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The Raoul Walsh File – Part 6

The Raoul Walsh File - Part 6

And, finally, we conclude our look at the 72 Raoul Walsh entries from my 1952-1970 movie card-file. Raoul made many other pictures—most of his silent work gone forever—but certainly these will have given a good overview of this pioneer director’s remarkable, varied, and distinctive career. Unfortunately, I have not seen many of these films after the initial viewing, and all of my comments were written while I was between the ages of 12 and 31, so obviously the opinions may very well be different now, some more enthusiastic, some less. But the best of Walsh is as good as anyone has made, top-notch, unpretentious filmmaking by a master of the medium.

MARINES, LET’S GO (1961; d: Raoul Walsh).

1967: Fair* (Not one of Walsh’s best pictures, but still a damned engrossing war film, typically vigorous, unpretentious and fast-moving.)

THE NAKED AND THE DEAD (1958; d: Raoul Walsh).

1967: Excellent (Mailer’s story [based on Norman Mailer’s best-seller] but Walsh’s movie — and among his finest films of the fifties: a reckless, unselfconscious and fascinating World War II film about an unnecessary patrol led by a psychopath and an intellectual — excellently acted by Aldo Ray, Cliff Robertson, Raymond Massey and a large supporting cast. Along with Band of Angels, this is one of Walsh’s finest recent pictures — effortlessly made, his technique is so second-nature it is impossible to analyze; a beautiful movie.)

IN OLD ARIZONA (1929; d: Irving Cummings, Raoul Walsh).

1968: Fair- (Creakingly dated western made in the first year of sound; the film on which Walsh lost his eye and had to be replaced. As a result, the picture has gusto in spots and an overall bawdy conception, but Cummings carries out most of the scenes poorly. Warner Baxter [who replaced Walsh in the lead] gives an amateurish performance — for which he won the Oscar [as Best Actor] — and Edmund Lowe is only O.K. There are a few nice shots and seconds — J. Farrell McDonald, other bits — but it is uneven and only mildly diverting.)

WHAT PRICE GLORY (1926; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Good* (Among Walsh’s best silent films, a rousing, bawdy, typically vigorous World War I story about Quirt and Flagg, based on the famous pacifist play: The first in a series of three Walsh pictures with the same characters and actors, and by far the best. Excellent battle sequences, good atmosphere, likeable performances, fine narrative style. Very much in keeping with his talkies, but they got a lot better.)

THE BIG TRAIL (1930; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Fair* (John Wayne’s first starring part — and he’s quite all right, especially compared to most performances in the first two years of sound — in a pretty dismal story about a man’s search to avenge the murder of a friend against the overwhelming background of a wagon-train’s journey across the country; the atmosphere and the vigorously handled action is entirely Walshian, and there are considerable beauties along the way — in the land, the weather, the size of the production; but it has no serious impact because of the trivial nature of the script and the unconvincing way it is handled. It is nonetheless diverting and not without interest all the way through, even at its worst.)

THE MONKEY TALKS (1927; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Poor* (Unpretentiously directed and not really unlikeable, sometimes bizarre story of some down-and-out circus people and their idea to dress up a short pal as a monkey and pass him off as a talking one — which pays off to make them the hits of Paris — until love complicates things and ends up killing the little guy. Some pretty ridiculous plot twists — like a real monkey trying to rape the heroine — but all handled with a straight face, and generally fast pace. Decidedly one of Walsh’s least personal projects.)

THE RED DANCE (1928; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Fair (Briskly, professionally directed melodrama, set during the Russian Revolution — improbable situations, not the most enlightened casting — but elaborately produced, with convincing decor and effective camerawork. Competent and engrossing in its day, the film is dated now, but Walsh’s vigor keeps it from nodding, and it remains likeable despite everything.)

ESTHER AND THE KING (1960; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Fair (Likeable Biblical spectacle, done with the usual Walsh conviction and economy. One of those hopeless projects but pulled off to better effect than anyone had a right to expect. At its’ best when it’s ogling the girls — also a Walsh characteristic.)

