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A Six Gun Is Also a Six Gun

The more time I spend with the work of Raoul Walsh, the less in love I am with “Pursued,” the 1947 psychological western that helped to make a star of Robert Mitchum. The film’s fatalistic flashback structure and ingrown family romance seem primarily to reflect the Freudian preoccupations of the scenarist, Niven Busch (“Duel in the Sun,” “The Furies”), who wrote the film as a vehicle for his wife, Teresa Wright, than Walsh’s own philosophy of individual self-determination, and the only sequences in this otherwise solemn, brooding film that reveal Walsh’s sense of fun are those too brief scenes involving Allan Hale as Mitchum’s partner in a gambling hall. But even if “Pursued” isn’t personal at its core, it does allow Walsh to develop some ideas with the cinematographer, James Wong Howe, with whom he advanced the art of deep focus staging so spectacuarly in the 1931 “Yellow Ticket,” and the new Blu-ray from Olive Films brings out, among other things, the qualities of the infrared photography that Howe used to create the film’s distinctively low, menacing western skies. There are plenty of Walshians who would disagree, of course — among them Jacques Lourcelles, who wrote “‘Pursued’ is one of the handful of films that definitively demonstrate the powers of the cinema.” So please, let us discuss . . .

Also this week in the New York Times, a look at Bertrand Tavernier’s 1980 “Death Watch,” starring a haunted Romy Schneider, and a quick appraisal of John Boorman’s thoroughly personal debut feature, the oddly depressive 1965 Dave Clark Five vehicle “Having a Wild Weekend.”

128 comments to A Six Gun Is Also a Six Gun

  • Mark Gross

    Thanks, Barry! Although occasionally our bi-monthly disputes about Stanley Kubrick FEEL like brain surgery!

    Thanks also to Peter, for reminding me of the opening to THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER, which I also haven’t seen since the retrospective at MOMA. At the time, though, the opening certainly did put me in mind of Godard, and VIVRE SA VIE in particular.

    Blake also references SUMMER WITH MONIKA as a potential influence (along with MAMIE STOVER) on Godard. I would like to add the last tracking shot of Ida Lupino from THE MAN I LOVE as a possible influence on both Godard & Bergman, though I’m not certain either of them were familiar with Walsh’s film. The shot is singularly intimate (as in the opening of VIVRE SA VIE)and yet possesses a sense of detachment, of not knowing what the character might do next, while simultaneously rendering that potential knowledge unnecessary as the camera continually moves forward and the light across Ida Lupino’s face becomes darker and then bright again.

    While this image might have been in turn influenced by the final track into Garbo’s face in QUEEN CHRISTINA, Walsh’s tracking in front of Ida Lupino as she continues to walk forward is less static and theatrical. While Mamoulian’s camera takes leave of Garbo by moving ever closer, turning her into a statue, timeless and immemorial, Walsh’s camera accompanies Ida Lupino as she moves through time and space, so that the audience’s walking out of the theatre at the end of the film is a continuation of that final shot.

  • I love these discussions about Raoul Walsh, I only wish I had had time to get involved earlier, but, well, there is not enough time (which is ironic since I’m working on a piece on time and the moving image). Walsh continues to fascinated me, and to grow on me. I never felt that PURSUED was one of Walsh’s finest, but I love COLORADO TERRITORY. Pace Laura Mulvey I must say that Virginia Mayo is remarkably sexy in it, racy in a way which reminds me of early Madonna.

    Eventually I will write an essay about Walsh, but not just yet.

    When I first came to university in the mid-90s and studied film history and theory I was dismayed by all the Lacanian nonsense that we had to endure, and other critical frameworks from the 70s and 80s. I felt that all of it was self-evidently wrong, and nothing more so than VISUAL PLEASURE IN NARRATIVE CINEMA. I gave my poor teachers a hard time about it. But these texts and theorists are still popular in many places I’ve noticed, for no apparent reason.

  • Hey Mark, I went back and reread your thoughtful contributions to the Kubrick discussion last April. Good stuff. Get well soon!

