Friday, February 10, 2012

Day Is Done

The images above are from Frank Borzage's lovely contribution (one of three he would make) to the "Screen Directors Playhouse" series, entitled Day Is Done (1955). As so often in Borzage, we are presented with a simple love story, played out over a hazy, perilous social backdrop. The backdrop in this case being the Korean War, and the love story being, atypically, not of the romantic male-female variety with which Borzage is so commonly associated, but rather the love of music that is shared by and binds together two male soldiers: a distant, dispirited sergeant (Rory Calhoun) and a green, eager-eyed private (Bobby Driscoll). The pair, each a musician before entering the war, find a bugle on the body of a slain Korean soldier while out on reconnaissance patrol one night, and as they each take turns with the instrument, eyes become glazed over, piercing time and flooding them with memories from what might as well have been a previous life, memories that literally melt onto the screen as the sergeant fondly recalls the crisp pride with which the job of the bugler was once carried out, and it becomes clear that the music produced from the bugle is providing for these men an intimate refuge no less than that of the apartment in Seventh Heaven or the hovel in Man's Castle. 

It would make sense to assume that the restrictions of the half hour television format would do no favors to a director who by this point was considered (barring Moonrise) long past his prime, but this is very much a deeply felt piece of Borzage, with his spare, compressed mise-en-scene, his commitment to foregrounding human drama at the expense of supplemental space translating pretty much untouched, as does, more surprisingly given the length, the air of unhurried leisure with which moments and events are normally allowed to play out in his worlds. Though in this world, alas, the reality of the situation does not ultimately give itself over to the transcendent; here a death is a death is a death, with grief finding expression only through a weary, impromptu performance of "Taps", both an act of solemn farewell and the solidification of another memory.


Peter Lenihan said...

This sounds incredible--classic TV is something I'm pretty ignorant on, which is kinda indefensible considering how many major auteurs did work in the medium.

Drew McIntosh said...

There's a lot of great stuff out there for sure, Peter. Those two Ford's that I mentioned to you recently are just wonderful (one is also for Screen Directors Playhouse), and then things like Tourneur's Twilight Zone episode, which is major in every way, and Hitch's episode for Startime, Incident at a Corner, which is really fascinating and which I believe he shot right after Psycho and used the same crew and Vera Miles, and I'm sure there are plenty of other good examples out there.

Tourneur did a crazy amount of TV work, a couple of his Barbara Stanwyck Show episodes are excellent as well. I haven't seen Ford's Gunsmoke contribution yet, but I've heard great things about it.

Sam Juliano said...

"As so often in Borzage, we are presented with a simple love story, played out over a hazy, perilous social backdrop."

Well, that is indeed Borzage's identification badge, and he's done some beautiful work back in the early period. Like Peter I am unfamiliar with this particular accomplishment but am most intrigued. Great to hear that his trademark aspects survive the thirty minute transcription, and wonderful that you would bring this enterprise into focus here.

Drew McIntosh said...

Thanks, Sam. I know this one can be found, among other places I'm sure, as an extra feature on the free-region Carlotta Blu-ray release of 7th Heaven.