Cast & Crew
When his wife becomes ill, Virginian Jeb Hawkins phones a doctor, but the doctor refuses to visit her, saying that her condition is not serious. Shortly thereafter, she dies, causing Jeb to lose control and kill the doctor. One evening, many years after Jeb has been hanged for murder, his son Danny decides to visit a dance hall near a swamp called Brother's Pond. When another young man, Jerry Sykes, a banker's son, teases Danny for being a murderer's son, Danny grabs a rock and smashes his skull. Realizing that he has killed Jerry, Danny quickly departs the scene, leaving an important clue, his pocketknife, behind. When Danny remembers that he stuck his knife in a tree before killing Jerry, he decides to return to the scene with his only friend, a mentally handicapped deaf-mute named Billy Scripture. Unable to find the knife, Danny goes to the dance hall to dance with Jerry's unsuspecting sweetheart, schoolteacher Gilly Johnson. Danny convinces her to come for a drive with another couple, but nearly crashes when he thinks he sees Jerry's corpse in the road. Danny later confesses his love to Gilly, and she apologizes for misleading him, saying that she is engaged to Jerry. Later, Danny visits his black friend, Mose Johnson, at his home, a shack near Brother's Pond. As he watches Mose's bloodhounds chase and kill a raccoon, Danny begins to fear his own capture. Later, Gilly tells Danny that she is worried because Jerry has not phoned her since the dance. After Mose finds Jerry's decomposing body, Sheriff Clem Otis decides to question Danny about his feelings for Gilly. From the shop across the street, Danny fondles a knife similar to the one he left in Brother's Pond while watching Jerry's corpse being carried into the coroner's office. After a bank examiner tells J. B. Sykes that his son Jerry stole $2,000 from his cash box, Clem learns that Jerry owed some money to Ken Williams, the drummer for the dance hall band. Later, Clem asks Danny if he saw Ken leave the bandstand during the dance on the night that Jerry was killed, and he says no. The next day, Clem and his wife Martha see Danny and Gilly at the county fair. Gilly tells Danny that after his missing knife was found by Billy, Clem came to ask her some questions. As Danny boards the ferris wheel with Gilly, he notices Clem and his wife also boarding the ride. After Danny panics and falls from his seat, he limps to Brother's Pond on a badly injured leg. Inside Mose's shack, Danny sees Billy resting peacefully and, in a fit of desperation, nearly strangles him. When Clem and his deputies arrive at the swamp, Danny limps to the home of his grandmother, who lives nearby. There, Danny takes up his father's rifle, but after a reflective moment at his mother's and father's graves, decides to turn himself in. When Clem sees that Danny is willing to cooperate, he forgoes the handcuffs and allows him to walk to jail "like a man."
Harry Carey Jr.
Harry V. Cheshire
Tiny Jimmy Kelly
Earl Crain Sr.
John Mccarthy Jr.
John L. Russell
Set in a swampy backwater town in the deep South, Moonrise is a tale of revenge and redemption that begins and ends with Danny Hawkins (Dane Clark), the black sheep and ne'er-do-well of the village. Haunted by the memory of his father who was hung for murdering the town doctor, Danny has grown up to become a tormented, conflicted man, seething with anger and hatred for those who oppress him. But his worst enemy is himself and, despite a deep need for love and acceptance, his violent, impulsive temper often dictates his fate. When he gets into a fight with Jerry Sykes (Lloyd Bridges), the town rich kid who taunts him about his dead father, the outcome is tragic; Jerry is killed and his body is hidden in the swamp by Danny. Though racked with guilt over what he's done, Danny still pursues Gilly Johnson (Gail Russell), a local schoolteacher who was engaged to marry Jerry. Their tumultuous relationship gives Danny a reason to live but he soon finds himself a major suspect as the manhunt for Jerry's killer closes in on him.