    A particularly annoying aspect of the EFF Walsh book was its misleading photo captions. I recall a still of Barbara Nichols at the feet of Aldo Ray in THE NAKED AND THE DEAD (dont have the book handy but easily found the still on-line) with a caption reading something along the lines of “The place of women in the cinema of Raoul Walsh.” I don’t know if the scene is misrepresented (as I havent seen this particular film for a quarter century or more) (may see it tomorrow!) but that caption is a complete misrepresentation of women in Walsh’s films more generally. For every Virginia Mayo in WHITE HEAT there’s a Virginia Mayo in COLORADO TERRITORY. (A must see Walsh film, one of the few instances where a director remaking a major film of theirs does it even better the second time.)

    It was perhaps OK for the editor of the “Movie Book of the Western” to leave out Britton’s discussion of film theory in his PURSUED essay when he reprinted it from Framework, but it’s a disgrace for the editor of Britton’s “complete” essays.

  • Tony Williams

    Best Wishes for a very speedy recovery, Mark.

    COLORADO TERRITORY – which I’ve never seen – is now certainly a must.

    As Brad Stevens and others have pointed out, the “complete” essays are far from complete.

  • On Walsh and women:

    I fully agree with Blake in his outstanding posts: the place on women in Walsh is high, and equal to that of men.

    Want to add: two of Walsh’s least-watched films, the comedies ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON and A PRIVATE’S AFFAIR, have explicitly feminist characters and dialogue.
    Actual, explicit feminism like this is quite rare in mainstream cinema.

  • Mark Gross

    Thanks, Tony, for your good wishes. I would also like to add my voice to the hubbub of enthusiasm for COLORADO TERRITORY. One might call it one of Walsh’s best films, except last night I watched THE MAN I LOVE, which has rendered me speechless with admiration.

    Gregg, it’s funny you should mention Virginia Mayo. I was having a conversation with an old friend yesterday about Virginia Mayo. I mentioned that she wasn’t a very good actress(I was thinking of her films for Sam Goldwyn, in particular A SONG IS BORN), then both of us in unison said: WHITE HEAT, COLORADO TERRITORY, CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER, all films directed by Raoul Walsh.

    One could also make similar lists for Ida Lupino & Jane Russel.

  • Barry Putterman

    They have just installed a new computer for me at Everett. And, as anybody who knows me would expect, I am totally baffled. So, this entry is, as much as anything else, a test to see whether I can actually post from here after having to re-enter my name and e-mail address in the “leave a reply” section.

    Blake has mentioned this before, and I think that the torn to shreds version of the Walsh “Men Who Made the Movies” which played on TCM recently also included mention of it: Virgina Mayo cited Walsh as her favorite director. She said that Walsh had requested her for the films which Mark lists above and had faith in her abilities to play the parts. No doubt this was not always the case in her career. According to Todd McCarthy’s Hawks biography, it certainly wasn’t the case on A SONG IS BORN. I would agree that Virginia Mayo was a far more limited actress than say, Ida Lupino. But under the proper conditions, she showed that she could certainly rise to the occasion. And that is probably also true of many other limited actors who may or may not have gotten the same sort of opportunities that Mayo had with Walsh.

  • jbryant

    Having mostly known Virginia Mayo from her brash roles in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and WHITE HEAT, I was wary of her casting in CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER. On paper, it’s hard to imagine Mayo as anyone’s idea of British nobility, but on screen she’s lovely and restrained as Lady Barbara. Walsh’s confidence in her was obviously well founded.

  • Blake Lucas

    Just to note Virginia Mayo’s fourth Walsh movie ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE. I like her in all four of her Walsh movies but especially COLORADO TERRITORY, her first for him. This was the one she said he first requested her for–as a contract actress she was generally just assigned and it meant a lot to her that he asked for her; plainly, he was happy with the result and that’s why she is in four Walsh movies in a row.

