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The Raoul Walsh File – Part 5

The Raoul Walsh File - Part 5

Onward we go through all the Raoul Walsh movies in my 1952-1970 card-file of pictures I saw during those 19 years.

ARTISTS AND MODELS (1937; d: Raoul Walsh).

1964: Fair (Likeably noisy Jack Benny comedy about a less-than-witty advertising man and the campaigns he tries to peddle. With music. Walsh does his usual vigorous job with less than inspired material.)

THE LAWLESS BREED (1952; d: Raoul Walsh).

1964: Very good (A fast, vigorous and exciting Walsh western about a young man who inadvertently becomes a gunfighter and outlaw, is reformed by age and a good woman. Very well played by Rock Hudson, Julia Adams, John McIntire, tightly written, directed with skill, humor, and typical Walshian gusto.)

ST. LOUIS BLUES (1939; d: Raoul Walsh).

1964: Good* (A routine riverboat musical comedy romance about a sarong-wearing star who gets fed up and starts all over again on a showboat in the South — directed and played with such vigor and unpretentious charm that it becomes not only thoroughly entertaining, but really quite good: Lloyd Nolan, Dorothy Lamour, Jessie Ralph are tough and believable, and a young Negro girl named Maxine Sullivan sings two songs in a totally unmannered, simple fashion that is strangely hypnotic. This effective simplicity is, indeed, the key to the success of this modest project.)

THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT (1945; d: Raoul Walsh).

1965: Fair (Jack Benny is a trumpet player who falls asleep and dreams he is an angel sent to herald the destruction of earth; the script is so labored that it would present problems to any director, but Walsh handles things in his usual brisk, vigorous style. It still ended Benny’s film career, but then he was never much in pictures anyway.)

Added 2013: Well, Jack Benny was sublime in Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be, which is more than a lot of bigger film stars have to their credit.

DARK COMMAND (1940; d: Raoul Walsh).

1965: Fair* (Very well directed and photographed, pleasantly acted, but weakly written western melodrama based on the infamous Quantrill’s raiders who terrorized the countryside during the Civil War: John Wayne, Walter Pidgeon, Claire Trevor, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes — they all are fun to watch and Walsh’s vigorous style is exciting but none of them can save an ineffectual script.)

BIG BROWN EYES (1936; d: Raoul Walsh).

1965: Fair (Fast paced, typically vigorous Walsh comedy-melodrama involving a pretty manicurist, a handsome policeman, jewel thieves and baby-killers; pretty thin plot, but so effectively directed and lightly handled that it works. Joan Bennett, Walter Pidgeon, Cary Grant are all miscast in varying degrees, but remain personable nevertheless.)

SALTY O’ROURKE (1945; d: Raoul Walsh).

1965: Good (Fast-paced, tightly directed, well played little story about racing, tough and crooked jockeys, gamblers, an honest schoolteacher, her mother, and a handsome horse-owner who’s in trouble with some racketeers and also trying to keep his cocky young jockey in line. Alan Ladd and Gail Russell are fine, and so are Stanley Clements, William Demarest and Spring Byington. Walsh’s vigorous direction keeps it all looking fresh, light and exciting.)

BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE (1952; d: Raoul Walsh).

1965: Fair* (Vigorous, briskly directed pirate adventure yarn, with an outrageous, but thoroughly Walshian bravura performance by Robert Newton as Blackbeard. The script and the other players are either uneven or weak, but Walsh and Newton give the picture an energy and driving force beyond all expectations; there is also an unabashed, almost childlike fascination with the story’s swashbuckling, high-adventure aspects that is especially appealing.)

THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER (1956; d: Raoul Walsh).

1965: Very good- (Fascinating, ambiguously told story of a tough, flamboyant prostitute, her expulsion from San Francisco, her affair with a “respectable” writer, her rise to wealth on the war in Hawaii. Very cleverly written and played to avoid the censors, but clear in its meanings and in Mamie’s lack of regeneration. Perfectly cast with Jane Russell, Richard Egan, directed with typical Walshian vigor and spirit; an amusing and devastating character study, with Russell staring at camera in the beginning (as opposed to the end as in Bergman’s “Monika”), defying the viewer to judge her.)

SEA DEVILS (1953; d: Raoul Walsh).

1965: Fair* (Minor, but typically likeable, vigorous, fast-paced Walsh adventure about a couple of English smugglers who get involved in a political intrigue involving French-British relations, Napoleon, and a lovely lady spy masquerading as a countess. Rock Hudson, Yvonne De Carlo, and a British cast serve Walsh in good stead.)

P.S. 2013: I believe I used the word vigorous to describe Walsh’s direction in every single entry, except

perhaps The Revolt of Mamie Stover where I used vigor instead! It’s a good word for his work, but a bit
overused by my youthful self. Sorry.

