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The Raoul Walsh File – Part 4

The Raoul Walsh File - Part 4

More Raoul Walsh pictures that I saw 1952-1970 and noted in the movie card-file which I kept during those 19 years.

THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (1956; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Fair* (A minor Walsh western, but a vigorous, likeable one nonetheless: Clark Gable plays an adventurer who comes to a small, out-of-the-way town inhabited only by four ravishing widows and a tough old woman, their collective mother-in-law, and attempts to con them out of some stolen gold that is hidden somewhere in the area. Sexy, quite racy, tough and brief, Walsh’s personality shines through a generally predictable and obvious script.)
NORTHERN PURSUIT (1943; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Very good (Exciting, fast-paced, typically Walshian adventure set in Canada during World War II; excellently played by Errol Flynn, Helmut Dantine, tightly edited and inventively written. Walsh has such a flair for this sort of movie that one wishes he had more freedom of selection throughout his long and productive and action-packed career. By the way, it is easy to see from where [Don] Siegel learned the cleanness and precision that distinguishes his work as well as Walsh’s.)

MANPOWER (1941; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Very good* (Fascinating Walshian remake of [Howard] Hawks’ Tiger Shark, set in the world of high-voltage-wire men instead of fishermen; with a better cast (Edward G. Robinson is in both, Marlene Dietrich, George Raft), Walsh’s film is faster and more vigorous, but Hawks’ has a depth of character and a personality that Walsh just misses. On its own, however, this is good Walsh, though not as fine as the other two pictures he made in this great year: High Sierra and The Strawberry Blonde.)

(1955; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Good* (Particularly likeable, large-scale Walsh western with Clark Gable, Jane Russell, Robert Ryan, Cameron Mitchell, obviously patterned after Hawks’ Red River, about a cattle drive from San Antonio to Montana Territory; excellently filmed, nicely acted, rather superficially written, but personal nonetheless, and vigorously directed.)

Added 2013: I underrated this film the first time around, and appreciated it more when I saw the work again maybe fifteen years later. But for a definitive comment I’d really have to see the picture again: I have a feeling it’s considerably better than I have stated. Also it no doubt deserves to be seen on the big screen, which I never have.

BAND OF ANGELS (1957; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Very good* (A particularly vigorous Walsh melodrama set in the South before and during the Civil War: filled with color, lust, excitement, sex: story of blood-mixing, prejudice, hate, slave trading and hypocrisy. Brilliantly photographed and dynamically directed — with great gusto that quite overcomes the melodrama of the script by embracing it; very effective performances by Clark Gable, Yvonne de Carlo, Sidney Poitier, Torin Thatcher. One of Walsh’s most successful achievements of the fifties, and a vividly memorable one.)

Added 1966: (Really a very good film — totally anti-North yet not pro-South; a roaring good melodrama magnificently told.)

UNDER PRESSURE (1935; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Fair* (Completely likeable, fact-paced, rather shallow, but continually absorbing roughhouse melodrama about sandhogs digging a tunnel from Manhattan to Brooklyn; nice playing by Victor McLaglen, Edmund Lowe, as friendly rivals; much of the Hawksian concept but never deep or moving. A nice film, basically a pot-boiler.)

SILVER RIVER (1948; d: Raoul Walsh).

1964: Very good* (Exciting, compact, superbly directed and played Walsh-Errol Flynn western about a Union soldier who is court-martialed out of service, organizes a gambling establishment, and runs it into an empire of silver mines. Excellently written, directed with zest and gusto, altogether a more than entertaining western saga in Walsh’s definitive style.)

A DISTANT TRUMPET (1964; d: Raoul Walsh).

1964: Fair- (One of Walsh’s weakest pictures, caused mainly by an intolerably bad cast and a predictable script. Whenever the director is allowed to linger on shots of horses and riders, Indians and cavalry, and on their battles, he shows his vitality, personality and strength. Otherwise, his efforts are hopeless against the talentless players and the hopeless words they are required to speak.)

SPENDTHRIFT (1936; d: Raoul Walsh).