    I mentioned COLORADO TERRITORY upthread–a lot to say about this, my favorite Walsh Western and one of the most sublime movies in the genre. For those who haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t want to spoil the changes that Walsh and favorite scenarist John Twist made to HIGH SIERRA in transposing it (all for the better and I say this as a great admirer of HIGH SIERRA as well), especially the ending and what is done with Mayo’s heroine there. If you just have to know before you see it, you can read my entry on DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES.

    A key difference, I believe, is John Huston’s contribution in the script of HIGH SIERRA and non-participation in COLORADO TERRITORY. How Huston conceived Ida Lupino’s character may be appreciated if one puts her next to Jean Hagen in Huston’s own THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (also from W.R. Burnett source, and the one Huston movie I do in truth love)–despite every nuance that Hagen, a fine actress, brings to her role (and Huston deserves credit too for her performance), her character remains on some level always pathetic in relation to Sterling Hayden–she never really counts to him; in a long monologue early on about that farm background similar to Bogart’s in HIGH SIERRA, he never looks at her. In HIGH SIERRA, Walsh, in superb rapport with both Lupino and Bogart, pulls Marie away from that pathos completely, leaving the misogyny behind, and she becomes a true Walsh heroine. And that’s true in a beautiful ending in which she must passively watch as Roy is shot down and dies, because of the forward tracking shot (anticipating the one in THE MAN I LOVE) that Walsh executes so movingly and which Lupino plays so affectingly.

    But, well, let’s just say that the heroine takes the initiative in making the ending play differently in COLORADO TERRITORY and knowing him, I believe Walsh always had this ending in his heart.

    Fredrik, re yours of 9:24, 5:30, I was going to say watch out for that Male Gaze because the Laura Mulvey police are watching you!

    But more seriously, yes, Mayo is sexy and tremendously alluring in COLORADO TERRITORY. I believe she would have been glad to hear you say it and so would Walsh and that he intended it that way. But her heroine Colorado is also a character created with deep-dyed soulfulness and humanity, as well as empathy. Seems like some theory should account for that too.

  • Mark Gross

    Barry, I had forgotten that Walsh requested Virginia Mayo for the films they made together. And while Ida Lupino certainly gave marvelous performances for other directors, I think of her roles in HIGH SIERRA & THE MAN I LOVE as definitive.

    Going back to PURSUED for a moment, last week I watched OUT OF THE PAST, and realized that in addition to sharing the same lead actor, Robert Mitchum, both films have the same flashback structure expressed through a story that the Mitchum character is telling to the woman he loves. Of course, this flashback structure and first person narration is typical of Noir novels of the 1940’s & 50’s which quickly found its way into movies that are now classified as “Film Noir,” but I don’t know if this makes PURSUED a “Western Noir,” for other than Robert Mitchum (who plays very different characters in both films) and the flashback structure, OUT OF THE PAST & PURSUED don’t really have that much in common.

  • Mark Gross

    Blake, I had forgotten ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE. It’s a film I need to see again. Time to go on the NYPL’s website.

    I also loved what you had to say about Virginia Mayo, especially this: “But her heroine Colorado is also a character created with deep-dyed soulfulness and humanity, as well as empathy. Seems like some theory should account for that too.”

    You somehow manage to take many of the inchoate feelings rambling about in my head and put them into words.

    PS: I imagine you intended to write deep-eyed, not deep-dyed, though that, in its way, is more poetic and possibly equally true.

  • Tony Williams

    Blake, My feelings exactly about Jean Hagen since I ran ASPHALT JUNGLE as a prelude to my Melville class. She appears to be just a pathetic doormat.

    I suppose transposing HIGH SIERRA to the West makes sense since Ray Earle is a Depression hero cast out of his time and place.

    There are gazes and gazes. Let us not forget Mr. Baskum in HOLLYWOOD OR BUST eyeing Anita with Du Barry – definitely an example of the canine gaze!

  • Barry Putterman

    When you watch COLORADO TERRITORY it becomes self evident just how much sense it makes to transpose HIGH SIERRA into a western. But, on paper, it makes just as much sense to transpose THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE into a musical, and, unfortunately, we wound up with something as lame as ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON. I would imagine that if Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo had been cast in ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON it might have helped. And if the Epsteins had worked on the script. But ultimately; who can explain it, who can tell you why.

