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The Raoul Walsh File - Part 3

by Peter Bogdanovich
August 18, 2013 12:00 PM
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Onward we go through all the Raoul Walsh films I saw 1952-1970 as noted on the cards in my movie file, which I kept up during those nineteen years.

Raoul Walsh directing still

DISTANT DRUMS (1951; d: Raoul Walsh).

1962: Fair* (Not among Walsh's best pictures, the last half of which is far superior to the first, this is the story of a swamp-war with the Indians set in the Florida of the 1840's. Some awkward scenes, a generally bad script (weak construction and exposition), uneven acting, but expert action sequences and a vigorous style distinguish the work.)

ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE (1951; d: Raoul Walsh).

1962: Very good (Tough, strong, exciting and typically Walshian western: Kirk Douglas as a U.S. Marshal determined to observe the law, with Walter Brennan, Virginia Mayo, John Agar. Somewhat predictable in its plot, but saved from banality by Walsh's vigorous, personal, and imaginative treatment.)

COLLEGE SWING (1938; d: Raoul Walsh).

1962: Good- (Dizzy, scatterbrained college farce featuring an insane thirties cast including Bob Hope, Burns and Allen, Martha Raye, Edward Everett Horton, Betty Grable, John Payne; directed with spirit, if not much faith, by Walsh; not one of his best by any means, but typically fast and clean and unpretentious.)

Klondike Annie still

KLONDIKE ANNIE (1936; d: Raoul Walsh).

1962: Good (Rather fascinating Mae West vehicle, vigorously directed by Walsh --- about a whore who becomes a missionary in Alaska; satiric, personal, often very funny, good support from Victor McLaglen, and the usual marvelous performance from Miss West. She also does a fabulous song called "I'm an Occidental Lady in An Oriental Mood", which I would like to hear about 200 more times.)

COLORADO TERRITORY (1949; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Excellent (Walsh's moving, powerful Western variation on High Sierra --- a superbly conceived and executed tragedy of the last days of a doomed outlaw, his flight from jail, his last train robbery, the one woman he finds who is faithful, their inevitable death. Acted excellently by Joel McCrea, Virginia Mayo, beautifully photographed; a masterful achievement, though it suffers from comparison with the Bogart film, which is among Walsh's four or five masterpieces.)

Colorado Territory still

Added 2013: I remember this was a favorite of mine when I first saw the picture on its initial release; I was about ten years old, but I recall being very moved by the story. Of course, it was long before I knew about High Sierra, or Walsh for that matter. Clearly, when I saw it again fourteen years later, as evidenced above, I was not disappointed. Many more years passed, nearly half a century, and I would always think of it fondly; then, maybe two years ago, I happened upon it once more (on TCM) and the picture moved me in a stronger way than ever before. The ending was devastating to me now, with even more intensity than the conclusion of High Sierra, probably because the woman was killed as well, sacrificing herself to die with the man she loved. And how can we still underrate Joel McCrea? His understated performance here --- in vivid contrast to his superb comic turns in Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story or Sullivan's Travels --- puts him right up there with the immortals of the screen.

BACKGROUND TO DANGER (1943; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Very good- (Fast, economical, swift and exciting Walsh spy melodrama with Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and --- less interesting --- George Raft, Brenda Marshall. Not a major work, but tight, unpretentious, beautifully edited and shot, and thoroughly gripping.)

Desperate Journey poster

DESPERATE JOURNEY (1942; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Very good* (Fast, tremendously exciting wartime chase film about five RAF flyers caught behind German lines; superbly directed, edited, photographed, done in typically vigorous Walsh fashion, expertly, personably acted by Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, others; a fascinating, and continually exciting, expertly paced thriller.)

ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON (1948; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Very good- (Delightful and quite charming, typically Walshian musical version of his 1941 masterpiece, The Strawberry Blonde. Dennis Morgan is not James Cagney, nor is Janis Paige a Rita Hayworth, but Dorothy Malone compares favorably to Olivia De Havilland, and Walsh's sense and style and humor makes up for the differences. This is not a great film, like its original, but it is exceedingly likable, and has a mood and quality of its own. The most lamentable loss is the song that gave the first film its title.)

PURSUED (1947; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Very good (A powerful, grim, classic western drama about an adopted son and the evil that surrounds him --- the sins of the fathers being passed on to torment their children; strikingly photographed, superbly directed, and acted with strength and conviction. The writing is not quite equal to the excellence of the telling, but Walsh's vigorous, clean and exciting personality more than makes up for the lack in the tale; on the whole, a memorable and fascinating movie.)

Gentleman Jim still

GENTLEMAN JIM (1942; d: Raoul Walsh).

1963: Excellent (Fast, thrilling, tremendously vigorous, beautifully directed movie about the early years of James J. Corbett, the great San Francisco boxer, climaxed by his famous World Heavyweight Title fight with John L. Sullivan. Played with feeling and charm by Errol Flynn, Ward Bond, Alan Hale, Jack Carson, Alexis Smith; humorously, expertly written, and masterfully controlled by Walsh. Along with High Sierra, White Heat, and The Strawberry Blonde, this is one of his finest movies.)

Added 1968: (Remarkable sense of pace, spirited, unpretentious and --- for what it is --- perfect.)

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  • Barry | August 23, 2013 6:02 PMReply

    Please forgive me -- that should be "deification",,,

  • Barry Lane | August 22, 2013 12:32 PMReply

    Peter, I hope that does not conclude your essays on Walsh -- at least not without addressing his three Gable films especially The Tall Men. This was an ordinary western, unless you see it as Walsh's defication of Gable and then it goes right to the gut. Yes...? Same is true, but less so, and by that I mean more obviously, for Band of Angels and King And Four Queens.

