Walsh at War

The American home video industry remains unaccountably resistant to directors — I mean, Ma and Pa Kettle have a box set, while Douglas Sirk gets bupkus? — but once in a while something slips through the cracks, like the William Wellman set that Warners released last year under the cover of a “Forbidden Hollywood” pre-Code collection. Now, far more significantly, someone at Warners has smuggled out all four of Raoul Walsh’s imposing World War II propaganda films with Errol Flynn (plus, if only for the sake of contrast, Lewis Milestone’s conventionally preachy “Edge of Darkness”) in a beautifully mastered set they’re calling “Errol Flynn Adventures.” The films evolve in tone from boyish adventure (“Desperate Journey,” 1942) to a blunt, almost anti-heroic realism (“Objective, Burma!”, 1945) as the war deepens, all centered around the development of the Flynn character from a typical devil-may-care Walsh protagonist to a responsible, introspective leader. It’s a magnificent collection of movies which, augmented by “They Died with Their Boots On” (1941) and “Gentleman Jim” (1942), Walsh’s other two wartime Flynn films, and “Background to Danger,” a 1943 George Raft spy thriller recently released through the Warner Archive Collection in a nicely remastered edition, that amounts to one of the richest runs of creativity in Walsh’s sterling career. (I’m afraid we’ll have to wait a while for its nearest rival, a “Walsh at Fox” box that would cover “What Price Glory” through “The Bowery.”) My New York Times review is here.

In some other good news, James MacDowell writes to inform us of the revival of “Movie,” one of the most distinguished names in film criticism, as a web-based journal that’s being organized as joint project among the Universities of Warwick, Reading and Oxford. The editorial board includes veterans of the original publication — among them Charles Barr, V.F. Perkins and Michael Walker — as well as some more recently minted British scholars, and the pieces in the first issue (online here) are refreshingly free of post-modernist cant, reflecting instead the “Movie” tradition of close-reading and ethical engagement. MacDowell’s own piece on the notion of “quirkiness” in contemporary American independent film strikes me as exactly what’s been missing in so much current scholarly criticism: it’s deeply and seriously engaged with the films in question, drawing meaning from them rather than imposing a pre-ordained ideological stance.

Here’s wishing the new “Movie” a long and happy future.

143 comments to Walsh at War

  • Peter Henne

    “I don’t see how the viewing can be otherwise, then and now.”

    Meant to say “viewing experience.” Sorry, no edit option on this post.

  • Shawn Stone

    Peter, I don’t see the filmmaking taking viewers out of the story in THE BIG TRAIL; the fact that there’s so much going on in the frame beautifully serves the frontier realism. You can probably make an argument that some of the performances take you out of the story, though.

    It’s hard to put yourself in the place of cinemagoers of 80 years ago, but one problem audiences may have had with THE BIG TRAIL in 1930 is that it echoed James Cruze’s 1923 blockbuster THE COVERED WAGON, which was amplified by the casting of Tully Marshall as a lovable old coot in both films. On the other hand, the problem THE BIG TRAIL had in 1930 is that so few audience were able to see the Fox Grandeur version.

  • Peter Henne

    Shawn, Thanks for your reply. Notice that I said the story is fine as it is. But it strikes me as a little too neat to say that the visual style is simply a realistic backdrop to the wagon trail saga, melting into the narrative without calling attention to itself. I believe for your argument to work, both realism and placing the human conflict front and center at all times have to pull it through, but what if a director does not strictly have realism in mind? Instead, the shooting seems designed to impress by its lingering and magisterial pauses on natural scenes, calling attention to a poetic feeling, the immeasurable and moving quality of the surroundings. There are plenty of shots in which the principal subject could be said to be the terrain, and these are more prominent and lengthier than the transitional kind of shots of mountain ranges, etc. found in later Westerns. Also, the Grandeur format was fully intended to collar the public’s attention by its added width and denser image. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that getting “flattened out” by the overwhelming visuals was missed on viewers in 1930, even though the film was not the box-office success which was hoped.

  • Jaems

    Tom
    So Orson Welles really disliked Antonioni’s films well so did Roberto Rossellini. Welles, Rosselini and Walsh would be amongst the most life affirming auteurs we have.

  • Blake Lucas

    Thank you very much, Dave, Barry, Joseph N., Christophe, Jean-Pierre, Dan C., Mike G., Peter and Jaime.

