Walsh, Raoul

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WALSH, Raoul

Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 11 March 1887 (some sources say 1892). Education: Attended Public School 93, New York; also attended Seton Hall College. Family: Married 1) Miriam Cooper, 1916 (divorced 1927); 2) Mary Edna Simpson, 1941. Career: Sailed to Cuba on uncle's trading ship, 1903; horse wrangler in Mexico, 1903–04; worked in variety of jobs in United States, including surgeon's assistant and undertaker, 1904–10; cowboy actor in films for Pathé Studio, New Jersey, then for Biograph, from 1910; actor and assistant to D.W. Griffith, then director at Biograph, Hollywood, from 1912; director for William Fox, from 1916; lost eye in auto accident, 1928; introduced John Wayne as feature actor in The Big Trail, 1930; director for various studios, then retired to ranch, 1964. Died: In California, 31 December 1980.

Films as Director:


The Life of General Villa (co-d, role as young Villa); Outlaw'sRevenge


The Double Knot (+ pr, sc, role); The Mystery of the HinduImage (+ pr, sc); The Gunman (+ pr, sc; credit contested)


The Final Verdict (+ pr, sc, role); The Bowery


The Regeneration (+ co-sc); Carmen (+ pr, sc); The DeathDice (+ pr, sc; credit contested); His Return (+ pr); TheGreaser (+ pr, sc, role); The Fencing Master (+ pr, sc); AMan for All That (+ pr, sc, role); 11:30 P.M. (+ pr, sc); TheBuried Hand (+ pr, sc); The Celestial Code (+ pr, sc); A BadMan and Others (+ pr, sc); Home from the Sea; The LoneCowboy (+ co-sc)


Blue Blood and Red (+ pr, sc); The Serpent (+ pr, sc); Pillarsof Society


The Honor System; The Silent Lie; The Innocent Sinner (+ sc); Betrayed (+ sc); The Conqueror (+ sc); This Is the Life


Pride of New York (+ sc); The Woman and the Law (+ sc); ThePrussian Cur (+ sc); On the Jump (+ sc); I'll Say So


Should a Husband Forgive (+ sc); Evangeline (+ sc); EveryMother's Son (+ sc)


The Strongest (+ sc); The Deep Purple; From Now On


The Oath (+ pr, sc); Serenade (+ pr)


Lost and Found on a South Sea Island (Passions of the Sea); Kindred of the Dust (+ pr, sc)


The Thief of Bagdad


East of Suez (+ pr); The Spaniard (+ co-pr); The Wanderer (+ co-pr)


The Lucky Lady (+ co-pr); The Lady of the Harem; What PriceGlory


The Monkey Talks (+ pr); The Loves of Carmen (+ sc)


Sadie Thompson (Rain) (+ co-sc, role); The Red Dance; MeGangster (+ co-sc)


In Old Arizona (co-d); The Cock-eyed World (+ co-sc); Hotfor Paris (+ co-sc)


The Big Trail


The Man Who Came Back; Women of all Nations; The YellowTicket


Wild Girl; Me and My Gal


Sailor's Luck; The Bowery; Going Hollywood


Under Pressure; Baby Face Harrington; Every Night at Night


Klondike Annie; Big Brown Eyes (+ co-sc); Spendthrift


O.H.M.S. (You're in the Army Now); When Thief Meets Thief; Artists and Models; Hitting a New High


College Swing


St. Louis Blues; The Roaring Twenties


The Dark Command (+ pr); They Drive by Night


High Sierra ; The Strawberry Blonde; Manpower; They Diedwith Their Boots On


Desperate Journey; Gentleman Jim


Background to Danger; Northern Pursuit


Uncertain Glory; San Antonio (uncredited co-d); SaltyO'Rourke; The Horn Blows at Midnight


The Man I Love


Pursued; Cheyenne; Stallion Road (uncredited co-d)


Silver River; Fighter Squadron; One Sunday Afternoon


Colorado Territory; White Heat


The Enforcer (uncredited co-d); Montana (uncredited co-d)