1964: Fair (Likeable, silly little romantic comedy about a playboy millionaire who has everything but money and how he finally goes to work and marries his cute little horse trainer. Walsh handles this ridiculously thin material easily and gets through it swiftly; Henry Fonda is convincing help in the lead. On the whole, this is another of the many frivolous movies Walsh made before picking up his silent-film strength in 1939 with The Roaring Twenties.)

THE MAN I LOVE (1946; d: Raoul Walsh).

1964: Fair* (Rather strange, dark romantic-melodrama with a semi-jazz, semi-gangster background, well played by Ida Lupino, often oblique in its writing, but directed with vigor and simplicity and typically Walshian vitality. Basically not completely successful in its execution or conception, but fascinating nevertheless.)

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Barry Lane

My wife loved Silver River — I did not. Thought Thomas Mitchell's performance not only one of his worst but of anyone's. Need to look again. Whatever she liked, I love.

Blake Lucas

Please forgive me that my comments are belated. This is a rich group of Walsh movies for me and do want to address what you said about several of them and will try to keep brief though will make these separate so easy to answer. First, I very much agree with what you say about THE TALL MEN, especially the 2013 comment. I've come to care about this movie a lot but still feel I'm at exactly the same disadvantage as you in never seeing it properly. I missed it in 1955, saw it the first time pan and scan on TV (it didn't have a chance that way) and later I did see an original 35 print on the big screen but the Deluxe Color had completely faded to puple so made it monotonous–and it's a long, leisurely movie so couldn't stand this. In the present DVD, the color is restored and the film is nicely letterboxed so you can appreciate the color and composition but I still think more than most movies, it is so expansive and magisterial in a way that cries out for the big screen. Still, THE TALL MEN may actually be the best place to start in appreciating how Walsh's style in the 1950s had changed–this is a late style, without the same dynamic energy which jumps out of his 40s movies and for which they are celebrated; it is more reflective, but for me it makes sense for him to come to this and there are compensating virtues. I just want to offer re a comparison with RED RIVER that yes, there are some narrative affinities, though mostly on the surface, and I too consider RED RIVER one of the all time great Westerns and like it better (though it took me years to finally settle for myself that I do like the changes Hawks made to the original tragic ending, even if there are still some problematic things there), but Walsh's movie has some appealing things, for one a central male/female relationship that always makes sense, is balanced in the strength it gives to the two characters of Russell and Gable, and is wonderfully satisfying. It's a movie that makes sense and reflects Walsh's sensibility from beginning to end. I want to add something to this: Hawks and Walsh come up a lot together (this is one of two times here) and for maybe half of those, professional critics or otherwise, who know the work of both, Walsh always suffers a little in the comparison. But for the other half of us (I count myself here), these two directors are on the same level–central to the mainstream of American cinema along with Ford (who I consider greatest of the three, but not because he is more personal or more masterly as a director–even if he has the richest gift for beautiful and expressive composition of anyone; but only because of the deeper spirituality of his films). Well, the point is, all three directors are different and Walsh is not really competing with Hawks (nor are they competing with Ford). I think Walsh only suffers because he made more movies, maybe too many sometimes and should have passed on projects he couldn't elevate that much–Hawks was more selective and so more consistent and so most of his movies are outstanding. Again, I think you have it right with TIGER SHARK and MANPOWER–the characteristic energy and vitality of Walsh do distinguish his but Hawks seemed more involved in his movie and it is deeper as you say and for me is finer–but consider that MANPOWER is actually one of just four (not three) Walsh films movies in 1941, and since the others include THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON as well as THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE and HIGH SIERRA, I wonder how many other directors ever had a year that good, and those four movies have a lot of range and are all defined by Walsh as director.