    Jaime, just to note your policy re not sharing names from private correspondence even on a relatively impersonal subject is in my view the right one and I appreciated it very much. It did seem clear to me that I was invited to acknowledge it might be me in context of my post and thanks for simply confirming it. But Peter, that was “Walsh veteran” not “Walsh expert.” Is anyone “expert” enough on a subject like this? It’s my feeling that we always remain students of artists we love and that we all give what we can, and I’m guessing that even those here who have contributed more on Walsh than I ever have (and I have taken some good opportunities when they came) would agree with that. I’ve personally enjoyed hearing everyone’s views, insights and observations about one of my favorite directors.

  • Blake Lucas

    Richard J. – I’m sure you are right about the opening of BACKGROUND TO DANGER. However, I must add that the contributions of master montagist Don Siegel would never be something I’d use to characterizize a film as a “minor work.” I love all his work for Walsh–one of his very first jobs doing Warners montages was a considerable one and I think remains one of his best ever. This was on Walsh’s THE ROARING TWENTIES–Siegel perfectly judged the tempo of the whole film and so those montages interpolated so beautifully and are one of the great strengths of that film, vividly and concisely portraying the social history that Walsh also keeps present, if more subtly, in his treatment of the personal story.

    Siegel became a major director himself as we all know, and it was in that role that he was later interviewed and said something about his days doing Warners montages. Rather than saying “Yes, it was all me in those parts of the films” he acknowledged that the imprint of the directors was crucial, and that when he did a montage for Walsh it had energy and was dynamic (wish I could remember the exact words but they were what you would expect) whereas for some others they were more labored (may have been referring to Dieterle but I’m not sure about this). As I recall this was in MOVIE–anyone still have that interview?

    Intriguingly, for me, while the Walsh movies tend to stand out most as a group, my favorite Siegel montages of all were for, of all things, an Anatole Litvak film. That would be BLUES IN THE NIGHT. Something in the mad delirium of the whole film inspired Siegel to ratchet that up a notch and so the montages are even more wild–they are really just mesmerizing.

    In any event, if BACKGROUND TO DANGER were somehow to be coming on TCM in say, the next five minutes, I’d be very up to watch it again right now.

    ***

    Richard, I also wanted to note re ME AND MY GAL that while I agree with absolutely everything you wrote about it, you are wrong about one thing. Fox Movie Channel has shown it–they showed it several times this year and I know this because I taped and watched it again not too many months ago. I think they always show it late night/early morning but it’s there. It was great to see it again.

    This is not an endorsement of their checkered and inadequate programming, obviously. It sometimes seems like they don’t have any real sense of what they have. Plenty of other films do languish–just for starters I don’t believe they ever ran Walsh’s wonderful SAILOR’S LUCK from the same great period, though they have shown THE BOWERY.

  • Blake Lucas

    Also want to add something to what Johan and Barry wrote about THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT.

    One reason we go back to films by directors we love is that for one reason or another they might disappoint us the first time around. Raoul Walsh is an especially good example–the tendency most of the time is for his films to get better, and that’s true sometimes of the really outstanding ones as well as what might seem to be a lesser one.

    I was disappointed when I first saw THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, and for the reasons already indicated. I was very absorbed in the hard-driving (sorry) trucking story of the first half, obviously the A.I. Bezzerides part of it, but not so much with the second part (and I didn’t even know about BORDERTOWN then)–that it seemed to be two films stitched together settled uneasily for me despite Walsh’s strong direction. I guess many people experience it this way.

    But there isn’t some immutable law that a narrative has to have a certain kind of coherence where it all flows together as one story. It can work in another way. I got to like the film very quickly as I came back to it and it wasn’t too hard to figure out why. It’s my strong impression that Walsh readily saw the division that was there, didn’t try to hide it, but instead found another way to make the film work as a whole. This is in the contrast between the two women, Ann Sheridan in the first half and Ida Lupino in the second half (and crucially, they meet in one single scene), with George Raft working best almost as a foil to them, at least in those relationship scenes if not in some of the trucking scenes. These are variations on the two types of women Walsh generally treats–the easygoing, experienced and independent ones he prefers, and who usually does wind up with the hero, and the more prim “nice” girl the hero might think he wants (think of Joan Leslie as the archetype) but in the end doesn’t. Only here, the “nice” one isn’t that nice, IS sexually experienced (and unpleasantly, because of her willingness to cheat on her husband, Alan Hale no less, that drives her to madness and murder), a bundle of taut neuroses from the beginning. At the same time, Sheridan’s history never gets even the remotest question from anyone in the film. No matter where she’s been and what she’s ever done, she’s sweet and straightforward in a way everyone appreciates. The contrast is so strong that I believe it holds the film together–and moreover, Walsh is not beyond giving the deranged Lupino character what a measure of sympathy. He seems temperamentally incapable of scorning that much passion, however misguided, and this is an actress who became a favorite–and switched to the more positive Walsh heroine in her other two movies with him.