  • PB | August 27, 2013 12:41 PM

    Don't worry, Barry, there are four more installments to the Walsh File; number 4 coming up
    this week. Thanks for your interest.

  • MDL | August 21, 2013 10:51 PMReply

    'Colorado Territory' is one of my favorite westerns not least because part of it was shot in and around Durango CO - my hometown. Also for the amazing final scenes, which I believe are shot at Canyon de Chelly. Also enjoy Walsh's 'The Big Trail' for the Fox Grandeur vistas.

  • John Beaudine | August 19, 2013 1:33 AMReply

    Glad to see The Raoul Walsh File is still continuing. Any thought on the next filmmaker you'd profile? Might I suggest William Wyler? After finally reading the biography on him, 'A Talent for Trouble,' I feel that Wyler is a tad forgotten now despite all the masterpieces he brought us.

  • PB | August 19, 2013 11:41 PM

    Wyler is certainly underrated these days, but then he was vastly overrated in his own day. Certain of his pictures, like "The Letter", or "The Best Years of Our lives", or "Dodsworth"
    have an intrinsic watchability. But Wyler's true persona never emerges because he was one
    of those "objective" directors who were often good craftsmen, not really creators, though.
    There is no unifying theme with Wyler as there is with Hawks or Ford or Hitchcock, men you come to know through their pictures, and really enjoy being in their company. That I interviewed Wyler once, and found him very disagreeable, is not the only reason his films often bore me. For every "Carrie", there is a disaster like "Friendly Persuasion", which can give you a sugar high. For every "Roman Holiday", there is "Ben-Hur", which is high among the worst movies to win Oscar's Best Picture. For every "Detective Story" (a fondness to which I have because I had read the Broadway play and enjoyed as a kid seeing it performed with such a good New York cast), there is the pallid & vulgar "The Collector". You get my drift...

  • Blake Lucas | August 18, 2013 4:08 PMReply

    I'm writing this separately because it has nothing to do with Walsh and I do like to stick to the subject. So sorry to digress, but I just have to say that after being unentranced and skipping it after seeing parts of a few episodes when it was first on, I gave "The Sopranos" another chance when they started rerunning it from the beginning of the first season recently and have now changed my mind. It's at least fascinating; well, it's absorbing. Anyway, the only reason I'm mentioning this is that I'm almost through the second season, in which your character was introduced and Peter, you're performance is just so excellent--really your casting is kind of inspired and it would be interesting to know how it happened if you ever want to share it. I really look forward to those scenes of you and Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer Melfi, who plays such an interesting character and it's one of the things that keeps me watching it.

  • PB | August 20, 2013 12:03 AM

    Blake, thank you so much for the kind words. That role was pivotal in getting the large public to realize that I had started as an actor, not a critic. As a stage director, too, before pictures,
    plus a film historian. I loved doing the series. Lorraine was terrific to work with, and so were
    Jimmy (dear Jimmy) and Edie. Everyone was good: great cast. There were generally very good
    directors guiding the scripts each episode. Of course, David Chase was the genius behind "The
    Sopranos", and he led a brilliant writing team, that included Matt Weiner (who then created "Madmen"), and Terry Winter (creator of "Boardwalk Empire"), and others.
    I got the job because when David was show-running "Northern Exposure" , he asked me to
    play myself in an episode about Orson Welles' legacy, and he asked me, after seeing the first
    dailies whether I had ever acted before. Why? "Because you've got a lot of presence." Well, I
    started out as an actor professionally when I was 15. "O.K., you ought to do more of it." Seven
    years later, he called me and offered the role of Eliot Kupferberg, Lorraine's character's therapist. I jumped at it. And just adored doing it. Sad it's over, but the series had a great
    impact in my life, and a tremendous impact on television, the bar for which David raised to
    wonderful heights, leading to the present high level of some cable series like "Breaking Bad"
    or "Game of Thrones."

  • Blake Lucas | August 18, 2013 4:01 PMReply

    Enjoyable comments as always. The added note on "Colorado Territory" resonates a lot for me; it's probably worth noting that Walsh had his own favorite scenarist John Twist on this and that means he wanted the changes from "High Sierra" which are in every case an improvement (even if the "High Sierra" script is mostly great, there are always a few problems to be had in John Huston's writing for me--Walsh likes women much better than Huston and redeemed these in his direction and in Bogart and Lupino's performance--and the couple dying together at the end in "Colorado Territory" takes this story to another, transcendent level and is one of the sublime endings in all movies for me). Also, I must acknowledge that great as some gangster movies are (Walsh's own are always first-rate), I like Westerns better and I think they are better, because they can have a kind of mystical and more spiritual aspect, as this one does. That's true even when it's about an outlaw as here, and in any event, Joel McCrea does always project a basic decency and so easily draws sympathy--one just feels like he rode the wrong trail somehow (it was wonderful to see you take up for McCrea, one of American cinema's greatest actors). Another thing about this added note--it's the only recent one, so I find myself curious about whether you've gone back to Walsh's movies a lot or not that much in most cases. I can't help feeling like others might come up higher now too--that kind of classical style does look better every year after all, and the personal elements of his style and his own sensibility are always so strong. So will just add that along with "Colorado Territory" I consider "Pursued" and "Along the Great Divide" also to be great--these are my three favorite Walsh Westerns, though I'd say matched by "They Died With Their Boots On"--and I've gone back to them many times and they always mean a lot to me. I must also add that "Gentleman Jim" too is surely one of Walsh's masterpieces--no other movie quite like it and it's just wonderful; as I read it here, you have definitely acknowledged that.

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