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Records of Material Objects in the Cinema #8: Joan Bennett’s Blonde Hair, Pt. 2

A scene of erotic reverie in Frank Borzage’s Doctors’ Wives featuring a young, gorgeous Joan Bennett.

A hallmark for director Frank Borzage's films—and one of cinema's greatest pleasures—is how touchy his love scenes are. Even to modern eyes, but especially when one is accustomed to the rather rote and mechanical embraces and chaste, closed-mouth kisses of classical Hollywood, Borzage's best love scenes are thrillingly tactile, as if the lovers can't get enough of being with the person, they need to reach out and confirm physically, tenderly that they are there. Words like "fondle" and "caress" come to mind, but without the lascivious quality these might suggest.

That is, perhaps, until we get a stiff male lead like Warren Baxter and extract a love scene from its story context, slowing it down in the process.  In the below sequence from 1931's Doctors' Wives, with his malicious grin, Baxter comes off as some kind of quasi-murderer/pervert, but despite Baxter's profound lack of sympathetic intimacy, it's a beautiful, strange scene where the film stops in its tracks for a good minute as he tosses Joan Bennett's blonde hair hither and thither in a playful erotic reverie, and she smiles, laughs, and melts at the touch.


Joan Bennett's blonde hair, from Frank Borzage's Doctors' Wives (1931), slowed down 50%, sound eliminated; also featuring Warren Baxter; cinematography by Arthur Edeson.

Related: Joan Bennett's Blonde Hair, Pt. 1, in images from the same film.

Danny, this is fantastic. More, more!
The tactility you mention was the thing that really jumped out at me when I took a look at Bad Girl recently. I especially loved how Dot and Eddie would turn their backs to the camera and huddle close together in moments where they’d open up to each other or were particularly vulnerable. The unconscious move towards privacy and the proximity of their bodies created a palpable charge that jumped off of the screen, really knocking me for a loop.
Thanks for the kind words, Girish and Alex. Alex: yes indeed, BAD GIRL is replete with this stuff to. I just saw MAN’S CASTLE which also is: most stunning to me is a moment in front of a department store window where Young and Tracy tussle over buying a stove; she walks off screen then comes back to whisper (or kiss??) something in his ear. We don’t hear what it is. Quintessential Borzage.

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