Moonrise (1948) Bad Killer Blood Runs Through His Veins

Off I set on another of my travels through film. This time Moonrise from 1948. Didn’t know much about it. The way I like it. Only recently stumbled across it. A film noir it says. I guessed the usual crime filled drama affair? Had to have a love story, you can see that on the movie poster (Haha not the image I used). In I went! All nice and chilled with the opening credits accompanied with a full orchestra bashing out a melody of uplifting, stirring strings……. until then!…

It jumped straight into a terrifying montage that flash forward time through a nightmare of shadows, figures, gathered men and screaming children. Punching, beating, bullying. A hanging man and a hanging baby! Phew it’s doll! More shadows elongated against a wall. They twist and turn. More horror. Time is moving forward quick. More pain. It’s freakishly sinister. Then relax……

For like one whole minute! Then. “You got killer blood! Haha did your daddy tell you how it feels to drop 6 feet on the end of a rope!” Smack the first punch comes like a juggernaut straight into the white suited, smug bullies chin. Floored. Damn not enough power. He’s back on his feet. Pow he lets off two haymakers, then a third. But the scrappy little kid ain’t down. He’s been here before. Beaten, bloodied and bruised. For Daniel “Danny” Hawkins (Dane Clark) these brutal beatings had come to him most of his young life. His father had killed when Danny was young. He was hanged for it. The bully, Jerry Sykes (Lloyd Bridges), was gleeful in the way he terrorised poor Danny. He tormented him about it every single time he crossed his path. They lived in a small town. Each time was many. Jerry was the bigger man. Danny was down, heavy. He sat dazed on a stack of logs. His eyes out of focus. Jerry demands “Have you had enough? Have you had enough?” Danny’s vision flashes back to a young Jerry, hands around his neck. Mocking sounds run through his head. Spurred on he goes in for another kicking. Determined he lets loose with punch after punch. He’s beating him. At last. The first time. Jerry falls. He lands by a rock, he goes to use it!……

Danny – What if there is bad blood in me? What if it makes me do bad things?

Moonrise is set within the swamp filled small Southern Virginian town of Woodville. The kind of town that everybody knows you and your business. You can’t escape it. For Danny he’d endured most his life ridiculed by his peers. He’s in love with a teacher, Gilly Johnson (Gail Russell). She was going steady with Jerry. Danny had one place of sanctuary and a loyal friend. Mose Jackson (Rex Ingram) was more like a father figure. Never short of wise words for the young man as he feeds his bloodhounds or rocks in his chair. He lived by the river next to an abandoned plantation house, once grand and eloquent. The perfect place for Danny to hide out. He may need to hide or even run if his past comes to haunt him.

Danny’s anger is so erratic. His anger ready to explode. His temperamental actions are balanced on a edge of a knife. He lashes out at everyone. At any given moment. Paranoia eats at his soul. Danny is convinced his father’s bad blood is running through his veins. Terrified his destiny is a killer. Petrified he will be swinging from a noose six feet above the ground.

Sheriff Clem Otis –A small towns like a stomach. It’s always bubbling anger ready to digest you.

Things I Learnt

  • I found Moonrise after being every impressed by Rex Ingram’s part in the Humphrey Bogart WW2 Tank film Sahara (1943) and went off looking for more of his work.
  • Here’s a big one I didn’t know. Moonrise is directed by Frank Borzage. He has over a hundred film credits for acting and directing right back to 1912! Wow.
  • Frank Borzage big claim to fame and one to remember for pub quizzes. He was the first ever director to win an Academy Award (1927-28) for his film 7th Heaven (1927). Anyone seen it?
  • Moonrise was a novel written in 1946 by Theodore Strauss.
  • It is part of The Criterion Collection
  • Being very forceful with a gal will mean she will give in and fall head over heals in love with you! Wolfie’s words of wisdom – Don’t try this one in real life boys!
  • This was a weird moment. The cafe attendant called Elmer is also billed as the Soda Jerk. He speaks to everyone in jive! Well until his boss comes in. “What’s buzzing cousin. Everything hot in the slot? Stash that and dig another brother. You dig it. Ain’t nothing but squares around here!” Funny thing, he’s played by Phil Brown otherwise known as Uncle Owen from Star Wars – A New Hope (1977).

Tagline – Her arms… Her love… His only escape from a heritage of hate!