Blake Lucas

I didn't do too well at keeping it brief. Sorry, and I'll try to do better. Of A DISTANT TRUMPET you write "One of his weakest pictures." That's very harsh–I was just getting to know his work when I saw this soon after its release and was quite swept away by it and still respond to it. I think you have pinpointed some of it virtues well in these few lines, but would just add that the kind of filmmaking in those action sequences is a lost art now but Walsh was still commanding with it. I'd add that the climax with the Apaches in Mexico is very stirring–it's more the Indian actor playing the Geronimo figure that makes it so; this is a scene in many Westerns, where the Indian is allowed to beautifully articulate their own tragic history of dispossession (it comes over well for Walsh even as early as THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, powerfully for Ford in setting up the climax of FORT APACHE, but never better than here, complete to the subtitling of the Indians' own language). I always liked it enough that I finally read the long novel by Paul Horgan on which it's based and to which it is often compared to its disfavor. Horgan has a much more elaborate narrative, and is true to history at the end (I wish Walsh and Twist had kept his ending after Hazard throws down the Medal of Honor and I feel they could have even with the changes they made), but even without as much depth, Walsh has more feeling for the Indians in the end, and gives them more dignity and greater sympathy. As for those three main characters (I assume your complaint about the actors is not about people like James Gregory and Claude Akins), Troy Donahue is actually well-cast for that character and I guess I won't argue too much about him but I think he's good enough and don't really understand those complaints. The two women are considerably changed from the novel so that they not surprisingly now follow the Walsh paradigm–in the novel Suzanne Pleshette's character is a nymphomanic who comes to a bad end and Diane McBain's becomes a wholesome wife and is the real heroine but Walsh always prefers the more experienced woman who knows how to live so transforms Pleshette into the heroine. For me, they work well enough–but I know that Walsh himself was with you on this as regards Donahue, Pleshette and McBain; he didn't like any of them for the roles. Maybe their performances suffer a little because he was not engaged by them and didn't do more to help them. In any event, you hit this point hard so just a reminder that in DAISY MILLER Cybill Shepherd was similarly reviviled in the title role, but I've read Henry James' original and she was not only perfectly cast in terms of the way he conceived her but completey effective in her performance in the movie (which holds up as excellent and one of the few good James adaptations). Often it seems like what people feel about acting is very subjective. For me, if they are believable as the character and in terms of the whole movie, that's the main thing. In that regard the three leads of TRUMPET certainly don't come up to the level of Cagney, Flynn or Lupino in their Walsh movies (to name a few stars we all would quickly identify with him), nor anywhere near it, but are good enough for the movie to play. This was Walsh's last film, and I'll admit I have a tendency to care about last films, though have learned not to be too sentimental about it. I recently made a list for myself and this actually made it into the top 20, just barely and not up with GERTRUD, 7 WOMEN or Sirk's IMITATION OF LIFE, and not with the last movies of Naruse (SCATTERED CLOUDS), Ozu (AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON) or Mizoguchi (STREET OF SHAME) either, but it did come about even with LOLA MONTES, with which it maybe shares some virtues–in that there is beautiful and commanding filmmaking in both but the films are less moving than their directors' masterpieces–coincidentally, Martine Carol in the lead in Ophuls' film is often found as wanting as Donahue, Pleshette and McBain are here.

Blake Lucas

Again, sorry to ramble–I've thought about these movies a lot over time and so it's interesting to me to talk about them. Raoul Walsh is one of my favorite directors, obviously. Anway, on at least briefly to THE MAN I LOVE. I'm curious as to whether you ever got back to this–you'd probably find it gratifying now, I'm guessing. When I first discovered this it had no reputation but now it actually does. Whether this owes to Scorsese's citing it as an influence on his own NEW YORK, NEW YORK I don't know but it's irrelevant because Walsh's movie is light years better–deeper, richer, and more stylistically exciting too. When you say "Basically not completely successful in its execution or conception, but fascinating nevertheless" I'm trying to figure out just what you mean. In terms of what it is, the "semi-jazz, semi-gangster" elements are just background, and it's easily seen as a woman-centered melodrama, and I see it as the centerpiece of three key Walsh movies that can be described that way, between SADIE THOMPSON much earlier and THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER later. They are all major Walsh movies to me but I especially like this one because Ida Lupino is such a strong heroine, and for me, her presence holds the threads of the narrative together, as she can hold up the weaker characters (including the man she loves) but not have her own story end in happiness. Walsh loves women, the stronger the better–and it may not be exactly the thing that makes him a great artist but it's very appealing. In any event, the combination of the character of Lupino, the weaving of the melodramatic threads, the fluid and dynamic camerawork, the music and atmosphere, are very satisfying and this is one of Walsh's masterpieces for me. (And this is a more concise comment too).

