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A Call to Action: The Films of Raoul Walsh

July 5, 2013 - August 10, 2013


You can easily imagine that declarative word “action,” with all its promise and anticipation, gleefully springing from the lips of director Raoul Walsh, not once but countless times on countless sets. Walsh (1887–1980), who became an assistant to D.W. Griffith in 1914, was a director’s director, an inspired pro with an unbridled desire to just make movies. And make them he did—nearly one hundred features and shorts, produced between 1913 and 1964. First with Griffith’s production company, then with Fox Pictures, and still later, in his most inspired days, at Warner Brothers, Walsh could be called upon to produce something respectable (maybe brilliant) even with the most suspect of studio assignments. From Regeneration (1915), the first feature-length gangster film, to White Heat (1949) with James Cagney yelling “top of the world,” from John Wayne’s restless pioneer in The Big Trail (1930), to Ida Lupino’s shrewish wife in They Drive By Night (1940), from the grueling trenches of What Price Glory (1926) to the Freudian forested West of Pursued (1947), Walsh plied genre, storyline, and staging with great artistic instincts and a flair for the pathos-imbued spectacle. In Walsh’s world, action was more than an imperative, it was an ethos. To venture out, to pit one’s self against the unknown was a defining act and in that act was affirmation. Raoul Walsh always made sure the motion was in motion pictures.

As part of a Behind the Scenes presentation on August 1, special guest New York Times critic Dave Kehr, who has written quite eloquently about Walsh, will be in conversation with Michael Fox, a Bay Area–based film critic and member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Sight and Sound describes Kehr as "one of the most gifted film critics to come out of America, the peer of James Agee and Pauline Kael." On the following Saturday, Kehr discusses and signs copies of When Movies Mattered, a recently released collection of his critical writing.

Steve Seid, Video Curator

Friday, July 5, 2013
7:00 p.m. Sailor’s Luck
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1933). Vault print! Fox studio’s leading couple, James Dunn and Sally Eilers, star in this “rambunctious comedy, a study in controlled chaos in which an improvisatory tone masks a careful development of the central romantic relationship.” (Dave Kehr). (78 mins)

Friday, July 5, 2013
8:40 p.m. Me and My Gal
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1932). Vault print! Sparks fly between Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett in Raoul Walsh's rough-and-ready waterfront comedy while the visual gags abound and the characters always crack wise. (79 mins)

Friday, July 12, 2013
7:00 p.m. Regeneration
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1915). Archival print! Judith Rosenberg on piano. The first feature-length gangster film, shot on location in New York, stars Anna Q. Nilsson as a society girl running a Bowery mission and Rockliffe Fellowes as a gang leader. “Regeneration, astounding for 1915, marks the start of a new cinema” (Senses of Cinema). (61 mins)

Friday, July 12, 2013
8:30 p.m. The Yellow Ticket
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1931). Vault print! A Jewish woman is forced to accept a passport identifying her as a prostitute in order to travel within Imperial Russia. Stars Elissa Landi, Lionel Barrymore, and a remarkably young Laurence Olivier. (81 mins)

Sunday, July 14, 2013
6:30 p.m. The Big Trail
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1930). Archival print! John Wayne had his first starring role as a Missouri-to-Oregon wagon train scout in this breathtakingly scenic 1930 Western, a trailblazing achievement in widescreen cinematography. (122 mins)

Thursday, July 18, 2013
7:00 p.m. Objective Burma
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1945). Walsh’s down-and-dirty account of a paratroop mission to knock out a Japanese radar station deep in the Burmese jungle remains one of the most exciting combat movies of WWII. With Errol Flynn. (142 mins)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
7:00 p.m. They Died with Their Boots On
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1942). Walsh’s sweeping biopic of General Custer’s tragic trajectory may be factually false, but when it comes to Union assaults at Gettysburg and cavalry charges at the Little Big Horn, he gets it right. Starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. (138 mins)

Saturday, July 27, 2013
6:00 p.m. What Price Glory
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1926). Archival print! Judith Rosenberg on piano. In this war-is-hell silent epic, soldiers Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe star as rivals for the attention of Dolores Del Rio. (120 mins)

Thursday, August 1, 2013
7:00 p.m. Behind the Scenes: Film Critics Dave Kehr & Michael Fox in Conversation, followed by Wild Girl
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1932) Archival print! Critics Dave Kehr and Michael Fox discuss the art of popular film criticism beyond the reach of box office before a screening of Wild Girl, Walsh’s affectionate parody of silent Westerns, filmed in Sequoia National Park. (c. 165 mins)

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

Saturday, August 3, 2013
6:00 p.m. Book Signing and Discussion with Dave Kehr, followed by The Lawless Breed
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1953) New print! New York Times critic Dave Kehr discusses and signs copies of his recent anthology, When Movies Mattered, and then introduces The Lawless Breed, with Rock Hudson as Texas desperado John Wesley Hardin. (112 mins)

Saturday, August 3, 2013
6:00 p.m. Book Signing and Discussion with Dave Kehr, followed by The Lawless Breed

Saturday, August 3, 2013
8:40 p.m. Pursued
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1947) Archival print! Introduced by Dave Kehr. Walsh’s favorite of his Westerns, Pursued is a fated family tragedy set under cinematographer James Wong Howe’s oppressive clouds and menacing cliffs. Starring Robert Mitchum. (101 mins)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
7:00 p.m. High Sierra
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1941). High Sierra ushered in the era of the gangster as existential antihero, with Humphrey Bogart as “Mad Dog” Roy Earle hiding out in the Sierras and Ida Lupino as the cabaret singer who loves him. (96 mins)

Saturday, August 10, 2013
6:30 p.m. They Drive by Night
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1940). An atmospheric tale of long-haul truckers (Humphrey Bogart and George Raft) during the Great Depression. With Ida Lupino, as the wronged woman, whose performance made her an overnight star. (93 mins)

Saturday, August 10, 2013
8:30 p.m. White Heat
Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1949). A fast-paced, violent classic of the American gangster genre starring James Cagney as the cocky Cody Jarrett, hell-bent on mayhem. “Ma. Top of the world!” (114 mins)

Behind the Scenes is a collaboration between BAM/PFA and the San Francisco Film Society. Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. This series is inspired by a recent retrospective presented by the Cineteca Bologna. Thanks to Guy Borlée, Coordinator, Cineteca Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato. We also thank the Cineteca for the use of Dave Kehr’s program notes. Further thanks to our colleagues at The Museum of Modern Art and the UCLA Film and Television Archive and Caitlin Robertson at 20th Century Fox for the loan of invaluable prints.