The film style is so interesting to watch. One minute it’s all pretty routine. Like a girl and boy embrace for a dance within an old manor. The next moment you are aboard a moving camera as it lifts into the air tracking to the side whilst hoovering up into the crystal lights of a chandelier. There’s another. Following the couple as they cross a fun filled fair ground. The paranoia sets in. Quick get on the big wheel! The camera finds another collection of angles that really shouldn’t of been possible with a camera of the size from those times.

But Frank Borzage and his cinematographer (Psycho (1960) John L Russell) let loose. One many occasions. Each scene is beautifully crafted but most of the time are reasonably normal shots. Then out of the blue, special effects are thrown at you, close ups and low lit shots filled with juxtaposition. To be honest nothing really prepares you for that opening sequence. Harrowing and beautiful to see at the same time. A sequence of silent movie expressionism with sound! Sure someone can tell me more about that scene?

Another thing I loved about Moonrise was the wonderful way Rex Ingram character Mose was shown. Far removed from many stereotypical portrayals of a black man of the time. Actually Mose and Sheriff Clem Otis (Allyn Joslyn) are both in fact key factors to giving some of philosophical inspired lines. Both acting like the adult father figure that poor Danny so desperately needs.

Mose Jackson –When I first came out here I thought I would be out of the way. I thought they’d be no one shoving me around. What I did was resign from the human race. I bet that is the worst crime there is. Only they don’t hang you for it!

Sheriff Clem Otis –Sometimes, murder is like love. It takes two to commit it. The man who hates and the man who’s hated. The killer and the killed.

I’ve only touched on a small part of this film. It has many layers. I came away thinking about it a lot. Did Danny have killer blood in veins? You will have to tune in for a watch. Hey it’s on YT if you fancy it. Or please feel free to let me know if you’ve seen it.

Keep digging for deep cool films. Thanks for reading and all the best.

Mikey Wolf


17 thoughts on “Moonrise (1948) Bad Killer Blood Runs Through His Veins

  1. This sounds fascinating.
    Apparently Rex Ingram (1892 -1950) – who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – was not just an actor but a producer, director and writer as well.

    He worked for Fox and MGM studios directing mainly action and supernatural films. Only his very last film as a director, Baroud (1932), was a ‘talkie’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Different Rex Ingram Glen. Almost the same birth year though. (1895 to 1969). Rex the actor is the black guy with the big warm smile.
      Interesting reading about the director with the same namesake. Amazing to read in those days being born in Dublin Ireland and then travelling all the way to the Los Angeles at such a young age and start shooting films! Bonkers really when you think about it.


      • Ooops!

        Embarrassing for a dedicated cinephile like me to make a mistake like that.
        Now that you point out the mix-up, I will confess there was something about my belated fact-find I vaguely sensed at the time didn’t quite fit the gentleman of color pictured with the big warm smile in the photo you included in the review.

        TBH, along racial lines, I was surprised when I mistakenly confused the black actor Rex Ingram with the successful silent movie director Rex Ingram since I was pretty sure that back in those days it would have been, sad to say, unlikely that a person of colour could rise to a position of power like director in the white-ruled film studio system that existed (and perhaps still exists to a large extent) at the time.

        Oh my! Without really trying I’ve found myself possibly embroiled in the whole racial prejudice (dare I say it ‘BLM’) debate. In that case, pardon me while I run as fast as my legs and good sense will carry me in the other direction!

        Liked by 2 people

        • “As I run as fast as my legs and good sense will carry me” LOL

          Funny as on their IMDB profile pages it states at the top of the Trivia
          Rex Ingram (director) “Sometimes confused with black American actor Rex Ingram.”
          Rex Ingram (actor) “Not to be confused with the director Rex Ingram.”

          So rest assured you were not the first my fine fellow 🙂

          PS Stacey’s “Run, Glenn, run!” cracked me right up. LOL


  2. Don’t worry, Glenn. Just the fact that you acknowledge reality — “unlikely that a person of colour could rise to a position of power like director in the white-ruled film studio system” —
    is a plus on your side! But don’t let me stop you– running’s still good exercises. Run, Glenn, run, LOL !!!

