The work of Frank Borzage - more than 100 films in forty years,is one of the best-kept secrets of the American cinema yet the director remains an elusive figure in film history. A contemporary of John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, King Vidor, and Frank Capra, working during the peak of the Hollywood studio system, Borzage's fame was second to none in the '20s and '30s. The expression "the Borzage touch" immediately evoked a lyrical, romantic style that remains without parallel to this day.
So why is the director of classics such as Seventh Heaven (1927), A Farewell to Arms (1932), Little Man, What Now? (1934), Three Comrades (1938), The Mortal Storm (1940), and Till We Meet Again (1944) so little known outside the circle of die-hard fans and film scholars? Some possible reasons are that when the revaluation of American cinema was begun by young post-war French film critics, Borzage's work was fairly unknown in Europe. The new generation was too young to have seen the silent masterpieces, and World War II had impeded the arrival of American releases to European shores.
Borzage's works are often difficult to obtain, another explanation for his obscurity. Only a handful of them has been issued on video, notably Seventh Heaven, Lucky Star, Desire, Mannequin, His Butler's Sister, and Moonrise. Occasionally, cable channels show Borzage films - especially American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies - but rarely, if ever, in the UK.
The fourth of 14 children, Frank Borzage - originally Borzaga - was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 24, 1894, into a close-knit immigrant family of Italian, Swiss, German, and Austrian descent. A Catholic clan in Mormon territory, before the days of statehood, the Borzages lost several children to influenza and struggled to make a living under harsh conditions.
Many Borzage films would later vividly reflect these early experiences, mainly the anguish and uncertainty caused by poverty, and the spiritual wealth brought by love, family life, and solidarity. In 1913, with some acting experience in travelling theatre groups, Borzage joined Hollywood's fledgling film industry. After a stint as a lead actor, Borzage became a sought-after director with the critical and popular success of the sentimental drama Humoresque (1920), about a gifted violinist born into an immigrant Jewish family in New York.