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