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Re Jack Benny. While I agree that his radio career was far more important than his film work he was well thought of by the studios, earned big money, and his name was up there. And, of course, if for nothing else, should be well regarded for To Be Or Not To Be. Yes…?

Blake Lucas

Sorry my comments to Part 5 are so late, after Part 6 is up. I'll try to make up for it my getting to Part 6 right afterward and maybe you could still reply to these if you have any further thoughts (or someone else if they still get read). To start off, first, I think "vigorous" and "vigor" are always good words to describe Walsh–it remains that way even when the pace mellows a bit in his late phase of 50s movies; there is still a characteristic energy that drives the films, even the more minor ones. So, even if it's overused, it is, as you say, a good word–maybe also one might say "vivid" "vibrant" "virile"–all those "v" words (well, maybe not all….). Now just to move on to a couple of the films. First, I know every one of my comments has been to express enthusiasm for one Walsh movie or another, sometimes to suggest maybe you should rate it higher even when I like your comments, and just generally say how much I love his films. But, you know, like any artist, there can always be an exception. So I'll say here that I deeply dislike my least favorite Walsh movie "Blackbeard the Pirate" and I'll explain why. The first movies I consciously remember seeing by him were in 1952 at the age of 8 and came out months apart–it was first "The World in His Arms" which I loved then and still do, especially for the boat race, and then "Blackbeard the Pirate." I'm sure I wanted to see this partly because I had enjoyed Robert Newton playing Long John Silver in the Disney version of "Treasure Island" directed by Byron Haskin, so it's not that I don't like Newton–he's certainly not at all restrained in his pirate interpretations but his way of doing it is probably a good way to play a pirate. How moderate can we expect a pirate to be? But what got me was simply this–SPOILERS to anyone who hasn't seen it and wants to: At the end, some other pirates bury Blackbeard in sand on the beach except for his head and leave him for the tide to come in and drown him, and Walsh actually filmed a shot (and it's a closeup) of a still alive Blackbeard/Newton's head under water, with his open eyes, after the tide has come in. This gave me nightmares–what an awful moment! Of course, I saw it again to try to cure myself seeing it as adult and it remained just as hard to take. No matter how vigorous, vital, vibrant and virile Walsh may be–and so well-suited to pirate movies and maritime adventures–I will never understand what prompted him to so uncharacteristically grisly a moment as that one.

Blake Lucas

On the other hand, there's "The Revolt of Mamie Stover" which just happens to be the Walsh movie I most recently saw–after maybe 25 years, I saw it again only about two weeks ago, a nice letterboxed copy of this 'Scope film with good color and turns up on Fox Channel in case anyone is looking for it and I hope they are. This was always an underrated movie, and Peter, I really like all you say about it. Both Walsh and the first-rate screenwriter Sydney Boehm did beautifully finesse the whole prostitute/brothel thing–it is never once said that it is NOT the case even though it isn't directly said that it is. So one gets right to the heart of who these two people are in this relationship, which is very moving, since they both bring flaws into it and both make mistakes, yet are also sympathetic people seen from an adult perspective; the still underrated Russell and Egan are both excellent in conveying this and one ends up with a profound sense that these two people are in love, would in so many ways make a good couple, but just cannot handle things in a way that will make it work. And I will interject something about your very apt comment about "Monika"–the film is one of Bergman's better ones and the moment of the heroine staring at the camera is truly memorable–but for me it compares unfavorably in at least one way with Mamie's stare at the beginning here, in addition to Walsh just doing it with less evident consciousness of the artistry involved and so, readily taken immediately into the flow of the movie and yet just as startling as Bergman's image and maybe even more so; what I most feel thinking about this is that Walsh doing this at the beginning prefigures a treatment of the whole movie in which he never judges her, but with Bergman, in context of the film, by the time he does his shot, one feels that he has judged her, so it is Walsh who has the more humanistic maturity. I know this is not the place to go on and on about this beautiful movie (sure would be great to write about it in depth sometime) but will just observe that Walsh's seeming unpretentiousness and simplicity of style are, as usual, very deceptive. An artful simplicity is the hardest thing for a director to do–I remember you saying something to that effect in your Hawks class at UCLA I audited years ago and it's plainly something you have always kept in mind as a director–but Walsh's choices re staging, composition, gesture and choreography of the actors, color (God I wish I could find that Films and Filming interview where he talked about his ideas about this), and seemingly functional but highly expressive punctuating camera movement and editing, are all so expressive throughout this thing that they really exemplify so many of the ways cinema can be great and so rarely is now. So I strongly want to support this as one of Walsh's masterpieces.

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