    I’m not suggesting it’s a perfect film, but if you look at in this way, it may help it to become satisfying, even really memorable.

  • Blake Lucas

    “Virginia Mayo may have been second-tier, but she was certainly first-rate in COLORADO TERRITORY, WHITE HEAT, CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER and ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE.”

    One important thing about this–and why Dave’s characterization of her, even if accurate, bothered me a little (though he may well agree with Barry’s statement above), is that this wasn’t a case of Walsh doing well with what he was given. He wanted Mayo for these roles. In an interview, she made a big point of the fact that though she was a contract actress for Warners and did mostly get assigned to roles, Walsh specifically asked for her for COLORADO TERRITORY. It meant a lot to her and she gave her best, plainly. Those four Walsh films named are four in a row (THE ENFORCER of course was set and in production before he took over). So she was obviously one of his favorite actresses, as he was, by her own statements, hands down her favorite director. I’ll add I heard her say this again at an in person appearance at a WHITE HEAT screening a few years before her death.

    How good could Mayo be? Well, is “sublime” too strong a word? I’m thinking right now of the moment of the “shutter” in COLORADO TERRITORY that Joseph Neff so well evoked, and soon backed up by someone else here–and I’m sure many others would also agree it was a great Walsh moment. Her acting certainly helped make it so, as he plainly knew it would.

    I will say that I have liked Virginia Mayo generally, and am always happy when she’s in a film. But as she herself acknowledged, any actor needs a caring director to give their best. If they get it, as she did, they can achieve a more imposing place in cinema history than they otherwise might.

    I’m guessing that when Tom Neal and Ann Savage made DETOUR there probably wasn’t anyone in Hollywood or anywhere else who would have considered them anything but “twelfth tier” at best. But does anyone now think of them as anything but “first tier” in those roles?

  • Mike Grost

    Virginia Mayo acts with such conviction in her many Walsh roles, that she seems to be just playing herself.
    But that “self” is completely different from movie to movie!
    Walsh is often so strong with actresses. Lupino in They Drive By Night gives one of the great flamboyant performances as the Evil Other Woman.
    *
    May I add a personal Thank You to Dave Kehr?
    It was his column and remarks two years ago on Walsh’s The World in His Arms that caused me to develop my Walsh web site.
    Thank you!

  • Junko Yasutani

    I am glad to read so much good information about Raoul Walsh movie.

    GENTLEMAN JIM is great movie to me. Maybe I am wrong, but it is showing something about America that is unique, because tempo of scene, position of camera is dynamic quality of American life and of that era of American history (also reminding me of Meiji mono movie, about life during modernization of Japan at 1890s.)

    Raoul Walsh was exactly right director for this movie, because he is recreating this era with sincere understanding of it. I wish I could write better about it. But I want to say that Walsh is great director. Last scope movie is fine movie, A DISTANT TRUMPET, showing American landscape so wonderful way, like in THE BIG TRAIL.

  • Barry Putterman

    Blake, Don Siegel talked about many of these issues regarding the montages at Warners in the Stuart Kaminsky book about him. In the first place, he gave a lot of credit to his department head Byron Haskin, who, as we all know, also went on to do some fine work as a director. Siegel did indeed say there that it was a pleasure doing the montages for Walsh films and that he learned a lot from Walsh for his future directorial work. And, he also said that doing the Dieterles was much drearier.

    Further, he didn’t seem to care much for Litvak. He talked about being on the set of BLUES IN THE NIGHT where Litvak was putting Richard Whorf through take after take on the same scene. Siegel said that he asked Litvak why he was doing this since Whorf seemed to be losing more and more energy with each take. And, according to Siegel, he replied; “If I do two takes. I’m B. Reeves Eason. If I do forty takes, I’m Anatole Litvak.”