Produced and distributed by Republic Pictures, whose specialty was low-budget Westerns, Moonrise went through an erratic pre-production phase before it ever reached the screen in its final form. Based on a story by Theodore Strauss that would later appear in novel form and was being prepared for serialization in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan, the material was bought by Paramount Pictures prior to its publication (an unusual tactic at the time) and Strauss was hired to write the screenplay. Initially writer-director Garson Kanin had wanted to purchase the story as a John Garfield vehicle but was outbid by director John Farrow, who envisioned Strauss's tale as an Alan Ladd showcase. Then, a New York Times article reported that Moonrise had been acquired by Marshall Grant Pictures with Vladimir Pozner attached as screenwriter and Burt Lancaster as a possible contender for the leading role. Next, it was reported that William Wellman would direct with James Stewart as the star and then Variety announced that Stewart would also cast and direct the movie. The saga continued with The Hollywood Reporter announcing that Charles K. Feldman had purchased Moonrise and would produce it at Republic Studios with director Frank Borzage. Charles F. Haas was tapped to pen the screenplay and Lillian Gish was listed as one of the featured cast members but never appeared in the final film.
Despite the complicated backstory on Moonrise, it was intended to be a prestige picture for Republic, who were considered a poverty row studio by Hollywood standards. The production costs came to $849,452, which was high for a Republic Pictures budget (one of their typical Western programmers cost $50,000 in comparison) but this marked an attempt by the studio to enter the first-run market with a higher quality picture. To save money, Borzage ruled out location shooting and filmed Moonrise on only two sound stages for 30 different scenes. While this accounts for the film's artificial and highly stylized art direction, it also produces a claustrophobic, fever-dream intensity that works as an extension of Danny's world view, one which begins in brooding darkness and eventually sees the dawning light. The only other film that comes close to possessing the same dream/nightmare logic as Moonrise is Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter which didn't appear until 1955 and was also ignored by the public. In some ways, it's not hard to see why Moonrise wasn't popular with filmgoers. For one thing, it has more in common with European art films than other American movies of its era and it didn't fit into any distinct film genre. Though the theatrical posters for Moonrise depicted it as a romantic melodrama, the actual film played like a noir psychodrama. Yet, it wasn't a true noir because it ended on a note of hope and redemption like Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground (1952) and surged throughout with moments of lyricism and unexpected beauty. The opening fifteen minutes of the film, in fact, is a visual tour-de-force that eloquently encapsulates Danny's entire history and psychological profile through expressionistic vignettes that seem like a homage to German silent cinema despite a minimal but heightened use of dialogue and sound effects.
Upon release, Moonrise received both pans and praise. The Los Angeles Times noted that "some scenes are so entirely out of key that they are laughable." The New York Times critic called it "a clouded tale filled largely with pallid people," and stated, "The ancient argument as to which medium tells a story best, written words or pictorial images, is again brought into focus by "Moonrise." And, using this adaptation of Theodore Strauss' novel... as a case in point, the book towers above the picture...Frank Borzage directed the melodrama at a leisurely pace in keeping with the yarn's sombre mood, a pace which is unrelieved except for a pair of pulse-quickening sequences..." In addition, The Washington Post accused the film of pretentiousness, stating, "Making matters worse is the fact that I'm afraid Republic Studios...feels that in Moonrise it is evolving a work of art."
On the positive side, Daily Variety called it "one of the finest produced pictures [Republic] has ever boasted...for audiences who are looking for straight absorbing drama here is a winner." Boxoffice also championed the movie proclaiming it "Undeniably first-rate...Brilliantly directed by Frank Borzage." The movie even garnered an Oscar® nomination for Best Sound Recording but Moonrise's commercial prospects remained poor and it marked the beginning of a long estrangement from Hollywood for Borzage, whose approach to cinema was no longer in vogue and was now struggling with a drinking problem. He began working again in 1955 for television (Screen Directors Playhouse) and then returned to filmmaking briefly, helming two more features (China Doll , The Big Fisherman [1959)]) and working uncredited on Edgar G. Ulmer's L'Atlantide , before dying in June 1962.
