The neighborhood gang and the settlement house, Rockliffe Fellowes and Anna Q. Nilsson. Owing to the resemblance, analysis is carried directly to Kazan’s On the Waterfront (and Mankiewicz’ Guys and Dolls).
Leonard Maltin, “stirring and cinematically impressive... vividly realistic melodrama.”
Time Out, “a fast-moving melodrama, an energetic account... a distinctly major rediscovery, distinguished by a remarkable approach to physical casting, a robust treatment of violent action, and a sheer narrative pace to shame contemporary ponderousness.”
Elements of the finale recur in Griffith’s Broken Blossoms.
Richard Brody, The New Yorker, “there is perhaps no cinematic depiction of slum life as shockingly squalid as the one on view in this 1915 drama... the redemptive ending foretold in the title does little...”
TV Guide, “astonishingly impressive and durable... most movies are too long, this one is too short.”
The Thief of Bagdad
The princes of this earth buy or purloin the Magic Crystal, the Flying Carpet and the Golden Apple of Life, but Ahmed wins by heroism the greatest gifts of all, the Cloak of Invisibility and the Secret Coffer.
The model for the performance by Douglas Fairbanks as the thief is Nijinsky, sculpturally and balletically. The pantomime throughout has the utmost expressivity.
After he sees the Princess, he comes to himself. Later, flogged out of the Palace as an impostor, a mothering imam salvages him for the quest.
Lang is concurrent with his Siegfried. Walsh’s masterwork is a continual influence down the years.
The Cock-Eyed World
By all means put the merry soldiers of What Price Glory before the cameras again, roisterous as you please where you need roistering, in the South China Seas.
The Big Trail
A film so monumental as practically to qualify as a representation of the actual events, which is probably what Walsh intended. The great Western painters have nothing on this, nearly every shot is a panorama so vast as to exhaust the imagination of a De Mille, and there are enough of them to fill the galleries of a museum.
Cinematographically, Walsh uses his camera like Muybridge to record the multiple rhythms of oxen and horses walking four or more abreast, for example.
Events in the life of the San Francisco Doll, who cleans up Nome as head of the Settlement House there, and returns to face a murder charge.
“We,” Frank S. Nugent wrote in the New York Times, “found ‘Klondike Annie’ quite unconvincing, quite witless, quite archaic and quite a bore.”
Time Out Film Guide contrived to apply the last line to the heroine.
“The basic idea is absurd,” said Variety, tossing in “canting hypocrisy and a farcical development.”
A very rare masterpiece in which the editing is so remarkable as to become a preponderating factor in the work, a thing of beauty in its own right, and because of its rapidity a thwart to the critics.
A New York rascal becomes a hero in the British Army at China Station.
“Not much to get excited about,” said Variety. Time Out Film Guide thinks it’s the bunk. Halliwell finds it “of no particular interest.”
The Roaring Twenties
The hooch racket under the Volstead Act.
Doughboys float along in this “amazing madness”, neither fish nor fowl. Nugent in the New York Times sneered at this memory piece for a future age, Corman thirty years later in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre pointed out that the big shot was back.
The musical ear so often demonstrated in Walsh’s films is here in, among other things, a young singer’s speakeasy audition, she leaves the piano-player behind.
They Drive by Night
The two-part structure has eluded the understanding of critics down to the present day, in spite of subsequent illuminating examples of the form such as Lubin’s Impact and Maté’s D.O.A., the essential metaphor is business, which has the shape of a woman. Wildcat trucking is the precarious existence of a Depression waitress loath to be pawed by management, opposite to this is the wife loyal after her fashion who would rather see her husband without his right arm than lose him to the endless round of highway driving.
Operating a fleet of trucks on your own is a dramatic risk symbolized in a murderous wife who takes over her husband’s business to share it with her lover. The working out of this second theme is highly successful with its invisible lines and forces (the electric eye), madness and villainy in great wealth and ease, compared with the hard-scrabble poverty and sleeplessness of the first, which ends in disaster.
Going into business for yourself was no easier then, because a line is crossed in a Kafkaesque maneuver that ultimately is examined by Arthur Miller in The Misfits, giving Huston something of a last word.
Walsh has the view in his own way that “journeys end in lovers meeting.” The form appears skewed by the persistent critique of a mésalliance, throwing Alan Hale and Ida Lupino into large relief as the trucking magnate and his ambitious wife, more correctly they heighten the dream of success beyond the reach of George Raft and Humphrey Bogart as the wildcatting brothers, with Ann Sheridan as the waitress.
