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Saturday, 21 January 2017

Summer Games - Raoul Walsh - Barrie Pattison retrieves REGENERATION (USA, 1915) ...and nominates the Great Man's most lacklustre efforts

All the attention to Raoul Walsh seems to skip his remarkable 1915 Regeneration set in a slum neighborhood, teeming with activity - kids on the tenement stairs or idling in the streets, the two storey theatre with the black group and a singing quartet on stage and the toughs sitting about sharing a beer pale drinking at tables on the floor. There’s a gang slum HQ with a peep hole door and the cops make formation in front of the desk before piling into open squad cars to race through real streets.

Plot has the kid hero John McCann taken in by gross washer woman Maggie Weston, bringing beer to her drunken husband, handed under the saloon bat wing doors. The kid grows up tough, taking out the bully and becoming gang leader Rockliff Fellowes at twenty five, operating out of the secret headquarters with the concealed exit through the drain pipe. 

Anna Q Nilsson, Regeneration
New District Attorney (and sometime Fox movie director) Carl Harbaugh announces a tough on crime policy and intrigued socialite Anna Q. Nilsson, never having met a gangster, has him take her to the slum theatre, where the official is recognised and set upon, only to be saved by Fellowes. Impressed, Anna abandons her idle life and signs on to work at the Settlement House there. Her influence reforms Fellowes, though mean Harburgh warns him off. 

Rockliff accompanies Anna on the Settlement picnic trip in the river boat - pause during grace before the grab for food at the long table. A fire breaks out. This is the film’s set piece, with spectacular shots of  panic as the mob surges out of the stairways filled with smoke, alternated with less convincing wide shots of jumping off the side into still water. Fellowes joins in saving the passengers and a period maritime fire tender arrives.

However his old gang rival runs a caper in which he knifes a cop and the hunt is on.
Fellowes’ loyalties are divided and he reverts to his underworld associations, despite cutaways to Nilsson’s flowers. She goes to find him at the HQ and is trapped upstairs by the disguised heavy, having to shelter in the closet like Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms, before the surprisingly down beat ending.

Coming the year after Birth of a Nation this is a striking example of the then new
sophistication in film making. Walsh pushes the skills of the day to their limits and the piece has a vigor not common then - or in the decade to come.  The limits of still formative technique are tested, with trackings (one reveals the alarming gang filling the room) mixed with some roofless sets. The confrontation with the detective is masked to slits of eyes. We get cross cutting between Fellowes and the priest facing blacked out half frames in their dialogue  There is parallel action and edits closer within scenes, along with the odd inventive compositions, like the shadow of a gallows on the wall behind the murderer. 

Though Walsh does make the teeming slum setting more alive than similar material in the films of Griffiths and the ferry sinking is remarkable, with all it’s qualities however, this still remains an old crook melo which can’t match his mentor’s vision.

All this effort in choosing our man’s best work. How about the hotly contested spot for his worst? Candidates should include the dreadful Marines, Let's Go (1961) The King and Four Queens (1956) Battle Cry (1955) Blackbeard, the Pirate (1952) Silver River (1948) They Died with Their Boots On (1941) Hitting a New High (1937) You're in the Army Now (aka. O.H.M.S. 1937) The Yellow Ticket (1931) Women of All Nations (1931) In Old Arizona (blame Irving Cummings - 1928) and The Wanderer(1925).

Friday, 20 January 2017

Raoul Walsh by Allan Fish - A devoted cinephile's notes on the Great Man's work (1) - ME AND MY GAL

EDITOR'S NOTE: Allan Fish was an enthusiast, a devoted cinephile who over the course of his life compiled a collection of reviews drawn from his years of devoted film-going. A number of his reviews of films by Julien Duvivier were published back in 2015. Alan died in 2016. I am grateful to Alan's mother Sue Fish for permission to reprint these most interesting notes and thank Neil McGlone for providing me with the complete original collection of reviews. I hope to be publishing more in coming weeks...

Me and My Gal (US 1932 79m) DVD1
Aka. Pier 13

Park that wad of gum

p  William Fox  d  Raoul Walsh  w  Arthur Kober  ph  Arthur Miller  ed  Jack Murray  art  Gordon Wiles
Spencer Tracy (Danny Dolan), Joan Bennett (Helen Riley), Marion Burns (Kate Riley), George Walsh (Duke Castenega), J.Farrell MacDonald (Pop Riley), Henry B.Walthall (Sgt.John Collins), Noel Madison (Baby Face Castenega), Bert Hanlon (Jake), George Chandler (Eddie Collins), Adrian Morris (Al), Will Stanton (drunk), Billy Bevan (Ashley), Jesse de Vorska (Jake Castenega),

Traditional film histories will tell you that Raoul Walsh went through a bit of a creative doldrums between his popular silent The Thief of Bagdad, What Price Glory? and Sadie Thompson prior to his becoming a favourite helmsman of Bogart and Flynn at Warners, but in truth the thirties was by no means a desert.  In the early thirties at Fox he made several sadly overlooked films, including the early widescreen talkie The Big Trail and turn of the century piece The Bowery.  In between those there were several others that were definitely pre-code in their attitudes but which have long been unseen.  Sailors Luck gave Sally Eilers her sexiest role, The Yellow Ticket has moments that would never have got by the censors a few years later and then there’s Wild Girl, which gave Joan Bennett a tartness she’d never had before.
            Me and My Gal was made the same year and Bennett’s tartness remained in situ.  Bennett plays Helen, an Irish-American a hash-slinger in Ed’s Chowder House on the New York dock front who attracts the attention of fresh cop Danny Dolan, recently assigned to the precinct.  Meanwhile Helen’s sister Kate is about to be married, much to the chagrin of gangster Duke Castenega, about to be released from the hoosegow, who goes on the run from the law to see her.  Kate says she’s through with them, but he uses his brothers to try to persuade her otherwise.  Helen finds out about it and Danny makes an attempt to sort out Duke.

