Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys to make an exception to our overriding editorial rule about concentrating on stars, not directors.
Walsh (pictured with Humphrey Bogart above) began making movies in 1912, and wound up his amazing career in the early Sixties. He is certainly worthy of an exception if only because early on he was also an actor.
His professional life parallels the first half century of the movie business. Born in 1887 in New York, he attended college in New Jersey and moved to Hollywood by 1909, joining D.W. Griffith’s studio in 1912. (He portrayed Pancho Villa and John Wilkes Booth in Birth of a Nation.) He turned to directing one and two-reelers, then features, one of which was the 1928 silent version of Sadie Thompson, in which Walsh acted opposite Gloria Swanson. (His acting career came to a halt that year when he lost an eye in an accident.)
By the Thirties, Walsh one of Warner Brothers star directors of thrillers, and gangster movies and westerns that were light on the messaging but heavy on action and fast-moving narrative.
Think of these great titles: 1940’s They Drive By Night, 1941’s High Sierra and They Died With Their Boots On, 1945’s Objective Burma, 1949’s White Heat, 1951’s Distant Drums, 1955’s Battle Cry and The Tall Men, 1956’s The Revolt of Mamie Stover, 1958’s The Naked and the Dead, 1961’s Marines, Let’s Go and 1963’s A Distant Trumpet.
People who chuckle at the hysteria in the closing scenes of “White Heat,” who regard the underwater fight in “Distant Drums” as schoolboy fun, who deplore the way the jungle spectacle in “The Naked and the Dead” has replaced Norman Mailer’s dialectic, who wince at the heroics of “The Tall Men” and the uninhibited eroticism of Jane Russell in “Mamie Stover” are as uneasy as those who scorn opera because in life people do not sing to one another, writes British critic-author David Thomson.
Walsh, the Hollywood veteran who believed movies are entertainment and not necessarily art, might have been amused by a eulogy (at Walsh’s death in 1981) penned by French critic Jean Douchet, who wrote: It is time to consider Walsh as rather more than a tough guy, a fellow who likes to laugh, a primitive with rough sentiments. This passionate Shakespearian is a physical film-maker only because he depicts a world of spiritual turmoil.
Well, ok. It’s certainly worth taking a look at Walsh’s entertaining 1974 memoir, Each Man In His Time. On first meeting Charlie Chaplin: “He was a likable little fellow with a cockney accent.” About bedding an unnamed British countess at William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon: “When you get to rubbing knees, it’s time to rope the gal, tie her down, and put your brand on her.”
On finding himself seated between Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell at a formal luncheon: “Jane was her regal self and Marilyn’s finely chiseled features added up to the same ethereal beauty that had struck me when I first met her.”
Marilyn Ann Moss, former film reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter, has written the biography Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director, published by Screen Classics in May. With the approval of the Walsh estate, Moss is currently pushing ahead with plans for a documentary along with filmmaker Paul Lynch.
We wish the project much success.