Blake Lucas

And finally, BAND OF ANGELS. I could go on and on about this movie but maybe it's better not to say too much. Anyway, I like what you said about it–and at least citing it as one of his best movies of the 50s is very fair. I just have to go further though–in the fullness of time (which means maybe in the last ten years) I have come to realize this is my favorite of all Walsh's movies. For me, maybe, it was always the most moving–the hero is the adventurer after the adventure, the heroine comands the trajectory of the drama with her own autonomy, and so they make a great Walsh couple who find a hard-won union at the end. The movie is visually beautiful–Walsh will someday be given more credit for the beautiful use of color in his 50s movies, which varies according to the genre (something he talked about once)–with cinematography by one of the greats, Lucien Ballard, and it has that less hurried rhythm of later Walsh I talked about before. It's not that it's greater than some of the 40s ones we all love (I always thought my favorites were movies like WHITE HEAT, COLORADO TERRITORY and GENTLEMAN JIM and they are still close with this), but it just seems like the testament of Raoul Walsh to me. And I must admit that I respond not only to the seriousness with which it engages slavery and racism (and some complexity too–Sidney Poitier plays a dimensional character who is not always the most sympathetic of the three), but that it allows redemption to Gable for such a dark past (which I'm not giving away) and makes De Carlo's character such an appropriate romantic partner for him because of her past. When you write "…Dynamically directed – with great gusto that quite overcomes the melodrama of the script by embracing it…" that's a good description, but I'd just want to add, shouldn't melodrama be embraced? The word "Melodrama" is still sometimes used derisively in some accounts of films but it actually is a genre, and one that American cinema has often done especially well with. But speaking of that, a final word about this movie because there's something you still hear in negative accounts of it–Clark Gable was opportunistically cast because the setting (and character?) recall GONE WITH THE WIND, a classic. Well, BAND OF ANGELS is infinitely better than that overrated producer-dominated movie, which has many peripheral virtues in its production but never has the same depth or beauty as this later film that is so deeply infused with the sensibility of its director, and as for Gable he is surely a better actor in the greater maturity of these later years, playing a much more moving character here, and wonderfully paired with the perenially underrated De Carlo. To my taste, this is one of the greatest American masterpieces and deserves to be much more widely-known and appreciated.

Ghijath Naddaf

Will there be part 5 ? Because i cant wait for your thoughts on "The Bowery" and
"Me and my Gal".


Blake, what a marvelous set of comments! Thank you for all of these, and for the kind words on
"Daisy Miller". I think I would probably agree with you wholeheartedly on all your points about
Walsh, if only I had seen most of them again. Remember, these short comments were all written
while I was 24 or 25, and never revised, because in many cases I haven't seen the pictures a 2nd
time. So these are only offered as first impressions, and formed when I was still pretty callow,
without a great deal of life experiences. I'm sure many of these films would resonate quite
differently for me today. And I'm very grateful to you for giving our readers a more mature
appraisal than mine, and more informed, since Walsh is one of your favorites. I didn't get to
know him as well as I did both Hawks and Ford, but he was a terrific person, and very much
like his pictures. These were giants, especially compared to what we've got today. Again,
thanks so much for your insights and grace.

Salty Bill

Peter, why do you think it was that Clark Gable never did a picture with Howard Hawks? And, I wish I could get to NYC to check out the HH retrospective at the Museum Of The Moving Image in Astoria. All 35mm prints, save one! I'm enjoying the Walsh articles, haven't see a lot of these. Take care…

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