For Reel


Going Hollywood (1933)
August 16, 2016, 10:06 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Raoul Walsh
3.5 Stars
Going HollywoodIn the last reel of Going Hollywood, the issue of pitting truth against the fantasy of Hollywood comes to the forefront—the frustrated Sylvia Bruce (Marion Davies) chastises crooner Bill Williams (Bing Crosby) for representing everything fake about the lifestyle. That Bill is accused of being untrue is visually accentuated by director Raoul Walsh’s presentation of his drunken hallucinations, all in gauzy blurs and featuring one striking straight close-up of Fifi D’Orsay. It’s a terrific conceit, but it seems more than ridiculous given that the film has cast Davies in the lead role—she is all glamour and uncomfortable nervous energy, unable to look natural even in the act of listening. An early musical sequence finds Davies and Crosby frolicking on a farm as sunflowers dance and a moon made of tinsel looms in the background, and that Davies goes from this fantasy of artifice to the disenchanted realist is not convincingly sold by Davies in the slightest. Regardless, the film is a fascinating one if only due to Walsh’s direction, and supporting players like Ned Sparks, Stuart Erwin, and especially Patsy Kelly steal the show. Poor as Davies is, there are other frustrations (a poorly aged sequence involving a trio known as the Three Radio Rogues and a subplot involving Erwin’s crush on Davies come to mind) that keep this viewer from giving an enthusiastic recommendation, but fans of Walsh will appreciate it in moments.

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Colorado Territory (1949)
May 13, 2015, 8:04 pm
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Director: Raoul Walsh
4 Stars
Colorado Territory High Sierra was an example of the type of noir that would become prevalent in the 1940s. It was marked by a certain brand of fatalism, focusing on a morally challenged hero who doesn’t seem likely to survive the next ninety minutes or so. Raoul Walsh remade his own picture as a western eight years later–a more than fitting genre shift considering that the hugely memorable climax took place in the very western setting of the Sierra Mountains. Whereas the earlier version was distinguished by a sentimental streak–Humphrey Bogart’s character was trying to make money to pay for the surgery of a clubfooted girl he takes an interest in–Colorado Territory strips the material of that easy play for empathy and leaves audiences with something more raw. In a telling line, one of the robbers that Joel McCrea finds himself working with teases that he’s, “Philosophizing about my favorite subject: doom. When it’s got you marked, you’re already dead.” Like Ride the High Country over a decade later, McCrea plays the hero as a man at the end of his rope. He’s made all of the wrong decisions in his life and try as he might to move past them, they’re about to catch up with him.



The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)
September 26, 2014, 4:49 pm
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Director: Raoul Walsh
3.5 Stars
The Horn Blows at MidnightJack Benny turned his last starring picture into a sort of legend by often citing it as the flop that ruined his movie career. Some report that The Horn Blows at Midnight actually did turn some profit, however not quite what might have been anticipated–being released just a week after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and near the end of the second World War may be responsible for the lack of audience interest in this rather cynical farce. If none of its jokes are particularly memorable, it has charm to spare and Benny is well-cast as the kindly but bumbling angel who has been assigned the task of bringing about the end of the world. What Benny brings that a Bob Hope or a Red Skelton couldn’t have is his comparative demureness–he is perfectly suited for the naive, fish out of water role. When he informs passersby that they need not worry about what troubles them because the apocalypse is only hours away, it doesn’t seem to be done in a taunting manner, rather as a sort of sweet gesture of empathy. Improbably, the picture was directed by Raoul Walsh, but one can see his mastery of space and scale during the climactic scene in which Benny dangles from a giant coffee cup.



Me and My Gal (1932)
May 20, 2011, 9:07 pm
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Director: Raoul Walsh

A fast-paced screwball comedy with a gangster subplot, Me and My Gal is demonstrative of Raoul Walsh’s pre-Code pictures in that it deals frankly with sexuality whilst laughing off prohibition and, for that matter, the government at large. Joan Bennett steals the picture as the wise-cracking waitress who chomps gum with her mouth open and won’t cave in to Spencer Tracy’s romantic advances until she’s modulated his every behavior to meet her standards. The most memorable scene is one that parodies the play “Strange Interlude”, famous for it’s use of soliloquy. While Bennett and Tracy make small talk, Walsh utilizes a voiceover that reveals what the characters are really thinking (familiar of many later pictures, including the subtitles of Annie Hall). There are also some effective suspense sequences in which a locked-in father-in-law, who can only communicate through blinking, tries to inform the lovers that a prison escapee is in the attic.



Sailor’s Luck (1933)
May 16, 2011, 6:08 pm
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Director: Raoul Walsh

I was fortunate enough to attend a Dave Kehr hosted screening of this Pre-Code Raoul Walsh film, long unavailable even in bootleg form. An appropriate comparison can be made to Walsh’s slightly more accessible film that preceded it, Me and My Gal (1932), which also incorporates the same racial stereotypes and even features Will Stanton in another drunken performance. Kehr qualifies Walsh as a director who took advantage of depth in that the background action of his films can often be just as interesting as the foreground – and, indeed, like Me and My Gal, each frame is satisfyingly full of movement, not only adding to the visual interest but also more effectively realizing a living, breathing world. As a Pre-Code film, there are the expected blunt allusions to sex, but more unexpected is a character giving the middle finger to a negligent cab driver and a final fight sequence in which mobsters are pitted against sailors in a surprisingly violent spectacle – close-ups of men’s faces getting stomped on, chairs being broken and thrown, and so on.



White Heat (1949)
March 14, 2011, 4:24 am
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Director: Raoul Walsh

Students of screenwriting should be encouraged to see White Heat. It’s a film that aggressively forces it’s way through a convoluted narrative without wasting a line. James Cagney’s Cody Jarrett is one of his finest creations – a psychopath captained by a controlling mother, tormented by a paralyzing emotional neurosis. What makes this particular performance so memorable is that it recalls much of what he’d done up until that point in his career. Take, for instance, a scene early on where he kicks a chair out from underneath Virginia Mayo – a brutish act not far removed from Tom Powers of The Public Enemy smashing a grapefruit into his girlfriend’s face. Mayo is also memorable as the despicable, ill-mannered moll, as is Margaret Wycherly as the controlling mother to end all mothers. In the end of the film, silhouetted by flames, Jarrett shouts, “Made it, ma, top of the world!”, in one of the most lasting images and line deliveries of the gangster genre.