            Like many pre-coders, you won’t catch an inch of fat on Walsh’s film, it may not be pure sirloin, but it’s a tasty little burger with onions.  Some may baulk at some of the Oirish stereotypes, which remind one of John Ford at his worst, but somehow Walsh’s Oirishmen are much rougher and readier – closely related to Alan Hale’s Corbetts in his later Gentleman Jim – and here headed by drunk old Pop, played by western - and Ford - regular J.Farrell MacDonald.  Yet it’s full of choice vignettes; Morris as Tracy’s partner who repeats everything he says like Dim in A Clockwork Orange, Bevan with his bushy moustache as a cockney drunk, and Stanton as another souse (he played all the lower class drunks, leaving Arthur Housman to play those who could go to parties in tuxedos) who Tracy refers to as a great argument for prohibition.  It’s the tone of the piece that most beguiles, though, right from the opening sequence.  Tracy’s Danny strolls along the water front and sees dock worker Hank reading the paper and asks him what’s new in the world.  Hank mentions casually that the Met are opening their new season with Pagliacci.  Yeah?”, Danny replies, “that reminds me, I think I’ll go to a burley queues show tonight.”  Right down to the slang term for burlesque, it’s dialogue that stings like a slap in the face with a herring, but you take it and like it.  And at its heart, two stars at their peak.  Along with Borzage’s Man’s Castle it’s probably the definitive brash pre-code Tracy performance.  Yet it’s arguably Bennett who steals the thing, with her luscious strawberry blonde locks that make Tracy drool on first sight, forever winking and chewing gum.  Their courtship is a treat, with Tracy bringing Bennett chocolates and then eating them himself, and a truly sublime scene where they discuss a fictional movie where the characters soliloquise what they really think after telling them they love each other and then they proceed to do just that nustling on the couch.  What a squawk your old man would put up if he came in and found us like this?” he says aloud, before adding, to himself, “if he does, it’s every man for himself.

Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Me and My Gal

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Digitisations, Restorations & Revivals (20) - Capra, ANATAHAN, Berlinale, MULTIPLE MANIACS

Associate Editor (Restorations and Revivals) Simon Taaffe has come across the following screenings and other information. Click on the links for times, more detail etc where indicated.

Frank Capra
Capra at the NFSA
Out of the blue we learn that the National Film & Sound Archive has restored an American film Three Days to Live (Tom Gibson, USA, 1924) which is described on the NFSA website as having a connection to the career of Frank Capra thus: Following a year long restoration project, we bring you the Australian premiere of a film once thought lost to Hollywood mythology. In Three Days to Live Capra is credited as Editor and Titles, two very creative roles. It is also thought, according to biographer Jim McBride, that Capra was assistant director.

“Lost to Hollywood mythology….” Hmmm.

A screening of the film with live musical accompaniment will take place in Canberra as part of a season of Frank Capra films. Details click here

Joseph von Sternberg
Sternberg’s The Saga of Anatahan restored
At the newly established Metrograph in New York, screenings to accompany the DVD release of Joseph von Sternberg’s The Saga of Anatahan a film many regard as one of the director’s finest achievements. The Metrograph web page says: Visionary Josef von Sternberg had once been a feared and revered presence on the Paramount Studios lot, but after one too many clashes over his obsessive perfectionism he went independent, directing, writing, shooting, and narrating this sublime film about a dozen Japanese seamen stranded on a Pacific Island with one woman—unaware that World War II has ended, and with a little war of their own in the making.

2K restoration performed by Kino Lorber, in association with the Library of Congress and Lobster Films, working from the original camera negative and other 35mm elements provided by the Estate of Josef von Sternberg and the Cinémathèque Française.

If you can get there book tickets here

Classics at the Berlinale 2017
Restorations announced already include

Avanti Popolo
By Rafi Bukai, Israel 1986
International premiere of the digitally restored version

By Felipe Cazals, Mexico 1976
World premiere of the digitally restored version

Helmut Käutner
Schwarzer Kies (Black Gravel)
By Helmut Käutner, West Germany 1961
World premiere of the digital version

Details click here

John Waters
John Waters early film Multiple Maniacs  at the BFI.
No details about the restoration but screening details are here. The website says A queer cavalcade of delirious bad taste and delicious moral depravity, John Waters’ little-seen sophomore feature tells the despicable tale of Lady Divine and her travelling sideshow of murderous reprobates. The film has been digitally restored (but without losing any of its filthy charm), so the time has finally come to witness the pope of trash at his anarchic and inflammatory best.

Details click here