  • Joel McCrea is to Humphrey Bogart as Virginia Mayo is to Ida Lupino. All of us here are big fans I’m sure of Bogart and Lupino, together and separately, and for very good reasons. But most of us here I think also deeply appreciate McCrea and Mayo, and not just in COLORADO TERRITORY!

    This is somewhat appropros of another favorite, overlooked actor of mine, Aldo Ray, whose TCM day now unfolding is screening a series of outstanding films.

    Tony, screening ASPHALT JUNGLE as a prologue to a Melville class is a great idea; the student far exceeding the master I would say. But any Melville fan will have to get around his adoration for Huston (and evident disdain for Walsh, as was remarked on upthread).

  • Blake Lucas

    Mark, I did mean “deep-dyed” but “deep-eyed” definitely works for me too.

    I felt bad about not mentioning Joel McCrea while mentioning the three other leads in the two movies but I guess I just couldn’t quite make it fit in there. I’m glad Barry and Gregg did. I would say that Bogart and Lupino were wonderfully right for their movie and as a couple while McCrea and Mayo were no less so for the Western version. I believe close study will show that for all that the second movie follows the narrative of the first, they wind up being different films, with different meanings. There are many reasons to care for both. UCLA ran as a double bill a few years back and I went. COLORADO TERRITORY was second, and it never once felt like deja vu.

  • Tony Williams

    Gregg, Unfortunately Melville had his blind spots as well as his falws. He treated Chrales Vanel badly on one film and Ventura refused to work with him after L’ARME DES OMBRES. But, as one poster stated, if we can put to one side the fact that Walsh and Boetticher were on the right politically, one can forgive them for the films they made. At any rate, one would not have guessed the politics from the films.

    On the other hand, I hope Clint has gone to Jerry Lewis to ask advice as how to do stand up comedy. Jerry performs superbly before an empty seat in the swimming pool number in THE CADDY.

  • Barry Lane

    Virginia Mayo is always fine even in a film with Danny Kaye. Underrated and often better than her material. In a mess like Pearl of the South Pacific she is more than watchable; Possibly the only reason other than as an excercise for Allan Dwan completists.

  • The first thing I ever wrote that got published was about Alexander Mackendrick, but the second piece was about Joel McCrea. So he has been a favourite for many years. He has a very easy-going and somewhat detached presence, but can have a spine of steel when needed. David Thomson once wrote about his tenderness, that when he played a scene with a woman it was like he held up an umbrella so that they could share it together. More gaze observations: he is remarkable handsome in a unselfconscious way. All of these traits are taken full advantage of in THE MORE THE MERRIER, possibly George Stevens’s best film.

    About Walsh and Lupino, I never stop talk about her in THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (940) and how she, twice, looks directly into the camera, staring at the audience, daring us to judge her. This is Walsh the mischievous modernist in action.

    Gregg, I too like Aldo Ray a lot. He’s in some ways the definition of the new male in post-war Hollywood, being scarred and torn for example in Mann’s brilliant MEN IN WAR or Walsh’s BATTLE CRY and THE NAKED AND THE DEAD. Great in Tourneur’s NIGHTFALL too.

    As a treat, here’s a great number with Ida Lupino (in body if not in voice) from THE MAN I LOVE:

  • jbryant

    I saw Walsh’s SILVER RIVER a few months back. Lots of interesting political and business manipulations set it apart from the average western, and it all benefits greatly from Walsh’s expert pacing and eye. Nobody can fill a frame with convincing background detail like Walsh. The hustle and bustle of the town feels real.

    It also has a good, tough part for Ann Sheridan, worlds away from her rather adorable character in THEY DROVE BY NIGHT (in which she provided quite a contrast to Lupino’s matchless hysteria).

  • Noel Vera

    Looking at the hillside battles in Naked and the Dead, one wonders how much Malick might have borrowed from this for his Thin Red Line.

