Raoul Walsh by Peter Hogue: Revisiting Raoul (Walsh)

Raoul Wash

My contributions to MTN#45 (the “Raoul Walsh issue”) were riding the crest of what was, at the time, my freshly discovered enthusiasm for Warner Brothers films of the Thirties and Forties, including especially William A. Wellman’s pictures from the pre-Code era, Raoul Walsh’s films from some of the best years of his career (1939-1949), and almost anything with James Cagney in it. I’d already written about some of this in “Life with Warners” (MTN#6). Me and My Gal (Fox, 1932) and Gentleman Jim (Warner Brothers, 1942), first encountered amid a wonderful flood of studio-vault re-releases circa 1970, were the tipping points for my ventures into Walsh territory.

In 2015, those enthusiasms have continued vitality for me, and I’m still very interested in Walsh. But I’m less inclined to view Walsh’s directorial persona (or Walsh the auteur) in the relatively exclusive terms laid out in MTN#45. Part of this is a matter of my having come to think of Walsh and a number of other favorite directors among his contemporaries—Allan Dwan, William Wellman, Henry Hathaway—less as movie authors than as gifted overseers of the “genius of the system.”

Consequently, my enthusiasm for Walsh’s films persists, still rollicking onward after 40-some years, but my critical and analytical perspectives on the films themselves remain, perhaps even more than before, works in progress.  ?If I were attempting to work up a 2015 counterpart to my 12-film “appreciation” in MTN #45, at least nine out of that dozen (What Price Glory, Sadie Thompson, Me and My Gal, The Bowery, The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra, The Strawberry Blonde, Gentleman Jim, Colorado Territory, White Heat) would still get close, special attention.?  But a number of films that I’ve only seen more recently — Wild Girl (1931), Sailor’s Luck (1932), The Man I Love (1946), and Regeneration (1915) — would have to be included in the discussion, as would The Big Trail (1930), which I first saw in France in 1970, but didn’t come to fully appreciate until its wide screen version resurfaced in the U.S. many years later.

There are several judgments from 1975 that I might want to tweak in a comparable 2015 discussion (a little less critical of High Sierra, a little more so with The Roaring Twenties, for example).  ?More important to me at the moment, however, is the business of working out a fuller sense of Walshian cinema as it emerges in films which have little, if any, of the raffishness and comic verve that marks so many of my past and present favorites. ?The Man I Love, Uncertain Glory, Northern Pursuit, Objective Burma, The Yellow Ticket, The Man Who Came Back, and the silent The Red Dance all loom large on that list of subjects for further study.  And there might be a similar and perhaps even more rewarding sorting-out to be found along another line of study—Raoul Walsh viewed through his long and varied line of westerns (In  Old Arizona, The Big Trail, Wild Girl, Dark Command, They Died With Their Boots On, Pursued, Silver River, Colorado Territory, Along the Great Divide, Distant Drums, The Lawless Breed, Gun Fury, Saskatchewan, The Tall Men, The King and Four Queens, The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, A Distant Trumpet).

Copyright © 2015 by Peter Hogue


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