Lazy Bones

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2015

He’s on the brink, but he’s not quite there yet. A lot of this feels like a job of work, very reasonably executed, but maybe not quite inspired. The protagonist’s slothfulness is a Tom Sawyer, Penrod commonplace. I don’t know that it’s all that interesting. Falling in love with the girl he raised from an infant is just weird, even though they get to a nice self-sacrificing place with it. And going to war?

But Borzage does gets the small town through vivid, glancing glimpses. He gets the combination of community root and community small-mindedness. (Derived from Sinclair Lewis? That was certainly one of his main preoccupations.) In terms of the specifically Borzage-ian, the theme and exploration of self-sacrifice really works, as do the luminous expressions of love one for another (mother and son—it’s Mother McTeague!—friend and neighbour, adult and infant). And the shimmering frames, the modestly artful drama of composition and movement and juxtaposition take that emotional luminence into the cinematic register. This guy is some director!

Most Borzage-prescient is the Zazu Pitts story (she’s superb, also just off her captivity with Stroheim). That attempted suicide! It seems unfortunate that they had to contrive this credibility-straining married-to-a-sailor story. Sturges (1944, q.v.) exaggerated his similar situation to such an extent that everyone knew what had really happened, and what it really meant. She had a child out of wedlock! Anyway, what emotional extravagance, what sure-handed, detail-grounded opera. This character’s privation and death really mean something. The other good thing, which maybe isn’t quite director-specific, is that grown-up people desire, are disappointed, and carry on. That’s in Tarkington too, isn’t it, though not in Penrod. Calling Mr. Welles!

In the end, Lazy Bones is a capable commercial piece. Extrapolating outside of it, and anticipating beyond it, it shows how, in a political economy in which decorum is imposed but a degree of adult frankness isn’t proscribed, you get the ideal moral/realistic film. Calling Mr. Borzage!!