  • Peter Henne

    “Looking at the hillside battles in Naked and the Dead, one wonders how much Malick might have borrowed from this for his Thin Red Line.”

    Seeing THE NAKED AND THE DEAD for a second time today, the comparisons in story and tone to THE THIN RED LINE look inescapable. Both films are shot in 2.35:1. Both films include taking a hill on an island in the Pacific theatre in WWII. Both films pivot on commanders who look after their careers at the expense of the best interests of their troops. Both films constantly and patiently evoke the terrain and troops wending through lush, enveloping foliage. Both films have flashbacks to a marriage that turns out to go wrong. Both films have an early scene of soldiers passing time on a troop carrier ship (the two scenes are very similar). Both films have scenes of landing on beaches with the D-Day-type ships that open up a hatch for entry and exit (again, there’s vivid similarity in filming between the two). Both films start with a soldier who has broken military code and is either incarcerated or pursued by MPs. I think I could go on for some time with the close connections between the two films, and they’re not merely matters of plot but the perspective and emotional mood that they share. I’m not saying Malick’s is a copycat film; it has voice-overs which do not strictly match action or plot and it’s a more overtly metaphysical enterprise. However, the exact same philosophical point of view of THE THIN RED LINE is spoken by a character at the end of Walsh’s film, in language that could easily have been incorporated into Malick’s. They would make an amazing double bill, and if that hasn’t already happened I hope that it will some day.

  • Hi Peter, I love the idea of watching Walsh and Malick back to back, because for all of their obvious differences there’s a very human, earthy quality to their portrayal of people; in this case, men in combat. I checked online and there ARE threads discussing the similarities between Mailer’s (published much earlier) and Jones’ novels, which might inflect some of the shared plot details. Both novels are based apparently on the battle of Guadalcanal, which Jones lived through, and the young Mailer (who spent his war as a cook in the Phillippines, it says here) picked up on I guess by listening in. (Even in 1948 Mailer was pioneering the “nonfiction novel”!) I welcome amplification from anyone who’s actually read these books. Curious also as to which you recommend. I don’t know Jones’ work but I very much like at least two films based on his novels (there was some discussion here of film/novel SOME CAME RUNNING not long ago). Mailer I know only through a great deal of his nonfiction (thinking about “Advertisements for Myself” reveals him as a champion blogger before blogs were born). Maybe I should rewrite this in third person….

    The blogger, let’s call him Gemini, loved the idea of watching Walsh and Malick back to back. He scratched his nose and pondered….

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, the Mailer of 1948 is in some ways the same person whom you know from the later nonfiction, and in some ways quite different. If you want to make a case for him pioneering the “nonfiction novel” in 1948, I would say that he does so in the literary tradition of Dos Passos rather than as a future blogger. Which is to say that while the novel offers a very compelling and graphic description of battle, Mailer is as much interested in the Army as a microcosm of the entire American society as anything else.

    In any event, I can’t think of any conceivable reason why you shouldn’t read both novels. But, as far as the films go, I would say that the Mailer book is little more than a pretext for the Walsh film, while for better or for worse, Malick makes a very conscious effort to absorb Jones’ book into his vision.

  • Peter Henne

    Gregg, I haven’t read either novel, and somehow overlooked the specific reference to Guadalcanal in THE NAKED AND THE DEAD so I didn’t want to assume it, but the similarity in how the hilltop is guarded by the Japanese and approached by the Americans made me wonder if it is set in the same place. Thanks for filling in that information. The ending credit of Walsh’s film tells us it was filmed in Panama, while THE THIN RED LINE’s jungle footage was shot in Queensland, Australia.

