Archive for Raoul Walsh

The Sunday Intertitle: Pig Alley Revisited

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on July 22, 2012 by dcairns

Raoul Walsh’s (or R.A. Walsh’s, to go by credits) REGENERATION was brought to my attention by Paul Merton’s show on the origins of cinema last year — it was the least familiar thing excerpted, and looked pretty exciting.

Allowances must be made — it’s 1915, and Walsh is essentially trying to be Griffith, though it’s already clear that his interests lie elsewhere. What gets him excited is the lowlife life, the enthusiastic Donnybrooks, the plug-uglies and the backstreet epic of clotheslines and tenements and violent rivalries.

Unfortunately, much of what transpires in the plot follows the inspirational title, and is sententious and sentimental. Rockliffe Fellowes is distinctly Brandoesque as long as he’s playing a street tough, with his distended lopsided labial sneer, but as soon as he gets religion he falls to barnstorming, and there are no barns to storm. Anna Q. Nilsson is more consistent, but her character’s no more exciting.

The Griffith resemblances go past the civics lesson plot and innocence imperiled climax — Walsh films rooms like a cutaway dollhouse, editing so we can assemble the whole edifice in her minds, from a single camera angle. Griffith did this so consistently, that THIS amazing thing became possible, ninety-nine years later.

REGENERATION may need restoration — Decasian fauna roam its flickering nitrate alleys.

The Sunday Intertitle: That’s the ticket!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on November 27, 2011 by dcairns

Bwahahaha! Is that a title card or is that a title card?

The anonymous image derives from Raoul Walsh’s THE YELLOW TICKET, a Tsarist Russian romantic epic which derives a chunk of its plot and a smaller chunk of its actual footage from THE RED DANCE, an earlier Fox super-production also helmed by Walsh. While that movie had something of a plague-on-both-your-houses approach to both Tsarist and Red tendencies, the 1931 re-imagining takes place in the run-up to WWI and so avoids offering any opinion on Bolshevism — except in so far as it portrays the Tsar’s state as unutterably corrupt.

Elissa Landi plays a Jewish schoolteacher forced to apply for a prostitute’s license just so she can travel to visit her father, sick in prison. Arriving too late, she finds that the titular ticket becomes an inescapable brand of shame — at least until dashing newspaperman Laurence Olivier arrives on the scene.

A quasi-sadeian melodrama of unfortunate innocence  ensues, with Landi torn between Olivier and the oleaginous advances of Lionel Barrymore, a police official who intends to use every trick in his moustache-twirling book of forcible seduction to have her (and at times it does seem, doesn’t it, as if these villains are all following the same set of instructions…) Barrymore’s most endearing trait is his cabinet full of weapons, souvenirs from the many unsuccessful assassination attempts he’s survived. But he should never have shown Landi the cabinet…

Pre-code content — full-on tit-and-bum nudity in the woman’s prison, albeit in extreme longshot (recalling FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE, I wonder if there was an unofficial ruling on how close a camera could get to the undraped female form). Incessant lechery (Sternberg scribe Jules Furthman had a hand in the script). Implied virginity imperilled (a medical report demonstrates that Landi “has never practiced her profession”).

Landi, best known for SIGN OF THE CROSS, is excellent, and seems to exert a calming effect on the two mighty hams sandwiching her on each side — Larry is wonderfully relaxed and charming, with a certain vulpine edge kept just beneath the surface, while Lionel cloaks his villainy in a weirdly dithering manner, like an evil Frank Morgan: “You don’t smoke, you don’t drink, and you don’t — ah — eh — uh…”

Pre-code Unknown

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by dcairns

In which I continue my slow spread across the internet. Picture one of those burning maps you’d get in the opening titles of Hollywood war or western pic: that’s me and the internet.

At The Daily Notebook, I contribute to the ongoing process of capsule-reviewing highlights of New York’s Film Forum pre-code series, along with Gina Telaroli, Ben Sachs, Craig Keller, Glenn Kenny, Zach Campbell and Jaime N. Christley. I’ve tackled THE PUBLIC ENEMY, THREE ON A MATCH (above), RED-HEADED WOMAN and CALL HER SAVAGE.