    On the THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT/BORDERTOWN thing, it should be remembered that while they share that second half plot mechanism, they are still very different movies. And not just because the first was directed by Archie Mayo (no relation to Virginia) and the second by Walsh.

    In BORDERTOWN, Paul Muni is a Mexican-American striver who becomes disillusioned with succeeding honorably and turns to the shady life where he encounters Davis and Paulette. The alternative path, which is the Walshian woman Ann Sheridan in THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT is here society girl Margaret Lindsay. And it is his ultimate discovery that she, and the world she represents, is heartless and bigoted that sends him back to his own community beaten and seeking forgiveness.

    So, I believe that you can see both films as whole works which hang together in very different ways despite the repeating elements.

  • Blake, you are certainly a gentleman, and while I agree that Walsh made the best possible use of Mayo, honestly compels me to say that her limitations remain glaringly apparent to me. Walsh also did well with limited actresses like Yvonne De Carlo and Jane Russell, but when he had an Ida Lupino to work with, that’s when he really got results.

    I’ve just heard from Marilyn Moss, who says she’s just turned in the finished manuscript of her Walsh biography, “The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh,” to be published by University Press of Kentucky in the spring of 2011. There’s “a Walsh in there that nobody knows,” she says, and she promises a “massive” filmography. I think I speak for everyone here in saying a) it’s an honor that’s long overdue and b) I can’t wait. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Thanks, Blake. You’re right, the montages in The Roaring Twenties are beauts, and crucial to the impact and spirit of the movie overall.

    I don’t know whether I read the same interview you did (in my case I think it may have been part of the Stuart Kaminsky paperback on Siegel), but I do remember Siegel saying he was careful to design his montages and second-unit work to comport with the style of the director signing the film. He specifically differentiated between how he’d handle a scene for Walsh and how he’d approach one for Curtiz. As for Anatole Litvak, Siegel recounted watching him shoot a stationary scene in All This and Heaven, Too, of Bette Davis just sitting in a chair doing needlepoint. Litvak called for umpteen retakes without leaving his chair, or asking Davis to do anything differently on hers, or calling for an adjustment in the lighting or setup. Siegel finally stepped up to ask why Litvak was doing so many takes, and the reply was something like: “That’s what a director’s supposed to do.”

    I’m happy to be corrected about FMC never showing Me and My Gal; I’ve been lax at checking their schedule since I’ve gone HD and they haven’t. TMC has, sort of, and I dearly wish they’d show M&MG, as well as other treasures—and even some mere movies—from the pre-20th-Century-merger years at Fox. There was a brief time in the mid-Nineties when a New York City area PBS channel ran some rare Fox titles with no fanfare whatsoever, and the SP tape I made of Me and My Gal has been the means of introducing a few dozen other folks to the film in the decade-and-a-half since.

  • Blake Lucas

    Dave, thanks for sharing about forthcoming Walsh biography and the excerpt. It’s a safe bet this will be more absorbing than many biographies. The man lived a full life and maybe more than that in his span of years.

    Barry, I appreciated what you shared about BORDERTOWN and might make clear (I only said that I hadn’t even heard of it when I first saw THEY DRIVE) that I still have never actually seen it, though always meaning to someday. You make it sound interesting.

    Warner Bros. didn’t get tired of a plotline they liked, so Hawks’ TIGER SHARK became Walsh’s MANPOWER with a different background. That’s fine with me, you know–it shows how two great directors worked differently but in both cases effectively with the same material.

    In the case of BORDERTOWN/THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, take the revamping of the first as the second, and set the whole of THEY DRIVE in Mexico with two guys as wildcatters and the other characters all kind of falling into place in a fresh and interesting way and you have Hugo Fregonese’s striking BLOWING WILD–only twelve years later! Again, I personally have no problem with this, and if Bette Davis and Ida Lupino thought they knew how to kill a guy, well they hadn’t met Barbara Stanwyck!

  • I have to say that this has been one of the most stimulating threads in a long time, and that’s quite an achievement!

    I never got around to watching SILVER RIVER after all, but there’ll be another chance I hope.