    I’d say Malick’s is the more gorgeous, sensitive and meditative of the two. It’s in love with beauty and, without abandoning narrative structure, its langorous takes of the environment together with a mesh of voice-overs put out a suggestive idea of interconnectedness between people and their surroundings, all life. However, beauty and magisterial fluidity aren’t the only artistic values worth mentioning. There sure is a lot to say for realizing the mechanics that go into making a classically circumspect, expertly-made war film, which Walsh’s film has in its favor. Walsh’s film, too, emphasizes the group as a unit, eschewing psychological detail for all but three of the characters, practically sticking in cutout grunts that the director of LES CARABINIERS might have admired, here for the purpose of serving dogfaced determination to win the good fight in spite of personal jadedness and cynical protection of self-interest pouring in from many sides. In fact, Walsh’s is probably the more disillusioned of the two, and that can be appealing in its own right from a certain “toughened” moral outlook on war films. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD might have the most powerful depth of field I know in Walsh outside of THE BIG TRAIL, with foregrounds and backgrounds magnificently moving in concert. That, as well, insinuates a similar idea to Malick’s sense of environmental oneness. I almost don’t want to go against that spirit in each by choosing one over the other. It’s a tough call. (They both have their historical errors too. Rifles left for the enemy to capture? Grenades that set sweeping fire to open fields, and thrown further than the length of a football field?) Malick’s film dares to trace out a perspective which couldn’t be contained in a conventional narrative, but Walsh’s film implies a good deal of that same outlook anyway and it came first. I used to marvel over how THE THIN RED LINE accomplished getting around narrative strictures to offer a new, rich sense of characterization, and felt like the greatest American film in nearly 20 years, and now it seems all that happened by Walsh’s film prepping it which proves the robustness of the classical cinema. Anyway, just some first thoughts that come to mind for comparing the two films.

  • This is very interesting commentary on THE NAKED AND THE DEAD.

    Huge disastrous, even apocalyptic fires are a Walsh tradition, ranging from REGENERATION (1915) to A DISTANT TRUMPET (1964). It is not surprising they show up with the field fire in THE NAKED AND THE DEAD.

    The care of the wounded and injured is also a central Walsh theme. It is at the heart of the moral issues in the finale of THE NAKED AND THE DEAD. Walsh was more political about this in other films – the heroine of A PRIVATE’S AFFAIR gained her reputation working on Rehabilitation for the United Nations – but the emotional and moral force of THE NAKED AND THE DEAD is unequaled.

    Blake has written evocatively of the tender care the Marshal in ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE gives his badly wounded deputy.

    The whole second half of THE NAKED AND THE DEAD is designed in green, with occasional touches of pale yellow. And it also is full of two great Walsh images: heights and mountains, and men getting into water. We see a poet at work.

  • “Seeing THE NAKED AND THE DEAD for a second time today, the comparisons in story and tone to THE THIN RED LINE look inescapable. Both films are shot in 2.35:1. Both films include taking a hill on an island in the Pacific theatre in WWII.”

    Not mentioned yet is Andrew Marton’s 1964 CinemaScope version of “The Thin Red Line,” and also of interest is Cornel Wilde’s “Beach Red” (1967) that also has voice overs and flashbacks and takes place during the same time as the Guadalcanal campaign (the island in the movie is not specified but the year is 1943.)

  • Tony Williams

    The parallels between THE NAKED AND THE DEAD and THE ThIN RED LINE are due to their being set in the same location. However, the style and theme of both novel and film versions differ. Malick’s version is more in line with his philosophical concerns and Gnosticism (if Bill Krohn is correct) than James Jones’s more pared down novel which I have to re-read soon. Naturally Walsh’s film could not reproduce the General Cummings section in Mailer’s novel but Jones in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY does have a parallel to this because both writers wrere fully aware of the historical and political movements in their era that bear more than a passing resemblance to what we are experiencing now. Further study of these novels and the film versions is necessary but I’ve read somewhere that Malick began making the film more related to the Jones’s novel but then decided to make it more artistic and philsophical. Whether he knew it or not, this has some revealing parallels to scholastic interpretations of Jones as an American transcendentalist and Jack London as a “born-again Jungian in 1915.

  • Torleif Torkelsen

    Sorry to bump this thread without having anything to offer to the discussion, but I have a question regarding the Boorman/Dave Clark Five pic: Can anyone tell me what the OAR is? The Warner Archive disc is 16:9, but the UK release – titled CATCH US IF YOU CAN – is 4:3.