Even in Raoul Walsh’s lesser-known films, there’s an element somewhat comparable to Hemingway’s statement when he finished writing a book. As he once said: “I just have to perform that little miracle we all must do at the end.” That is, to edit, revise and transform a narrative into a timeless work. My impression, in what concerns Raoul Walsh’s films, is that the editing sometimes might not be accurate, the rhythm may have been broken by some studio interference, or scenes left in the cutting room floor, but, in spite of this, he also performed that little miracle: In his works, Walsh always left an unmistakable, personal and lasting touch.
Among the relatively few Walsh movies I’ve watched (he directed more than 100), my favorite might be High Sierra, and when I mentioned it to Marilyn Ann Moss, Walsh’s biographer told me the same. I asked her why a “layman” in what regards Walsh’s body of work, ends up having the same opinion of someone who studied the filmmaker’s works and teaches them.
You once told me High Sierra was your favorite Walsh movie. Why? Do you remember when you first saw it? What was your initial reaction?
White Heat is a favorite because of its relentless energy, its masculinity and the fact that Cagney seems to be having fun with the genre he is associated with so closely. But High Sierra is, hands down, the most moving of Walsh’s films (save for Regeneration and What Price Glory?, which run pretty close seconds).
High Sierra is populated with characters Walsh knows best: the down and out, the characters running out of time, desperate, gloomy, doomed. They are also heartfelt, so easy to identify with. When I first saw it I was mesmerized by Ida Lupino’s performance, so heartfelt… desperate, yet giving.
The film really stood the test of time. In your opinion, was it a combination of factors? (Script, right actor, etc.?)
Yes, it has stood the test of time. And yes, it is due to a combination of a tough but emotional script, character-driven, almost, instead of action-driven. The actors are the right choices to play tough yet vulnerable at the same time.
You also mentioned you showed it to your students. In which class? It was the film they liked best so far. What did they say about it?
They told me they are very touched by the characters feelings for each other, by Roy’s big heart (despite his tough exterior) and by the way the characters draw you in, and the fact that they don’t seem two-dimensional but, rather, seem much more fully drawn.
Do you agree with this statement by Richard Schickel? (I’m not sure I do…) “Officially speaking, Raoul Walsh was Hollywood’s forgotten man.”
No, I don’t agree with Richard Schickel that Walsh is “Hollywood’s forgotten man.” Many of his peers are not familiar with the general movie going audience, but for film buffs, film historians, Walsh is as remembered and revered as Ford, Hawks, Huston, and the like.
Special thanks to Marilyn Ann Moss.