    The news about the book on Walsh is great Dave! I’ll see to it that the library in St Andrews gets a copy. And I’m feeling tempted to do a seminar on him…

    Junko, that was beautifully said about Walsh’s tempo and dynamic quality.

  • Barry Putterman

    And Blake, that Warner Brothers plot reworking thing gets even more complicated in the TIGER SHARK/MANPOWER situation. In between, they did an adaptation of a novel about power linesmen called SLIM into which they injected that triangle situation with Pat O’Brien, Henry Fonda and Margaret Lindsay plaing the parts. I’ve never read the novel, but I’m kind of figuring that this particular plot device wasn’t central to it. So, they already had the linesman part in place when they got to MANPOWER.

    For me, this is really who I find the idea of a canon self-defeating. Neither BORDERTOWN nor SLIM is one of the thousand movies you need to see before you die. But they are both quite interesting and provide the context for a deeper understanding of some of the films that do fall into that category.

    I also want to join Fredrik in acknowledgement of Junko’s comments. I’ve always felt that Walsh expresses something very basic about our national character, in THE BOWERY and THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE as well as GENTLEMAN JIM from that era, and in other historical periods as well. He has never gotten the attention that directors such as Ford and Capra have for that aspect of his work. I hope that this forthcoming biography will help to correct that situation. That it could be felt so strongly by Junko in Japan is a tribute both to Walsh and to her.

  • Peter Henne

    I’m thankful to everyone who’s contributed to this thread because I’ve learned so much useful information and informed interpretation. I’m glad to hear about a forthcoming biography on Raoul Walsh… but doesn’t this thread demonstrate an English-language, book-length critical monograph is also in order? Something beyond the sweeping psychoanalytical dismissals found in the Edinburgh Film Festival book, only 109 pages long not counting the extensive filmography and published 36 years ago? The book’s editor Phil Hardy stated in his introduction that a substantial part of its purpose was “to use Walsh” to bring up issues of spectatorship, etc., but I for one could stand some “backtracking” to a full-blown, career-length, critical auteurist evaluation. Dave Kehr, I can’t have that essay in your forthcoming book soon enough.

  • Blake Lucas

    A couple of corrections/notations–first, that BLOWING WILD came 13 years after THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, not 12, not that they felt they had to wait that long I’m sure…

    I did have it in the back of my mind that there was another movie in the line of TIGER SHARK and MANPOWER but couldn’t remember anything specifically. So appreciate Barry reminding us about it. SLIM is another one I haven’t seen.

    Also meant to note that I’m certain it was the Stuart Kaminsky interview with Don Siegel I read re the montages, like others here. There was a MOVIE interview with Siegel, possibly by Bogdanovich if I’m not mistaken, but covered other subjects.

    And I too was taken with Junko’s comments on GENTLEMAN JIM, which seemed both cogent and apt to me. Earlier, a lot of people seemed to say “Flynn’s best and one of Walsh’s very best too…”–so many that I didn’t feel any need to say I feel the same way. But I do so may as well say so.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Thank you, Dave, for the outstanding article which started this thread, and to Blake for the long post/s which have particularly sustained its excellence among all the other contributors. A few notes:
    On August 10 at 9:32 am, Dave referred to Walsh, “with Ford and Hawks as one of the Big Three American directors.” I would prefer grouping Walsh with Ford and Borzage as three key American directors whose career began in the mid-teens (and lasted til the 1960s); between the three of them (four, if you include the very different and very German Lubitsch) they defined classicism. (Dwan and DeMille started a few years earlier, Stroheim, Vidor and Keaton a few years later.) To me, Hawks is of a later generation still, one which came along just in time to make films in the last three or four years of the silent era, an era when classicism’s tenets had already been laid down. I’d group Hawks not with Ford and Walsh but instead with McCarey, Capra, Wyler, the very different Sternberg, and the very British Hitchcock. (But then Dave’s “Big Three” references their artistic importance to him, not their temporal debuts.)
    Re Brian Dauth’s comment, August 11 at 4:36 pm, Fassbinder’s billing himself as “Frantz Walsch” was a deliberate homage to Raoul W., who was, along with (as is widely known) Sirk and (as is less widely known) Curtiz was evidently one of his three favorite Hollywood filmmakers. (Another Big Three!) If I’m not mistaken WHITY was intended as Fasbinder’s reworking of BAND OF ANGELS, and is worth seeing for that alone.