Along the Great Divide; Captain Horatio Hornblower; Distant Drums


The World in His Arms; The Lawless Breed; Blackbeard thePirate


Sea Devils; A Lion in the Streets; Gun Fury




Battle Cry; The Tall Men


The Revolt of Mamie Stover; The King and Four Queens


Band of Angels


The Naked and the Dead; The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw


A Private's Affair


Esther and the King (+ pr, sc)


Marines, Let's Go (+ pr, sc)


A Distant Trumpet

Other Films:


The Banker's Daughter (Griffith) (role as bank clerk); A Mother's Love (role as young man); Paul Revere's Ride (Emile Cocteau) (role as Paul Revere)


Birth of a Nation (Griffith) (role as John Wilkes Booth)


By WALSH: books—

Each Man in His Time, New York, 1974.

Un Demi-siècle à Hollywood, Paris, 1976.

By WALSH: articles—

Interview with Jean-Louis Noames, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1964.

Interview with Guy Braucourt, in Ecran (Paris), September/October 1972.

"Can You Ride the Horse?," an interview with J. Childs, in Sight andSound (London), Winter 1972/73.

"Raoul Walsh Talks about D.W. Griffith," with P. Montgomery, in Film Heritage (New York), Spring 1975.

"Raoul Walsh Remembers Warners," an interview with P. McGilligan and others, in Velvet Light Trap (Madison), Autumn 1975.

On WALSH: books—

Brownlow, Kevin, The Parade's Gone By . . . , New York, 1968.

Marmin, Michael, Raoul Walsh, Paris, 1970.

Canham, Kingsley, The Hollywood Professionals, New York, 1973.

Hardy, Phil, editor, Raoul Walsh, Edinburgh, 1974.

Casas, Joaquín, Raoul Walsh, Madrid, 1982.

Comizio, Ermanno, Raoul Walsh, Florence, 1982.

Giluiani, Pierre, Raoul Walsh, Paris, 1986.

On WALSH: articles—

"Walsh Issue" of Présence du Cinéma (Paris), May 1962.

"Walsh Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1964.

Dienstfrey, Harris, "Hitch Your Genre to a Star," in Film Culture (New York), Fall 1964.

Brownlow, Kevin, "Raoul Walsh," in Film (London), Autumn 1967.

Lloyd, R., "Raoul Walsh," in Brighton (London), November, December, and January 1970.

Conley, W., "Raoul Walsh—His Silent Films," in Silent Picture (London), Winter 1970/71.

Fox, J., "Action All the Way," "Going Hollywood," and "Hollow Victories," in Films and Filming (London), June, July, and August 1973.

Farber, Manny, "Raoul Walsh: 'He Used to Be a Big Shot,"' in Sightand Sound (London), Winter 1974/75.

McNiven, R., "The Western Landscape of Raoul Walsh," in VelvetLight Trap (Madison), Autumn 1975.

Cocchi, J., and others, "Raoul Walsh filmographie: L'oeuvre 'parlante' 1929/1961," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), April 1976.

Halliday, J., "Trying to Remember an Afternoon with Raoul Walsh," in Framework (Norwich, England), Spring 1981.

McNiven, R., "Raoul Walsh: 1887–1981," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1981.

Comuzio, Ermanno, Castoro Cinema (Milan), special issue, no. 95, 1981.

Bodeen, De Witt, "Raoul Walsh," in Films in Review (New York), April 1982.

Gallagher, John, "Raoul Walsh," in Films in Review (New York), October 1987.

* * *

Raoul Walsh's extraordinary career spanned the history of the American motion picture industry from its emergence, through its glory years in the 1930s and 1940s, and into the television era. Like his colleagues Alan Dwan, King Vidor, John Ford, and Henry King, whose careers also covered 50 years, Walsh continuously turned out popular fare, including several extraordinary hits. Movie fans have long appreciated the work of this director's director. But only when auteurists began to closely examine his films was Walsh "discovered," first by the French (in the 1960s), and then by American and British critics (in the 1970s). To these critics Walsh's action films come to represent a unified view, put forth by means of a simple, straightforward technique. Raoul Walsh is now accepted as an example of a master Hollywood craftsman who worked with naive skill and an animal energy, a director who was both frustrated and buoyed by the studio system.