And at Electric Sheep, I chip in to the round-up of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, with pieces on TROLLHUNTER and TO HELL AND BACK AGAIN.

Been viewing a lot of pre-codes lately, because Fiona’s been unwell and pre-codes are perfect when you’re doped up on painkillers. Here are capsules of a few more we ran –

TWO ALONE

This is a really beautiful pre-code pastoral (was that even a thing?) in which unloved foster-child Jean Parker falls from juvie home runaway Tom Brown. Memorable nastiness from the foster family, but the movie isn’t overall about making you want the bad guys to suffer horrendous fates, although some of the time you do. In the end, this tender film satisfies you by rewarding the good characters instead.

Notable for Parker’s nude scene and the sympathetic view of pre-marital sex and extra-marital pregnancy, and taking the side of the despised outlaws over the nominal pillars of the community. Elliot Nugent directs, and it’s interesting to see small-town values being repeatedly trashed in these movies.

THE MATCH KING

We had David Wingrove to dinner with the plan to watch the ne plus ultra of Bad Cinema, Baz Luhrman’s emetic epic AUSTRALIA, but even he, who owns a copy of BOXING HELENA and watched WILD ORCHID four times, couldn’t make it through the antipodean hellscape (it’s like being injected into the mind of a ten-year-old with ADHD), and so a nice 80-minute pre-code seemed the ideal antidote.

Warren William — the starving lion — magnificent scoundrel — king of the pre-codes — the other Great Profile — is a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi schemer who tries to dominate the world, starting with a humble match factory. He saves the family firm with money borrowed on holdings that don’t exist, which means he’ll always owe more money than he can pay back, “until I own everything in the world, and then I’ll only owe money to myself.” On the way to his inevitable fall, Glenda Farrell, Claire Dodd and Lily Damita become notches on his bedpost. Every now and then the screenwriters have WW do something truly rotten on a personal level, in case we find his massive-scale financial chicanery too endearing. “This is like a primer in capitalism,” our dinner guest remarked, awestruck.

HOT SATURDAY

Our new favourite Nancy Carroll is torn between rich playboy Cary Grant and homespun geologist Randolph Scott. Quite a choice. But meanwhile smalltown gossip threatens her future. Chief slanderer and hottie Lilian Bond makes malice seem almost sexy, and this is a useful rebuttal to Leo McCarey’s claim that he taught Cary Grant everything. Grant is stiff in his Mae West and Sternberg movies, but effective for Leisen and Walsh and, in this case, the less celebrated William A. Seiter.

BIG BROWN EYES

Grant again, paired with blonde Joan Bennett, who’s notably abrasive and snappy under Raoul Walsh’s rambunctious purview. She’s a manicurist-turned-crime-reporter (!), he’s a police detective, and they’re hot on the trail of a ring of burglars, fences and baby-killers. Walter Pidgeon makes an assured snake-in-the-grass, and the accidental assassination of a sleeping tot shows how pre-codes could turn reckless tonal inconsistency into some kind of demented virtue. Isn’t this supposed to be a comedy?

ME AND MY GAL

The best and pre-codiest pre-codes overall may be the Warners films, but the Fox films are the rarest, thanks to that library’s largely unexploited status (apart from the legendary Murnau & Borzage at Fox box set). This is Walsh again, and Bennett again (with a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t beauty spot) and Spencer Tracy, during that part of his career where he played ostensibly lovable louts rather than patrician paterfamilias types. Here he rises through the police force and into Joan’s arms in a sweet, sassy romance that folds in a crime story and some alcoholic Irish shenanigans. Twice, Bennett’s father turns to the camera and invites us all to have a drink. Another character is paralyzed and communicates by blinking, allowing for some THERESE RAQUIN inspired plot twists, and the weirdest scene is cued by Tracy talking about a movie he just saw, “STRANGE INNERTUBE or something,” which leads to a series of internal monologues by himself and Bennett as they cuddle up on their date. Crazy stuff.

Walsh made a quasi-sequel, SAILOR’S LUCK, which has been getting a lot of attention in New York screenings and on the blogosphere, and which we’ll certainly be watching next.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 361 other followers