    Christophe, August 12 at 9:43 am, offered a link to his comments on BATTLE CRY, which has a wonderful description of “truculent and sentimental” scenes in the film (at least as Google translated it).

    Dennis Morgan was criticized above by a couple of contributors, along with Virginia Mayo. Mayo has drawn her gallants, so I’ll step up for Morgan. I’m not familiar with his career overall, but I recently caught Sherman’s THE HARD WAY, where he was just fine, along with Ida Lupino (who is of course well liked here), the always outstanding Jack Carson, and Joan Leslie (who was better as an ingénue here than as a jaded star). So there! I’d add some praise for Jane Russell, also somewhat overlooked here, but the great Mamie Stover can speak for herself as the exemplar of the unembarrassed sexuality of Walsh’s female stars.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, indeed I would not have cared to see Virginia Mayo or Jane Russell playing the lead in THE HARD WAY. But however you want to define their limitations, they did what they DID DO quite well. Dennis Morgan? Well, I’m sure that he was a fine fellow. But what exactly did he do in THE HARD WAY beyond indicating to the audience that Joan Leslie might have had a star personality by being blander than she was? Check back with us again after you see Morgan in IN THIS OUR LIFE, where he is essentially playing the Jack Carson part in THE HARD WAY.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Gregg Rickman: If I’m not mistaken WHITY was intended as Fasbinder’s reworking of BAND OF ANGELS, and is worth seeing for that alone.

    Sam Fuller told of Fassbinder giving him a private showing of Whity, after which RWF turned to him and said proudly, “That is my tribute to Raoul Walsh.” Whereupon Sam jumped up from his chair, chased RWF out of the screening room, caught up with him in the hall, and shoved him up against the wall. Then he snarled, “Don’t you ever blame that piece of s–t on Raoul Walsh!”

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry, I actually saw IN THIS OUR LIFE when TCM ran it about a month and a half ago. The faults with that tedious film lie not with Morgan but with Huston (who as a director of Bette Davis vehicles I would place behind Sherman, Rapper, Negulesco and John G. Adolfi)…. I also recently caught the tail end of a silly late 1940s Warners comedy with Morgan teamed with Carson in a sort of Hope-Crosby mode (with Morgan as Crosby). And he did okay there too, although he seemed (understandably) faintly embarrassed.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Richard, of the three people in Fuller’s story, Fuller comes off the worst. There is nothing wrong with making a feature length commentary on a film that inspires you, whatever your own film’s merits. Note that Fassbinder said “my tribute to Raoul Walsh,” not “my refutation” or “my overturning” or “my registration of ironic distance.” It’s been too long since I’ve seen either BAND OF ANGELS or WHITY, but certainly Fassbinder’s work with Sirk’s films was a rich and deep one.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I quite agree about IN THIS OUR LIFE and Dennis Morgan is hardly the cause of the problems. If you’d like an indication from a better film, try Daves’ TO THE VICTOR. I really shouldn’t spend time beating up on poor Dennis Morgan, who gave it what he had and never offended in the process. However, I do think that there were reasons why he kept being teamed with Jack Carson beyond the Hope & Crosby angle. SOMEBODY had to carry the movie. And Jack Carson could carry anybody and anything.

  • jbryant

    Well, I thought Morgan was a good fit for Walsh’s CHEYENNE, praised upthread by me and a couple other folks. Even if Janis Paige and Arthur Kennedy ultimately take the acting honors.

  • I am grateful to this forum for the inspiration to watch and read more about Walsh. For some reason I tend to link Walsh with Wellman rather than Ford and Hawks, maybe because Walsh and Wellman share a variation on a theme, which is betrayal between friends (but maybe I have that wrong with Wellman). Walsh fairly consistently seems to focus on the competition between two men, sometimes friends, for one woman. I’ve also caught up with a lot of career articles about Walsh from my library, and just read the abstract of Marilyn Moss’s forthcoming biography. She seems to be making a key mistake,however, at least in her prospectus, in asserting that Walsh’s approach to cinema was all action and a “breathless” pace, which he no doubt did in the Warners years, but J.-P. Coursodon is, I believe, more accurate in his assessment in American Directors, noting the easygoing pace and meandering plots of Walsh’s later films, such as Battle Cry and The Tall Men which I saw yesterday. The Tall Men would bear an interesting close-reading comparison to Hawks’s The Big Sky and Red River, and the running gag or motif of Jane Russell needing her boots pulled off as a mise en abyme moment, and I hope I am using that phrase appropriately here, echoes similar moments between people in Hawks that everyone knows. The Tall Men is also a “drive” movie that alternates between the drive itself and the campfire, so it is structured a lot like the two Hawks films. When Gable’s men head out for the first time, it is almost impossible not to think of Hawks’s theatrical, unusually montage-y moment in Red River. By the way, if you haven’t read it, J.-P. Coursodon’s essay on Walsh, I’d suggest looking it up, as it ends with a beautiful, poignant general statement about movies and how we perceive them.

