Monday, 1 October 2018

On Raoul Walsh - Two views a quarter century apart

“Raoul Walsh and John Ford were two other “pantheon” directors, represented by little-known (and minor) films. Women of All Nations (1931) doesn’t damage Walsh’s reputation as much as the Pabst film (Mysterious Shadows, 1949) does his, but it doesn’t exactly burnish it either. It takes a couple of characters from his earlier, much more highly regarded What Price Glory (1926) and sends them on various escapades loosely tied into a single film. There’s not much plot, just a framework on which to hang some bawdy (pre-Code) sketches. With Walsh, there is a liveliness to it, but there is little attention to characterisation in a film more ready to fall back on a few racial stereotypes and rather corny gags.”
Women of all Nations
JACQUES LOURCELLES on THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER (French title: Bungalow pour femmes), from Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma: Les Films(Paris: Robert Laffont, 1992), pp. 179-180.

One of several Raoul Walsh films (more numerous than they may seem) centred on a female hero: cf. The Man I Love(1947), Sea Devils(1953), Band of Angels(1957), The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw(1958), Esther and the King(1960). Most often, these heroines have a fundamental handicap to overcome (here, interrupted education and fatherly neglect) in order to reach their goal or find some balance. However toned-down, this portrait of Mamie Stover places itself totally beyond the Manichaeism of a certain kind of Hollywood cinema, and thereby claims its originality. Walsh – the very opposite of a Puritan – feels not at all compelled to condemn either Mamie’s ambition or the means she uses to achieve it. Anyhow, what other path is open to her? Her love for money expresses a desire to be honoured, a drive to elevate herself – thus relating her to some Walsh heroes who are otherwise very different to her, such as the central character of Gentleman Jim(1942). However, given her obsession with accumulation that becomes unstoppable, Mamie clearly belongs to that pathological family to which a great number of Walsh’s post-War heroes belong. In every film he made in Scope, Walsh uses the format admirably, and in diverse ways. Here, faced with a scenario shaped for economy, structured into comparatively few places and scenes, he obtains from Scope, as much on the plastic level as on the dramatic one, an ample, calm rhythm that allows him to regard his heroine with a gaze at once tranquil and critical, familiar and distant. His genius also breaks out in that flair for tracing, in just a few scenes or even a few shots, the definitive and yet subtle outline of a secondary character (the dance-bar manager played by Agnes Moorehead), or the unforgettable features of an occasional figure (the excited sailor who buys up tickets excessively in order to play cards with one of the hostesses). The relative watering-down of William Bradford Huie’s source novel should not hide the not-negligible merits of this film.

French original © Jacques Lourcelles 1992; English translation © Adrian Martin, 1 October 2018
The Revolt of Mamie Stover

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