    But Mikey, the poster….I can’t get over it! It seems SO avant garde for the time…or am I wrong? It seems very out of place for 1948. It could be very common, though. I admit to being far from knowledgeable on these matters.
    “A hanging man and a hanging baby! Whew, it’s a doll!”
    Oh my god, LOL
    “A small towns like a stomach. It’s always bubbling anger ready to digest you.“
    H-huh? What a god-awful analogy, LOL !!
    “Being very forceful with a gal will mean she will give in and fall head over heals in love with you! Wolfie’s words of wisdom – “Don’t try this one in real life boys!“
    LMFAO !!
    Yeah, one good slap and a full body shake….that’s all it took from my spouse-to-be for me to fall for him like a rock………….NOT, lol
    I love the fact that the film has all these interesting, unexpected camera angles that shouldn’t be possible for the equipment available at the time.
    And I love the idea that Mose’s character isn’t stereotyped. So unusual. What a fine gesture.
    I REALLY want to see this one. Great write-up, per the usual, Wolfman.
    But, God help me, I probably never will! All I can do is write down the title and hope it happens before I die one day, lol !!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • “Run, Glenn, run!” cracked me right up. LOL

      I believe the poster for the DVD might be a new image but there’s plenty of that kinda brutal imagery in the film.
      It certainly has you looking at the date and going really is this really 1948!
      Yeah that “Stomach……” quote is a hard hitter isn’t it.
      LOL “one good slap and a full body shake….that’s all it took” NOT LOL You never fail to make me chuckle.
      I know right! Those camera’s back then I can only imagine weighed as much as a small family car!
      If you think you might not get to see it’s just worth watching the 5 minute opening scene madness and the following fight to see how bonkers it is. Someone has uploaded it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes sireee!

    The shrill music notes from the orchestra that accompanied each of the three determined rock blows that finished the fight – and Jerry – was definitely how they used to do it in the movies. Everything else is uniquely pretty much how they DIDN’T do things back then.

    This is one intriguing yet little known film!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. VERY intriguing!
    Thanks for the peek inside.
    Can’t believe I got to see the hanging baby–whew–doll !!! Only a doll, folks !!!
    The fight reminded me of They Live! and the fight scene in the middle of that movie that lasts almost five minutes, one of the longest fistfights ever.
    When the lead fell onto the wood pile here I was thinking, “It’s right there under your hand! Pick up a piece of wood and brain this a-hole!” But I guess he was too tired.
    (My husband has often commented that I act and think like a man a lot of the time, and I guess I’m demonstrating that here, hahaha).
    Yeah, the look of it is very avant garde, right? It reminded me of something, the stylized, spooky backgrounds, the feel of it. Then I realized–The Twilight Zone! But of course, The Twilight Zone would have been inspired by this director and/or others like him, not the other way around, since it came later.
    I love it (although I sort of hate the over-dramatic soundtrack, hahaha) Thanks again for the peek!
    And…THANK GOD IT WAS A DOLL !!!!!!! 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ok. So I havent seen every film made prior to 1970 and this is one of them. So I didn’t get to involved with your post but did notice Dane Clark. Slways thought of him as a poor man’s John Garfield. Off I go to see if I have a copy of this one somewhere. Think I do…..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent film. I tend to like Borzage’s movies. Borzage was a master of fatalistic drama. 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928), and Lucky Star (1929) are terrifically brooding romantic melodramas. Gloomy Strange Cargo (1940) and The Mortal Storm (1940) are great too.


  7. Man, I’m falling behind…I started working again, and now I can’t seem to keep up with anyone’s posts!

    I thought I owned this one, and thought I knew about it, but then I didn’t remember Dane Clark being in it, and realized I was thinking of Moontide, and not Moonrise…d’oh! I always think of Dane Clark in noir as that put-upon guy who gets all the bad breaks, and can’t seem to do anything right…nice to see him in a lead role.

    And yeah, love your comment about the Criterion cover artwork!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know right what’s all this going back to work malarkey? “Fun spoilers” that’s what I call em! HA.
      Joking aside it’s great to hear you are back to work. We lucky to have one at the moment. So many redundancies happening across so many different sectors. I hope you are settling back in now?
      Don’t worry if you don’t get to posts bro. Seriously I’ve been struggling big time trying to get back into some kind of routine after all the crazy.
      Nice one for the unintentional but nicely done mix-up on the films as you just added another film to my too watch list. AND it’s got Ida Lupino too. BONUS
      I don’t think I’ve seen any other Dane Clark films, I will check. But yeah he keeps up the persona of “put-upon guy who gets all the bad breaks, and can’t seem to do anything right” to a tee.

      Take it easy buddy

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I can’t wait to see this, Mickey. I’ve never heard of it before. It sounds fabulous…and terrifying. Those are two words that you don’t necessarily associate with one another. That means it’s unique and exotic.
    Fabulous review, Mickey. I’m jealous.


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