Unfortunately, this view neglects Walsh's important place in the silent cinema. Raoul Walsh began his career with an industry still centered in and around New York City, the director's birthplace. He started as an actor in Pathé westerns filmed in New Jersey, and then journeyed to California to be with D.W. Griffith's Fine Arts production company. Walsh apprenticed with Griffith as an actor, appearing in his most famous role as John Wilkes Booth in Birth of a Nation. Walsh then turned to directing, first for the fledgling Fox Film Company. For the next five years (interrupted by World War I service experience) Walsh would master the craft of filmmaking, absorbing lessons which would serve him for more than forty years. His apprenticeship led to major assignments, and his greatest financial successes came in the 1920s. Douglas Fairbanks's The Thief of Bagdad was directed by Walsh at the height of that famous star's career.

Walsh took advantage of this acclaim by moving for a time to the top studio of that era, Paramount, and then signed a lucrative longterm contract with Fox. At that point Fox began expanding into a major studio. Walsh contributed to that success with hits like What Price Glory? and The Cock-eyed World. The introduction of new sound-on-film technology, through its Movietone newsreels, helped Fox's ascent. Consequently, when Fox was about to convert to all-sound features, corporate chieftains turned to Walsh to direct In Old Arizona, in 1929. (It was on location for that film that Walsh lost his eye.) Because of its experience with newsreel shooting, Fox was the only studio at the time that could film and record quality sound on location. Walsh's next film used the 70mm "Grandeur" process on a western, The Big Trail. The film did well but could not save the company from succumbing to the Great Depression.

Walsh's career stagnated during the 1930s. He and Fox never achieved the heights of the late 1920s. When Darryl F. Zanuck came aboard with the Twentieth Century merger in 1935, Walsh moved on, freelancing until he signed with Warners in 1939. For slightly more than a decade, Walsh functioned as a contract director at Warners, turning out two or three films a year. Walsh never established the degree of control he had enjoyed over the silent film projects, but he seemed to thrive in the restrictive Warners environment. Walsh's first three films at Warners fit into that studio's mode of crime melodramas: The Roaring Twenties, They Drive by Night, and High Sierra. The Roaring Twenties was not a classic gangster film, like Warners' Little Caesar and Public Enemy, but was a realistic portrait of the socio-economic environment in the United States after World War I. High Sierra looked ahead to the film noir of the 1940s. In that film the gangster became a sympathetic character trapped by forces he did not understand. During the World War II era Walsh turned to war films with a textbook example of what a war action film ought to be. Walsh continued making crime melodramas and war films in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Battle Cry, The Naked and the Dead, and Marines, Let's Go proved that he could adapt to changing tastes within familiar genres.

Arguably Walsh's best film of the post-war era was White Heat, made for Warners in 1949. The James Cagney character is portrayed against type: we see the gangster hiding and running, trying to escape his past and his social, economic, and psychological background. White Heat was the apex of Walsh's work at Warners, for it simultaneously fit into an accepted mode and transcended the formula. White Heat has come to symbolize the tough Raoul Walsh action film. Certainly that same sort of style can also be seen in his westerns at Warners, They Died with Their Boots On, Pursued, and a remake of High Sierra called Colorado Territory. But there are other sides of the Walsh oeuvre, usually overlooked by critics, or at most awkwardly positioned among the action films. The Strawberry Blonde is a warm, affectionate, turn-of-the-century tale of small town America. Gentleman Jim of 1942 also swims in sentimentality. These films indicate that Walsh, though known as an action director, certainly had a soft touch when required. Indeed, when his works are closely examined, it is clear that Walsh had the ability to adapt to many different themes and points of view.

The 1950s seemed to pass Walsh by. Freed from the confines of the rigid studio system, Walsh's output became less interesting. But he was a survivor. He completed his final feature, a cavalry film for Warners called A Distant Trumpet, in 1964. By then Raoul Walsh had truly become a Hollywood legend, having reached two career peaks in a more than fifty-year career. To carefully examine the career of Raoul Walsh is to study the history of the American film in toto, for the two are nearly the same length and inexorably intertwined.

—Douglas Gomery