John Litel, who figures so strongly in They Died with Their Boots On, underplays the roadweary trucker to great effect, and Roscoe Karns has an amazing turn as the company driver and pinball slave. His girl gets a “good night” from Raft at the boss’s party and replies, “I certainly am,” innocuously.
The men who make connections for the Bureau of Power & Light.
Weather is the main obstacle, a good solid connection has to be found in driving rain or heavy ice.
The sublime metaphor is set in a panoply of jokes and practical jokes to beat the band, the image is brought in on a wedding cake, two high-voltage towers joined by cables.
The film was admired by reviewers if not understood, but that led only to a critical impasse too absurd for words.
They Died with Their Boots On
Custer is the model for Brando’s Fletcher Christian, as he enters West Point. He gains access to the Adjutant General’s office in exactly the same way James Bond entered the Russian embassy in From Russia with Love. Amadeus, Patton, Khartoum and The Eiger Sanction recall some aspect or other. His departure from his wife is repeated in Russell’s Dante’s Inferno, and continues in a collapse between The Magnificent Ambersons and Ada.
The point, ultimately, is The Charge of the Light Brigade and the honor of an officer and a gentleman. The romance of the first part broaches a hairier part out West, but abandons this to Robert Siodmak and comes to a halt in Ford’s country.
The famous last line refers to Objective, Burma!, of which this is the plan and basis.
A Polish resistance fighter blows up a Kraut railway bridge, the RAF sends in a bomber to finish the job.
The crew are Australian, American, Canadian. They lose their British CO, and the son of a World War One ace, and a Great War veteran whose son was killed at Dunkirk.
Thus winnowed down after a fighter attack and a crash landing and four hundred miles of escape across Germany, they fly home in an RAF bomber intended for the Battersea waterworks (cf. Fuller’s Hell and High Water).
Along the way they are captured, reconnoiter underground Messerschmitt works, sabotage a Berlin chemical plant manufacturing incendiary bombs, meet the German resistance, and drive through Holland in a Nazi staff car (an extraordinary re-creation of the landscape).
Crowther decided that he was an intellectual for the duration of the film, which he derided as a comic strip.
Corbett of San Francisco, World Champion in New Orleans.
The incredibly snobbish Nob Hill daughter of a lucky Forty-Niner who, in her perfect decorum, wants to see Corbett’s block knocked off to teach him a lesson about manners and civility and humble recognition of her worth.
“The manly art of self-defense” acquired over a lifetime among the Irish roughnecks at Corbett’s Livery Stable, the champion’s brothers.
The fight game brought up from outlaw shindies between big apes to a man like John L. Sullivan and then Corbett, “a gentleman who fights”.
His long lunging left is depicted in bronze at the start. Walsh pays especial attention to the footwork. Variety said it wasn’t the actual goshdarned Life of Corbett, the New York Times was greatly entertained.
A great expression of Warner Brothers style, a million times brilliant, what a French critic all but says about “Shakespearean luminescence”, thinking of Virginia Woolf’s essay.
“It struck this observer,” said T.M.P. of the Times in a rare bit of useful observation from any critic, “that they overlooked a natural bit of camera business by omitting the first encounter between Corbett and Sullivan in the old San Francisco Opera House, when they went four one-minute exhibition rounds dressed in formal attire.”
Background to Danger
Nazi ruses (the Reichstag fire), Nazi pretexts (the Danzig Corridor, the Sudetenland), fifth columnists (Quisling, Laval).
Walsh’s film is formidably derived from Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, tending toward the exoticness of Foster’s Journey into Fear. The main device subsumes all in one mystery after another, everything is something else again, nothing what it seems at all.
Anderson’s The Quiller Memorandum derives something of its tone from this, doubtless.
Question of fake Soviet plans to invade neutral Turkey, promulgated by the Nazis, whereupon “Germany enters Turkey... to protect it... Bismarck’s old dream!”
“Frequently confusing,” said Bosley Crowther (New York Times), “not one of Warner Brothers’ best, but it has enough action in it to keep you awake and alert.”
“Not up there with the best of Walsh,” says Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Guide), “a bit too light”.
“Good routine” etc. (Halliwell’s Film Guide, citing Agee as well, who missed the boat).
The German plan to knock out American supply lines to England by destroying a Canadian waterway used for shipping is foiled by a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, which Bosley Crowther found a hackneyed and hilarious notion (New York Times), Variety a good one.
The plan is quite as deeply laid as Wilder’s Five Graves to Cairo and similarly antedates the war, it requires a U-boat to break the ice and land a Luftwaffe crew, who must make their way to a certain point in the North.
The Mountie falls in with them for a trap, they let him serve as guide.