Moonrise enjoys a much more lauded reputation today due to its frequent revival at film festivals (in a restored print from UCLA) where audiences can finally appreciate its virtues. In addition to Borzage's artful craftsmanship are John L. Russell's moody, black and white cinematography (he later won an Oscar® for his work on Psycho, 1960), Lionel Banks's evocative art direction, Charles F. Haas's poetic screenplay, and impressive performances by everyone from Dane Clark, the poor man's John Garfield, to Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore, Harry Morgan (as a deaf mute) and Rex Ingram in a rare, non-stereotyped role for an African-American actor at the time.
Producer: Charles Haas
Director: Frank Borzage
Screenplay: Charles Haas; Theodore Strauss (novel "Moonrise")
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Music: William Lava, Walter Kent (uncredited)
Film Editing: Harry Keller
Cast: Dane Clark (Danny Hawkins), Gail Russell (Gilly Johnson), Ethel Barrymore (Grandma), Allyn Joslyn (Clem Otis), Rex Ingram (Mose), Henry Morgan (Billy Scripture), David Street (Ken Williams), Selena Royle (Aunt Jessie), Harry Carey, Jr. (Jimmy Biff), Irving Bacon (Judd Jenkins), Lloyd Bridges (Jerry Sykes), Houseley Stevenson (Uncle Joe Jingle), Phil Brown (Elmer), Harry V. Cheshire (J.B. Sykes), Lila Leeds (Julie).
by Jeff Stafford
Souls Made Great Through Love and Adversity: The Film Work of Frank Borzage by Frederick Lamster (Scarecrow Press)
"The Moral of the Auteur Theory: Frank Borzage's Moonrise (and Theodore Strauss' Source Novel" by Holger Romers Senses of Cinema web site http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/
The Barrymores: The Royal Family in Hollywood by James Kotslibas-Davis
According to information contained in the file for this film at the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, as of December 17, 1945, Theodore Strauss's story had not yet been published in novel form, but was being prepared for serialization in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan. It appeared in that magazine in August and September 1946. According to a December 3, 1945 Los Angeles Times news item, Paramount Pictures originally purchased Strauss's story in hope of casting "one of the younger men emerging from the service" in the male lead and hired Strauss to write the screenplay. On November 6, 1946, Los Angeles Times reported that Garson Kanin had intended to purchase the story as a vehicle for John Garfield, but that he had been out-bid by John Farrow, who wanted to produce it as a vehicle for Alan Ladd. According to a February 9, 1947 New York Times news item, Marshall Grant Pictures then acquired the property and hired Vladimir Pozner to write a treatment. The news item also noted that Burt Lancaster was being considered for the male lead. The contribution of Pozner to the completed film has not been confirmed. On February 24, 1947, Los Angeles Times reported that Grant had assigned William A. Wellman to direct the film and was seeking James Stewart for the lead. Variety noted on the same day that Stewart, if signed to star, would cast and direct the film as well. On October 15, 1947, Hollywood Reporter reported that the property had been sold to Charles K. Feldman, who planned to produce it with Frank Borzage for Republic Studios. Lillian Gish was announced as one of the film's stars in January 1948, but she did not appear in the final film. Hollywood Reporter production charts include Art Smith in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
According to copyright information, "The Moonrise Song" was popularized by radio star David Street. According to memos in the MPAA/PCA Collection, the PCA objected to a scene in which a group of children tar-and-feather another child. This scene was excluded from the final print. Republic's sound department, headed by Daniel J. Bloomberg, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording.
Released in United States Fall October 1, 1948
Released in United States 1997
Formerly distributed by Republic Pictures.
Released in United States Fall October 1, 1948
Released in United States 1997 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "American Romantics: Frank Borzage and Margaret Sullavan" August 22 - September 16, 1997.)