  • Rick K.

    Like many others here, I’ve both enjoyed and been enlightened by all the comments in praise of Raoul Walsh, who would seem to have been “taken for granted” by many historians, considered MORE than a craftsman, but perhaps overlooked as a signature artist. The general consensus has been that Warner Bros. suited Walsh (and vice versa) resulting in his most consistently fruitful period, superficially true, but as several others pointed out here, the FOX output is perhaps richer in terms of revealing Walsh the auteur. My own perspective would place REGENERATION and THE BIG TRAIL as the key works in distinguishing the Walsh invisible style at its most visible. As both his initial feature and (almost certainly) his most ambitious film as director, one could assume that he had invested more of himself in both these projects, and the final results reflect this. Walsh most assuredly placed his stamp on the Warner product, but at that point it became more of a collaborative recipe, in which the stars and studio machine were integral to the success. GENTLEMAN JIM is better than THE BOWERY for this very reason. The Bogart films have a different rhythm than the Flynn films … Sid Hickox became Walsh’s prime cinematographer at Warner, yet there is a marked difference when J.W. Howe filled that post on a few occasions. This a way of saying that the Walsh signature became more of an ingredient than an insignia at Warners. It’s still there, and is central to the films, but the Walsh films hold for me less directorial distinction than Curtiz, who would seem to have been more of an autocrat and therefore placed more of himself on the finished product. Would this opinion be controversial here (or just naive)? Perhaps I should also point out that it is my perspective that auteur-ship needn’t be confined to the director, but can be consigned by the influence of a star, writer, cinematographer, or any other key artist whose participation becomes the primary force of a film. THE LETTER is a Davis, not a Wyler … THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is a Wyler. Cagney, Howe, Hecht, W.C. Fields, John Lee Mahin, Val Lewton, Ray Harryhausen are all auteurs.

  • Alan Wilde

    Just read D.K Holms’ take on Marilyn Moss’ description of her forthcoming Walsh biography. I think Holms misreads Moss’ words. She doesn’t make the claim that all his films are action films. Lots of other descriptions find their way in. Seems to me that her words “breathless art form” mean an “awe-inspiring art form” more than anything else. Walsh’s films of the 1950s are some of my favorites. I hope to see her spend a good deal of time on them. They’ve never gotten the positive attention they deserve.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    D.K.Holm: Thank you for mentioning my Walsh essay in AMERICAN DIRECTORS, especially the ending. I had forgotten about it and dug up a copy of the book and read the piece and you know, that last paragraph written some thirty years ago, no matter how simplistic it may seem, still is a very adequate description of how I and most of us I suspect respond to films and what it entails in terms of – for lack of a better word — film criticism.

  • Blake Lucas

    Christophe, just wanted to note I read your BATTLE CRY piece linked in earlier. Rather, I read it with my wife, who is also an ardent admirer of that movie, and much more fluent in French than I am and could also provide a better translation than Google, which can be a very strange translator sometimes.

    We both felt you caught and evoked the precise qualities we love in the movie, and that it had a feeling of sensitivity to its particular beauty, and all in a fairly brief space too. It was a pleasure to read.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Please everybody, NEVER rely on a google translation (or any other translation of the kind) unless you want the author that is supposedly translated to get into a murderous rage against those immensely inadequate translating systems. Lost in translation indeed!

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Well Alan Wilde, I, among a few others, have given them some “positive attention.” Do check it out.

