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May 23, 2006

Raoul Walsh: Each Man in his Time

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Each Man in his Time
Raoul Walsh -1974
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

Gun Fury
Raoul Walsh - 1953
Columbia Pictures Region 1 DVD

Near the end of Roaul Walsh's autobiography, he mentions the retrospective of his films at the Museum of Modern Art and the reception he received at the opening screening. I was there to see Walsh. I guess my memory of events almost thirty years ago isn't as good as Walsh recalling events seventy years past as I forgot that the film that night was Gentleman Jim. What I do recall, vaguely, is Walsh on-stage, nurse standing nearby, while this eighty-seven year old man tells funny stories, some with sexual double entendres. One such story ended with an indignant woman declaring that a group of barely dressed sailors should be hung, while her husband replies that most of them were. Walsh also told of the practical joke he played on Errol Flynn involving the recently deceased John Barrymore. I can't duplicate the hilarity of Walsh on stage, but can recommend you read the story as Walsh told it. What I also remember about the Walsh tribute that night is that I invited an NYU classmate to see Walsh with me. She accepted, and then asked if she bring her husband.

With school and competing movies, I didn't see everything at the Walsh retrospective, but I saw a fair number of films that I might not otherwise have seen. One of them was Revolt of Mamie Stover. What I remember most is a shot of Jane Russell looking defiantly down on Honolulu. There is something about the way she stands in the shot that made me think of her as the female counterpart to John Wayne. I bring this point up because while Tag Gallagher has brought up how Walsh photographs faces, I think another aspect of Walsh is how people stand. What I agree with Gallagher is how the way Walsh photographs his characters is reflective of his time with D.W. Griffith as well as his own acting career which was influence by 19th Century stage conventions. The shot above, of Maudie Prickett's joy watching Donna Reed plant a big wet one on Rock Hudson, could easily have appeared in a film shot thirty or forty years earlier.

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How the characters "stand their ground" is also indicated in the shot above of Lee Marvin intimidating Roberta Haynes, and below as Rock Hudson debates strategy with Leo Gordon. As seen as well in the poster for Mamie Stover, it is typical for a Walsh character to stand with a hand on the hip, or in a front pocket.

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Gun Fury was originally shot as a 3-D film. The fact that Walsh had only one eye proved to be no hinderance. There is a fair amount of emphasis on sense of space, especially outdoors, in this film shot near Sedona, Arizona. Among the devices used to remind the viewer that this was to have been seen in 3-D are shots of a stagecoach with the horses facing the camera and shots from the point of view of a stagecoach driver. Guns are shot, knives flung, tree branches hurled, all towards the audience. When Roberta Haynes tosses all sorts of bric-a-brac at Lee Marvin, the audience sees the flying objects from Marvin's point of view. Aside from the gimmicky shots, Gun Fury is notable for Walsh's emphasis on flying red sand and dust. Most of the action takes place outdoors, often at night, in a hostile environment.

One other trademark of Walsh is the use of raucous humor. While the screenplay is credited to Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins, some of the lines seem straight from Walsh, based on the humor of Walsh's autobiography. This is not a film that Walsh wrote about. Of three films that Walsh made with Hudson, there is only a brief anecdote about Sea Devils without a mention of the title. If not a classic Walsh in the vein of his work for Warner Brothers, especially with James Cagney, Gun Fury zips along in less than an hour and a half. The intrigue is watching the good guys unite while the bad guys start fighting amongst themselves, everyone motivated by their own personal agendas.

Posted by peter at May 23, 2006 11:29 AM

Comments

I picked up Walsh's book at a garage sale last year for a dime (!), and have since read it. I'm amazed to find out that you were in attendance for the event Walsh writes of, as he speaks with such reverence and respect for the audience. It seemed like one of the first times, if not the first, that he realized that his film work will live on for the ages.

Posted by: Aaron at May 23, 2006 05:21 PM

I've seen embarrassingly few of Walsh's films, but I did catch Gun Fury last year in its dual-projector, silver screen 3-D glory. It was the first color film I'd seen properly presented in 3-D outside of an IMAX theatre. I enjoyed the gimmicks, especially the "stagecoach-cam" POV shots, but what impressed me most visually was Donna Reed's dress; as bright and shiny that blue looks in the top still, it just popped off the screen like I was looking at a gemstone through a jeweler's eyepiece, not a movie screen through a cardboard-and-paper pair of glasses.

Thematically the film didn't seem terribly remarkable compared to other Westerns of the age (Anthony Mann setting the gold standard for action films doubling as richly-layered social critiques, from my point of view.) But neither was it devoid of interesting subtext, it felt like there was definitely some family-relationship commentary to be plumbed on a second, less visually-overwhelmed viewing one of these days.

Posted by: Brian at May 23, 2006 11:44 PM