All a question of following the affair unblinkingly, as far as possible, with a perfectly mad German officer who everywhere spreads enlightenment as to Nazi aims and methods.
A film of incalculable influence. There are many precedents, Dmytryk’s Back to Bataan has a number of things in common, Lang’s American Guerrilla in the Philippines, Fuller’s The Steel Helmet, Parrish’s The Purple Plain, Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill, Sturges’ Never So Few, Aldrich’s Too Late the Hero and many other films follow it, Walsh’s work is so intensive.
Peckinpah remembers the fall of the Jap radar technician.
The theme is “a raid on the inarticulate”, with a glance at the language of the tribe (purification tablets lost in a Burmese river).
It’s nothing to destroy a radar-and-communication unit in the jungle, but there’s no way to get out, nowhere for planes to land.
Keats’ “to the North” comes in handy, leading to a bare Flaubertian promontory.
The Burma invasion passes overhead.
Waxman’s score is always involved and inspired.
Variety could not quite follow it to the end.
A horse that can’t be rode, a jockey banned from racing, a gambler with a heavy debt to a big racketeer from a partner since rubbed out, a hayshaker who teaches jockey school, and her mother.
The game is to win a big purse and get out from under, but the jock is strictly from Brooklyn and can’t be throwed, either.
The racketeer has him killed and dies by the same hand, killing the torpedo.
“Gingham and geraniums” have their allure, the straight and narrow leads to the big dough, only it’s a perilous position, but who cares, the horse’s name is Whipper, the gambler is Salty.
A surprising composition, dealt on the illogical side to cover all bets (the racketeer isn’t strictly business all the way).
Crowther (New York Times) waxed eloquent but repined it wasn’t otherwise.
The Horn Blows at Midnight
The very last word in satire directed at commercials. Only Jack Benny, and possibly Alfred Hitchcock, would have dreamed of it, though Ingmar Bergman extends the joke in Shame as a sequel to Till Glädje.
The Man I Love
For Club “39”, Hotel L’Aiglon, 52nd St., New York City, sc. “1939”, the start of hostilities. Similarly, the Bamboo Grove, Coast Blvd., Long Beach, Calif., suggests another theater of war.
Walsh and Hickox film jam sessions in both places, the working end of instruments, the musicians listening as they play.
The brutal acerbity of the images is like the swift sight of a stone making ripples. The fragmentary structure rather anticipates Resnais’ Muriel, it suggests two simultaneous lines related to The Best Years of Our Lives and The Conformist, the home front here and there, two places at once (as in O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten or Nabokov’s Ada), in a script as tightly allusive as Les Enfants du paradis.
This is correctly, we are told, appreciated by the public as a great work suggestive of the war’s end. Critics have been of two minds, whether to misunderstand it or dismiss it as abstruse beyond reckoning.
Miss Liberty is homesick, she flies a continent away to find an oppressive nightclub owner, a lost man, a brother-in-law cracked up. These images sift out, leaving the critics with no excuse, into the war profiteer making hay with a soldier’s wife, but there is a great deal more.
Each of these strands is a film by itself, in close proximity they make for just the rapid précis that speaks volumes. The refinement of characterization makes child’s play of Walsh’s psychological Western that followed (Pursued). Take a lesser strand, the nightclub owner Nicky Toresca’s Goering, whose name is Riley (Alan Hale). His cheerful fist hits the bar to mime holding a drink, he twists the neck of an imaginary bottle and pours it out, thus delivering his order. He knows his limitations, the end is near and inevitable. “Get ‘em while they’re young” and don’t look for a permanent position. Liberty’s kid brother Joe works at Nicky’s, he plays solitaire in the girls’ dressing room with a beautiful view, Riley calls him away to dispose of a jealous husband’s wife, Joe leaves, Riley gets the door slammed in his face (he smiles and walks away).
Not knowing the score is the fatal, forgivable error. “She was just a kid,” says the widower slapped by Liberty out of his vengeance, his wife’s death was an accident, “she didn’t know the score.”
The soldier racked up with battle fatigue, insanely jealous, is healed by rest. His young son greets him as a “hero”, just the way he looked down from his bedroom window at his mother driven home by Nicky and asked, “is that our Christmas tree?” (she works at a restaurant owned by Nicky’s uncle, she has last-minute shopping to do, Nicky has forcibly kissed her, she gets out angrily and refuses the tree, then the boy speaks).
The humaneness of the discretion with which these matters are dealt accounts for most of the tautness. The surreal division of characters also serves to build up a comprehensive expression.
