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.