A LION IS IN THE STREETS (1953; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Good- (Awkwardly edited and sometimes peculiarly staged southern political drama, influenced no doubt by the rise of Huey Long. Strangely out of sync with Walsh’s personality, the film is never less than engrossing but it also never achieves the potential power of the story, and Cagney gives far from his best performance.)

SASKATCHEWAN (1954; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Fair (The usual Walsh vigor and the marvelous locations compensate quite a bit for a lackluster cast headed by Alan Ladd and Shelley Winters, and a Canadian Mounties-western script that could mercifully be described as familiar.)

BABY FACE HARRINGTON (1935; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Fair* (Silly small-town comedy about a meek clerk who accidentally gets involved with a gang of hoods, enlivened by Walsh’s fast pacing and a remarkably believable comic performance by Charlie Butterworth. A programmer done with verve.)

GOING HOLLYWOOD (1933; d: Raoul Walsh).

1969: Fair (Marion Davies and Bing Crosby get the glamour treatment in this pretty standard Hollywood-desired-and-achieved comedy-musical. Ned Sparks as a director leads the cast of lively supporting players who, together with Walsh’s brisk treatment, give the piece more than just historical interest.)

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Did you ever see ME AND MY GAL?

Blake Lucas

I belatedly made a few comments on Part 5, and sorry they were so late after Part 6 was already up. So wanting to make up for it, I'll make these last comments right away, and don't have too much more to say on these right now, except "The Naked and the Dead." I like what you said about this too and really appreciate that you gave it "Excellent" so one of the highest ratings you have given his movies. I too especially value this one. For me, this is Walsh's masterpiece. I do have some liking for the five that followed–especially his last "A Distant Trumpet" as I wrote about before–but he seems to be winding down, and they are not all such great projects nor does he treat them as if they were. In his filmography, "The Naked and the Dead" immediately follows "Band of Angels" and they are both close after "The Revolt of Mamie Stover" so plainly he was still as great as ever at least through those films, and I noted you agreed that these were all among his best 50s movies. What you say about Mailer's book and Walsh's movie is quite right–Mailer is known to have disliked the movie intensely, but this is another example of a movie needing to live on its own. I have little use for faithful adaptations. John Huston was known for them, and he was a cultured and articulate man who surely knew and thoroughly appreciated every one of those books, but most of the movies he made from them are dull. The main point for me, beyond the many beautiful things about it stylistically and dramatically, is that "The Naked and the Dead" is transformed into a Walsh work by his personal vision. His treatment of Croft/Aldo Ray is consistent with what he did with Cody Jarrett/James Cagney in "White Heat"–he frees himself from the narrowness of a moral attitude so that the empathy he and the actor can bring to the character takes us to a deeper level in one way human experience can be looked at. Most of Walsh's protagonists are likeable and fully sympathetic but even if they are not, he seems empathetic, as in these cases, when they "follow their path to the end" as Croft does. So changes in fates of the characters from the book make sense for the movie, and I really believe Walsh is more emotionally engaged by the psychopathic Croft than by the seemingly more sympathetic Hearn, who may have all the right attitudes, but is much less deeply immersed in the passions of life. It might be added–and I'm not the first to say so–that this Walsh version of "The Naked of the Dead" seems definitely a war movie that Malick was aware of, and arguably influenced by, in his version of "The Thin Red Line." The stylistic affinites–especially the topography–are there and some of the character dynamics too, but although Malick plainly has a highly deliberated intellectual attitude about the philosophical aspects of the whole thing (and I like the movie–it's my favorite of his films), Walsh just does it, more vigorously (hey, I just had to use that word!) but paradoxically, despite less pretension, with more depth. Peter, I want to conclude this note re saying again that I really felt strong agreement with you about most of the 50s ones, especially singling out this, "Band of Angels" and "Mamie Stover" in a positive way. It's not really important at all if you don't give them an "Exceptional"–but I can't help feeling that if you ever got back to those three, it would be very rewarding for you and if they confirmed your first impression, those ratings might go to the "Exceptional" that I'd give all three of them.