The farewell on the pier at the end is also a resumption and somehow a homecoming, the latter is what audiences felt, the girl on shore with upraised hand, the man on the ship waving back. He is San Thomas (names are also expressive in this film), a brilliant jazz pianist “ten years ahead” who “never caught on” but married a socialite, divorced her, lost his spark and joined the merchant marine on a tramp steamer. Here again is the cinematic strand and the succinct image. His ship has docked at Long Beach, he misses its departure while in jail for a fight in an illegal gambling joint, the kid brother Joe is arrested too but fobs the responsibility off on San and walks, Liberty (her name is Petey Brown) atones by putting up bail and shortly recognizes the pianist’s name, she is a singer and he is well-known to jazzmen by recording. A romance founders on his divided loyalty to his former wife, now in town and an ex-Countess.
Petey takes a job at Nicky Toresca’s nightclub (with Charlie Barnet leading the band), gets her homebody sister Virginia a date there, it’s a swank spot if you avoid entanglements. Gloria, the next-door mother of twins, slips away from her husband and gravitates there dangerously, Joe has to take her home, she runs from the car and is hit by another.
So much delicate ambiguity so tersely stated, and what you get is a plot description about a love triangle in Santa Monica, nowadays.
“Spurs that jingle jangle jingle, as I go ridin’ merrily along.” Practically a tale of Moses, harried along trackless deserts to a final showdown.
Evidently a metaphor of the war, which is why the T-man uses a cigarette holder.
The structure is in two main parts, with an interlude.
The train robbery. Cody Jarrett is nailed by Daves’ Task Force at the San Val Drive-In.
He pleads to grand larceny in Illinois and goes to prison.
The oil refinery. The famous ending figures variously in Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and Annakin’s Battle of the Bulge.
Along The Great Divide
The way up is toward the light of passionate objectivity, the marshal was a deputy once to his father, and held to swift and sure justice. His father was lynched with his prisoner, the marshal now kicks a pot of beans into the fire lest any moment delay him from the rescue of an unlawfully condemned man. The first half of the film raises this line superabundantly clear in his desert ringed by mountains, he brings the prisoner in for trial.
Among massive rocks halfway, the injured party strikes back. On through desert heat and sandstorm to Santa Loma, where court is held that very night.
Exigency breeds suspicion, the path of justice is difficult at best. Duty is fulfilled, limited circumstantial evidence convicts the cattle rustler of murder, he hangs at dawn.
The marshal knows he’s innocent, but hasn’t bothered to prove it. And so a higher range of mountains is clearly visible, the great divide between lawful and lawless is overtaken by that of faithful and faithless.
Walsh transcends the psychology of his earlier Westerns quite consciously, grist for the mill. The prototypes of lynching are the witch hunt and the Inquisition, which always concluded with confiscation of worldly goods, as here.
Two brothers, Cain and Abel, sons of a cattle rancher, a sodbuster three times raided, his crops destroyed, set to be lynched by ranch hands.
His daughter vis-à-vis the marshal forms the basis of the title, at last.
Captain Horatio Hornblower
The comedy and tragedy of shifting alliances, looked at several ways. Supplying El Supremo of Central America against Spain, for instance, before Spain joins England against Napoleon.
Running the fortress guns at La Teste in a captured French warship. Escaping as Dutch officers in command of the Witch of Endor, thought lost.
Losing the unloved wife and the Mucho Pomposo husband to find love in a pretty seaside cottage.
Crowther behaved like a boy at a swashbuckler in his review, and deserved a spanking.
Rather like a return to Desperate Journey, with a bit of Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt thrown in.
A Lion Is in the Streets
It took the director of What Price Glory to equilibrate this delicate time bomb, so that it goes off in just the right unmistakable way.
Walsh’s perfect masterpiece can be said to take its cue from Olivier’s Hamlet, the proper arrangement of guns and portals. Wellman has the perfect analysis in Darby’s Rangers.
The ideal disposition of a Marine battalion is the theme and workings, with Saipan in view.
Crowther in the New York Times thought it was all giggles.
The Tall Men
A film so vast in its scope and particular in all its details it seems a miracle to fit it all in even on a CinemaScope screen, and that’s just the script.
It just meant nothing to critics at the time, Crowther in particular at the New York Times. Yet the astounding construction of the screenplay is enough to make the skin prickle, then there’s all the extensive location filming.
The essence of it is a cattle drive from Prairie Dog Creek in Texas to Mineral City in Montana, fifteen hundred miles, a partnership between two Rebs who rode with Quantrill’s Raiders and a rich Montanan they’ve tried to rob, who’s out to own the state. The trail hands too are Raiders, joined by vaqueros from San Antonio and points south.
Further refinements include the hotheaded brother, the girl with big dreams, Jayhawkers in Kansas, and Red Cloud en route.
