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A Call to Action: The Films of Raoul Walsh

Thursday, August 1, 2013
7:00 p.m. Behind the Scenes: Film Critics Dave Kehr & Michael Fox in Conversation, followed by Wild Girl

As a critic with both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Reader, Dave Kehr was known for his ornery opinions, often disagreeing with his colleagues by critically rejecting such esteemed films as Raging Bull and Apocalypse Now, but doing so with impeccable literacy and insight. Now, among other things, he contributes a weekly column on DVD releases to the New York Times, where he writes about revivals and rediscoveries. In this conversation, Kehr and Fox will focus on that aspect of film criticism––writing about film history in a very public forum but beyond the reach of the current release. Screening follows at 8:30 p.m.

Followed by:

Wild Girl

Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1932)

Archival Print!
Introduction/Dave Kehr

Walsh’s only Western between The Big Trail (1930) and Dark Command (1940) is a significant rediscovery, an affectionate parody of the silent Westerns Walsh himself made as a young director at Mutual (all of which have been lost) that
evolves into a lyrical romance filmed with tenderness and sincerity. Based on an often filmed 1907 stage play, Salomy Jane (a fine 1914 version, directed by
Lucius Henderson and William Nigh, was included in the most recent DVD collection from the National Film Preservation Foundation, The West: 1898–1938), the film begins with the characters introducing themselves to the audience as if they were stock figures in a commedia dell’arte play—Joan Bennett as the tomboy heroine, Salomy Jane; Charles Farrell as the handsome, silent stranger in town; Ralph Bellamy as the morally ambiguous gambler. Filming among the giant redwoods and vertiginous perspectives of the Sequoia National Park in central California, Walsh constructs a West very unlike the familiar desert landscapes—a lush, fertile country, as seemingly crowded with people as the New York City of Me and My Gal. As in The Yellow Ticket, Walsh continues to experiment with the expressive possibilities of compositions in depth—rather than cutting away to a reaction shot to underline an emotion, he will instead shift focus to an actor in the foreground—creating some saloon sequences that seem almost three-dimensional in their careful arrangement of action in space, and some views of the mountain valley as dazzling in their vertical composition as were the horizontal images of the widescreen The Big Trail. Walsh would return to similar territory for his 1941 High Sierra.

—Dave Kehr, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna

Written by Doris Anderson, based on the short story "Salomy Jane's Kiss" by Bret Harte. Photographed by Norbert Brodine. With Joan Bennett, Charles Farrell, Ralph Bellamy, Eugene Pallette. (74 mins, B&W, 35mm, Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation, permission Criterion/20th Century Fox)

Total running time: c. 165 mins