RAOUL WALSH


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Raoul Walsh was born Albert Edward Walsh in New York City in 1887 (I could not find a reference for when or why he became "Raoul"!). He held a wide variety of jobs until he found acting in the early 1910s. He appeared in at least 38 movies between 1913 and 1915, most notably as John Wilkes Booth in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. In late 1913, he started directing as well, and he directed 18 movies in 1915 alone. In 1916, he signed with William Fox, and became one of their foremost directors. He directed many of Fox's top films of the mid-1920s, including What Price Glory. He also directed The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks, for United Artists. In 1928, he decided to resume acting after an absense of 13 years, and he took a role in Sadie Thompson, opposite Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore, which he also directed, and wrote the screenplay (from W. Somerset Maugham's story). He then signed to direct and play the lead role as The Cisco Kid in In Old Arizona, but he had a bizarre driving accident where a rabbit went through his windshield, and he lost his eye. This cost him making the movie (Irving Cummings would direct it, and replacement star Warner Baxter won the Best Actor Oscar), and he never acted again, and he wore an eye patch the rest of his life. In 1930, Walsh had his most important movie to date, the epic western, The Big Trail, filmed in the 70mm "Fox Grandeur" process, and starring unknown bit actor John Wayne, who was 23. The film had the world's worst timing, because it required theaters install new equipment for the new process, and as the Great Depression was hitting, few theaters did so, and most showed the film in a 35mm version, which lost much of its spectacle. Walsh directed some other memorable 1930s movies, including The Bowery and Going Hollywood. In 1935, he left Fox and went to Paramount, and this was the low point of his career. But in 1939, he moved to Warner Bros, and he made many of his best movies there, with Bogart, Cagney, and especially Errol Flynn, including The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra, and They Died with Their Boots On. In 1949, Walsh showed he still had his old greatness, when he turned a minor "B" gangster movie, White Heat, into one of the most beloved classics! He continued directing until 1964, which means he actively directed over an astounding 52 year period. Walsh primarily directed "action" movies, but he covered many genres in his long career. Because his movies don't show a distinctive style ("auteur") he suffers the same fate as equally wonderful and prolific directors like Michael Curtiz or William Wyler, and is mostly ignored by film critics, which is a real shame, because he was in the very first rank of great directors! Walsh passed away in 1980 at the age of 93.
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