For years, filmgoers around the world have wondered about the true
details of the life of the great filmmaker Raoul Walsh. Now the world
can find out.
With more than 150 films to his credit and a career spanning almost
six decades, Raoul Walsh (1887-1980) is one of the most enduring
icons of the classic Hollywood period. Known for his elaborate
action movies, large-scale outdoor pictures, and solitary heroes and
heroines on the run, the director, actor, writer and producer became
popular for his adventure films, which attracted huge audiences with
their spectacular tales of exploration and daring characters.
This documentary chronicles the career of one of American cinema’s
early mavericks, delving into his unique filmmaking style, his
colorful personal life away from the movie set, and his equally
colorful public image that he, himself, helped to create.
Raoul Walsh belonged to the early 20th century generation of
directors that included John Ford, Howard Hawks, Allan Dwan, Frank
Borzage and W.F. Murnau — a legendary class of artists who worked in
the fledgling film industry, creating imaginary worlds and elaborate
stories of perilous journeys, cunning enemies, and everlasting love.
Walsh jumped into the movie business in its infancy just after the
turn of the 20th century. He first became an actor and toured the
country before beginning work with the Pathe Bros., in Fort Lee, New
Jersey. As he had a knack for riding horses, he was quickly snapped
up by D. W. Griffith at Biography Studios. Walsh began as an actor
for Griffith, but soon learned filmmaking techniques from the master
when the Griffith players moved to Los Angeles. In 1915,
Griffith tapped Walsh to portray John Wilkes Booth in Griffith’s
masterpiece, “The Birth of a Nation.” Griffith also chose Walsh to
drive down to Juarez, Mexico to film the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.
Then William Fox lured Walsh to his new studio and Walsh moved back
to New York to work at Fox Pictures, soon ending up back in
California when Fox opened a studio on the West Coast. In 1915 Walsh
directed the first feature-length gangster film, “Regeneration,” and
now stood solidly as one of Fox’s leading directors, working with
such stars as Theda Bara, Victor McLaglen, and soon, Gloria Swanson
and Mae West.
Walsh was about to film the first outdoor talking picture, “In Old
Arizona,” in 1928, when he had a freak accident while on location and
lost his right eye. When he began wearing his famous eye patch, he
earned the suitably dashing moniker “the one-eyed bandit.”
After directing the huge 70mm production “The Big Trail,” in 1930, during
which he discovered John Wayne and put him in the picture, Walsh
continued to be one of Hollywood’s most popular directors.
In 1939 he joined Warner Bros. in Los Angeles and began what many
call his golden period, directing some of the biggest names in
Hollywood, including James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino,
Edward G. Robinson and Bette Davis. Walsh stayed at Warners for 30
years, directing such iconic films as “The Roaring Twenties,” “They
Drive by Night” and “High Sierra.” When be met and began directing
the dashing Errol Flynn, one of Warners’ biggest stars, the two men
forged a professional and personal friendship that gave both of them
some of their biggest hits, including “Objective Burma,” “They Died
With Their Boots On” and “Gentleman Jim.” Flynn gave what many
consider to be his finest performances under Walsh’s direction.
Walsh culminated his years at Warners with what is considered one of
the greatest gangster films of all time, “White Heat,” starring
long-time friend Jimmy Cagney.
Walsh also had a deep love of horses, breeding them, raising them on
his various ranches in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles,
and entering them in numerous races over the years.
As Hollywood’s golden period was coming to an end and the studio
system was breaking apart, Walsh left Warners and became a freelance
director during the 1950s and 1960s. He worked at such studios as
MGM, Universal, Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox. During these
years he continued to turn out films that became huge hits with
moviegoers, including “Battle Cry,” “The Naked and the Dead,” “Along
the Great Divide,” “The Tall Men” and “The Revolt of Mamie
Stover.” He continued to be in demand as a director and worked with
some of Hollywood’s most famous actors and actresses, including Clark
Gable, Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper, Jane
Russell and Virginia Mayo.
Walsh’s films still brought in big boxoffice figures. He continued
directing action adventure stories, Westerns, romantic comedies, sea
adventures and romances. Even as Hollywood was being challenged by
the television industry, Walsh remained a popular and sought after director.
In 1964, when Walsh retired to his ranch in Simi Valley, California
and continued to raise his beloved horses, he remained a sought after
Hollywood figure. His work was the subject of innumerable
retrospectives both in the United States and in Europe. Accepting
many invitations to appear before new audiences, he became revered in
France and in Japan. When he published his autobiography in 1974 it
became a best read in tinseltown.