For Reel

Big City (1937)
February 1, 2015, 1:37 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Frank Borzage
3.5 Stars
Big CityLovers in Frank Borzage films are always confronted with (and ultimately overcome) adversity, but Big City takes an interesting spin on the trope. Luise Rainer plays a Russian immigrant who is to be unfairly deported by politicians trying to sweep an act of violence under the rug. In hiding, she stays with her husband (Spencer Tracy) and his friends for a short while before she eventually gives herself in. That is, only through her ultimate sacrifice–succumbing to her deportation–can the outside world be restored to normalcy. Borzage and cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg shoot their eventual reunion as if Rainer is on her deathbed waiting for a true love’s kiss to restore her to health. As absurd and schizophrenic as the screenplay can be (credited to Dore Schary and Hugo Butler with an original story by Norman Krasna), the visuals often carry the film and there are a handful of memorable sequences. An early birthday scene for Rainer is rendered with high contrast shadows, with the only light on screen provided by faces illuminated by candles. It’s an inspired choice for a joyous occasion–the scene carries a melancholic tone, as if the lovers are intuitively bracing for the conflict that they’ll be tested with.

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