Saturday, 14 January 2017

Raoul Walsh - David Stratton recalls an evening in the Great Man's company (and nominates his favourites)

Forgive me for indulging in a little name dropping here.  Howard Hawks and Raoul Walsh were both guests of the San Francisco Film Festival in 1972 when the late lamented Albert Johnson organised day-long tributes to each of them.  Thanks to Pierre Rissient, who was also present, I was invited to a small dinner with Walsh at a Chinese restaurant.  Walsh, dressed as a cowboy, was an imposing figure with his black eyepatch and stetson.  

Throughout the dinner he regaled us with amusing anecdotes.  He talked about his friendship with Chaplin during the first year Charlie was working in the industry and how the Sennett Bathing Beauties were often involved intimately with both Walsh (an actor then) and Chaplin.  He talked about losing an eye during an accident while driving to the location of IN OLD ARIZONA and how he was pleased that the next film he directed after that was titled THE COCK-EYED WORLD and that, like Andre De Toth, he was a one-eyed director who made a film in 3D (GUN FURY).  He was very funny when talking about Mae West (he directed her in KLONDIKE ANNIE and he said she sometimes turned up on the set demanding a walk-on role for the young man she’d just spent the night with).  And there were plenty of stories about Errol Flynn and his antics.  In all a delightful evening, during which Walsh, then aged about 85!, kept flirting with my female companion.  

Ida Lupino, Alan Alda in The Man I Love
Walsh certainly made a great many poor films during a long career, but the highlights are outstanding: THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, WHAT PRICE GLORY, THE BIG TRAIL (shot in 1930 in an early version of 70mm), THE ROARING TWENTIES, THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, HIGH SIERRA, THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, GENTLEMAN JIM, OBJECTIVE BURMA!, PURSUED, WHITE HEAT, THE ENFORCER.  If I had to pick one favourite it would be the sublime THE MAN I LOVE, a tough-as-nails melodrama from 1946 with a gritty screenplay, stunning camerawork and a great performance from Ida Lupino.  The jazz is pretty intoxicating too.

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