and rewarded. The descendants, unlikely and full-bodied, include Ray (On Dangerous Ground) and Kalatozov (The Cranes Are Flying) and Carax (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf). With Albert Gran, David Butler, Gladys Brockwell, Emile Chautard, and George E. Stone. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce