Enjoying very much Raoul Walsh’s autobio, Each Man In His Time. The accounts of Walsh’s early days as a sailor, cowboy and assistant to a doctor and an undertaker in Utah are extremely diverting, full of rowdiness and black comedy just like a Walsh film. How truthful they are is hard to assess, but a clue may be found in the account of the making of REGENERATION, Fox Pictures’ gangster epic which Walsh directed, the first gangster feature film (possibly).
Walsh has fun recounting the filming of the ferry fire sequence, for which a ragged army of volunteers were rounded up at the docks: their role, to leap into the water from the deck of the ferry. Walsh says he hired a couple of ruffians to ensure that everybody evacuated as planned — headfirst if necessary. The men did their job so well they even chucked the Fox moneyman overboard, pay-satchel and all, causing Walsh to fear for his neck if the cash were lost and he had nothing to pay his unruly and sodden background artists at day’s end.
This all happens in a chapter entitled The Censor Will Hang Us, and the reason for that title is soon supplied. When the rushes are viewed, it became apparent that numerous of the ladies leaping into the drink were without underwear. Walsh claims that the shots were too intricate to simply trim out the offending frames, and in desperation he rushed the footage to a specialist “negative doctor,” who told him at once that the job was impossible.
“‘Nothing’s impossible,’ I barked at him, ‘Do you remember the time Dolly Larkin ripped her blouse and her tits fell out? You fixed that one.’”
Walsh reports that after working all night, the visual effects artist successfully superimposed undergarments on all the bottomless leapers, ‘except some of the women looked as though they were wearing diapers.’
This story struck me as unlikely, though I recalled learning from The RKO Story that traveling mattes were employed to conceal some of Jane Russell’s cleavage in THE OUTLAW after the censor objected. But a cursory glance at REGENERATION shows that the extreme long shots of leaping ladies show no billowing skirts, no nudity and no underpants, superimposed, hand-painted or otherwise. I expect probably there was some troublesome footage, and I expect it was simply deleted. Walsh the storyteller couldn’t leave it at that, and how many people were going to see a copy of REGENERATION and catch him confabulating?