  • However much I agree with Jean-Pierre Coursodon about the distortions that go on through Google translations. I have read his latest and perceptive essay on Robert Mulligan in French in one of the latest issues of “Positif” and would not have it any other way. I find the translation option on Google so charming. To be able to read ones own thoughts in a different language then one conceptualized and wrote them down, for me, is a surreal experience.

    As well, all this talk of Raoul Walsh is convincing me to more fully explore his films.

  • Thank you Gregg and thank you Blake. I’m really glad to acknowledge compliments from such a Walsh “veteran”.

    I’m happy to know about the next biography. Hope it will be as deep as McBride’s Ford and McCarthy’s Hawks.

    Count me in Viginia Mayo’s defenders. Beside the Walsh movies, she was enjoyable PEARL OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC and THE FLAME AND THE ARROW.
    Actually, I think average (or bad) actors are worse than average (or bad) actresses. In my opinion, Richard Egan spoils REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER and I think SEA DEVILS would have been a close to the masterpiece if Rock Hudson had been replaced by somebody a kind of Errol Flynn.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    David D.: I must confess that I haven’t read any of my writings in Google translations but I’ve read others. It may be a surreal experience but I doubt any writer will find it charming.

  • Actually, I think average (or bad) actors are worse than average (or bad) actresses. In my opinion, Richard Egan spoils REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER and I think SEA DEVILS would have been close to the masterpiece if Rock Hudson had been replaced by a kind of Errol Flynn.

  • Barry Putterman

    Christophe, I know what you mean about actors ruining movies. However, in my view, both of these characters are meant to be a tad slow on the uptake. So Hudson’s naif-like oafishness and Egan’s wooden self-regard actually fit into the movies in the same way that Gregory Peck’s pompous rigidity fits into CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER. Which is not to say that there aren’t genuinely off-putting performances in Walsh films. Nor does it negate Dave’s original point that it is even better when you have a great actor such as Cagney, who can convince you that he is clueless in THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE despite his native intelligence.

    I don’t know that it has been discussed much, but as Ford, Hawks, Walsh and others of their generation reached the later stages of their careers, the leading men whom they were used to working with (Flynn, Bogart, Gable, Cooper, Cagney etc.) were quickly disappearing through death and retirement. By the time you get to A DISTANT TRUMPET, Walsh is having to make do with Troy Donahue and John Wayne had pretty much become the last man standing.

  • you’re right Barry. In the 1964 Cahiers’s interview, Walsh is very tough with young actors and nostalgic from Fairbanks, Flynn and Gable. He says they were “tough men who knew how to lead an action without slowing it down”

  • Because of all the great discussion here, I immediately started watching more Walsh, and I began an ongoing series at the Turner Classic Movies blog, Movie Morlocks, about his work. My first piece went up today, and I hope you will all offer thoughts and corrections. As a neophyte Walshian, I need direction:

    http://moviemorlocks.com/2010/08/17/lessons-in-raoul-walsh/

  • Thanks for the link, Robert. That’s really an excellent piece, and the screen grabs from “The Big Trail” and “The Tall Men” speak volumes by themselves.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘the screen grabs from “The Big Trail” and “The Tall Men” speak volumes by themselves.’

    Yes, so true. Thank you for posting them Robert. If including last scope movie A DISTANT TRUMPET screen grab it would show greatness to the end.

  • Blake Lucas

    ‘the screen grabs from “The Big Trail” and “The Tall Men” speak volumes by themselves.’

    Indeed, the juxtaposition of the two images is so eloquent that I think Dave and Junko both felt any words they might add would be redundant. Same here.

    Robert, I read and enjoyed your piece as well as those on ME AND MY GAL and COLORADO TERRITORY. Although you say you need direction, personally I don’t see that. Being a neophyte is one thing–everyone is at some point. But you clearly already know how to pursue this–are looking at Walsh films from different periods, know how to make the connections both visually and dramatically, and write discerningly on the individual movies. You ask for “thoughts and corrections”–from my perspective, I’d say just keep doing what you are doing.

  • I watched Desperate Journey the other day and Roaring Twenties today and it was amusing to see the same set/location used in both films, as a munitions or chemical warfare dump in DJ and a booze distribution warehouse in RT. Not just the same set, but the same part of the set, the blade like embellishments that run up the sides of the building, and photographed more or less the same way. I’m sure that intense students of Warner Bros. movies note this phenomenon all the time.