Blake Lucas

I just want to briefly finish up my comments with a few thoughts. There are Walsh movies that are not in these cards but if they were somewhere you could see them, I'm guessing you did later after you stopped doing these cards. That probably means "Me and My Gal"–which Charles has asked about–a wonderfully delightful and inventive film, and hopefully also the equally charmng "Sailor's Luck." I think when one adds "The Bowery" (I'm hopefully recalling correctly you did have a card on this), that early 30s Fox period was pretty good for Walsh (I'm still hoping to see "Wild Girl"), and that it was after he left that he went into that period of being less than his best artistic self before the resurgence at Warner Bros. But this also leads to something I just want to offer about Walsh's silents–the best one I've seen (it's not in these cards but it surfaced at a later date and you wrote about it glowingly earlier on this blog) is "Sadie Thompson" (alas, for that missing last reel–at least we know how it turned out!). "What Price Glory" is memorable too, maybe overrated relative to some of his other films in later years that go no attention then but still an important Walsh film, but maybe we just don't have most of his best silents now (one I haven't seen but do have on hand to watch it "The Red Dance" so your card reminded me to get to this and plan to do it soon). His very first one "Regeneration"–when that surfaced in the 70s–turned out to be outstanding. I have a feeling a lot of those lost ones might have shown he was already a great director–I'm especially thinking of those with then-wife Miriam Cooper, and Walsh did say more than once that he had really been proud of "Evangeline" so it's just a tragedy that has not survived. I'm just adding this note because I know I base my high opinion of him mostly on his 40s and 50s movies, but he was a pioneer and goes back to those early adventurous days and I just have the feeling we don't have a whole picture and shouldn't be thrown off by all those relatively lightweight 30s movies. Really, as everyone often and rightly says, the loss of most of silent cinema is just an immeasurable cultural loss–and yes, a lot of great movies have survived from the silents but who knows what hasn't? Plainly, it was already a sophisticated art with a well-practiced language, and I think the best filmmakers didn't turn their back on all that with sound, but just appreciated sound as another element they could work with. Well, not to digress too much, but thanks again for sharing the Walsh file.

Tony Williams

I first saw and ran WHAT PRICE GLORY in a course on the war movie in the old 16mm days. It was from the Killiam Library in tinted color with a very appropriate score. Now I have a copy on VHS in b/w but would like to know whether the Killiam copy may appear on DVD sometime. In the UK during the 50s, BBC TV used to run edited extracts from silent films in a program called SILENTS PLEASE. This was not the best way of seeing these films but the program did give one a taste for the richness of that era and stimulated searhes for the full versions as well as looking out for other treasures.

I also remember seeing A LION IS IN THE STREETS on first release in the UK. Your comments about these films are really enjoyable and stimulating.

Blake Lucas

Careless proofreading and editing so please note this correction.

The line that read (re "The Naked and the Dead") "For me, this is Walsh's masterpiece…" was supposed to read "For me, this is Walsh's last masterpiece…" with the emphasis on "last." I hope that was clear and think that it was. The important thing was to place his last really great movie in a long and rich career, that went on to five more that are definitely lesser but don't diminish one's sense of his whole body of work, both in its evolution and quality. Anyway, I'm glad I could make this correction before you read my comments.


Sorry to be so tardy in responding to your brilliant comments, Blake, but I'm deep into cutting my new picture. I agree with virtually everything you say, and wish I had seen again several of Raoul's late works; Exceptional might easily be my reaction. Certainly that would be my rating now for quite a few Walsh pictures, particularly High Sierra, The Roaring Twenties, White Heat, Colorado Territory, The Strawberry Blonde, and Gentleman Jim. By the way, I remember that John Ford always listed Walsh's silent (and evidently lost) The Honor System as one of the best films he'd ever seen. And, as you know, he was not much of a compliment-giver. Also you're probably right that The Naked and the Dead is Walsh's last masterpiece; I'm really anxious to see it again, and will blog about it when I eventually do. Till then, thank you for all your valuable insights on this great pioneer whose work should be much better known.

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