That synopsis is only a long shot, Walsh gets close to it all, creating performances on the fine line of the script, surfaces that shift with circumstances.
All Crowther saw was Jane Russell taking her boots off.
The King and Four Queens
A man enters the forbidden domain of Wagon Mound for gold buried by the McDade boys, all but one certainly gone to their Maker after a posse tried to take them in. Ma McDade guards the gold for the unknown son who escaped the powder keg two years before. The boys’ widows are kept in the dark about the place, and none knows which of their husbands lit out.
This is the monumental construction proposed by the screenplay, a mighty device. A young innocent, a dance-hall girl, a Mexican pepper pot, a keen wifely type.
Siegel’s The Beguiled is just over the rise, Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! as well. The trick is from Mankiewicz’ A Letter to Three Wives, the ending is taken up in Bogart’s Skin Game and Kennedy’s The Train Robbers.
Walsh’s Shakespeare is very knowledgeable, the twenty-dollar gold piece shot straight through, the old church bell as a signal.
Crowther thought it was rubbish, awful rubbish.
The lady with the lamp (Battle Cry).
Band of Angels
Walsh talks turkey. He slices it and gives you gravy, and while you’re stirring your potatoes he tells you a few things.
The beauty of Gable’s performance is one of his great postwar developments, heading toward distant territory with unflappability and funny ears.
The Naked and the Dead
The simple device advocated by Lincoln is to try slavery on its advocates. The film has Axis bastards at positions of authority in the Pacific theater, they greatly impede the war effort until the platoon leader is killed and the general brushed aside.
The third figure is a lieutenant swept up in the general’s command unwillingly, who for his views is placed in danger with the platoon leader.
The working-out of the theme has notoriously escaped reviewers, cut as it is to a familiar and plausible line.
Differentiations naturally occur between these Fascists and their actual counterparts, though the characters would be instantly recognized in a film made during the war, which is the wit of the joke.
These dead with their power drives and fearful domination are contrasted with the common soldier unadorned by them, naked in a way.
The structure is an elaboration of Objective, Burma!, made up of small dramatic increments prismatically.
The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw
Paradisal numbers at the “respectable establishment” that is the only whitewashed building in all the measly ashen town, a range war, hostile Indians, the raw America wedded to an English heir, blood brother to the savages, bridegroom of the wild prairie flower, there you have an allegory.
It was mistaken by the New York Times (Bosley Crowther) for a “pathetically tired attempt at a Western comedy”, though it bears in itself the antithetical London position.
Variety was ready to countenance it from a purely showbiz perspective. Jane Russell is added to Jayne Mansfield’s repertoire for this, Kenneth More is redoubtable, Henry Hull, Bruce Cabot and many others provide the ten thousand horsepower comedy.
Esther and The King
The might of Haman, all-encompassing rogue, is expressed in a virtuosic passage on the Gathering of the Virgins. Soldiers cull the fairest in the land for the King to choose from. Under Haman, ten are selected from these by the Chief Eunuch, and the next Queen is already Haman’s mistress.
He is a great damnation of a villain, Ahasuerus a great wise worldly king, Mordecai a pillar of the state.
There is another grand passage on the death of Vashti, the former Queen. Dancing girls regale the palace to dispel the King’s melancholy, achieving the right note of dislocation.
A Distant Trumpet
West Point sends a cay-det captain to Fort Delivery in Arizona, he turns out to be a capable man.
War Eagle is over the border with his Apaches, Gen. Quait anticipates his return.
The government has neglected Fort Delivery, the young second lieutenant is put in charge of the troop (there is only one, and a shortage of horses).
So for most of the film, which most critics slept through (“a deadly bore”, Bosley Crowther, New York Times, mentioning Asher’s Muscle Beach Party in the same breath). War Eagle returns, Gen. Quait takes command, winning a great battle that woke the critics just enough to admire if not understand.
Even Andrew Sarris, writing in the Village Voice, was perplexed at the conclusion, not having seen Wellman’s Buffalo Bill (“it must have been something new to direct a military hero who declines the Congressional Medal of Honor until the Government promises to be kinder to Indians. Never has the theme of racial tolerance been more nauseatingly dramatized”).
These are the simple facts, the real film is somewhat more complicated and more profound, but Walsh retired in the face of superior numbnuts, having delivered himself of the whoremonger and “spokesman for my Indian brothers”, among other things.
Godard, Ten Best Films of 1964 (French release), with Olmi, Dreyer, Hitchcock, Hawks, Antonioni, Mulligan, Ford (Cheyenne Autumn), Comencini, De Givray.