As an actor, writer and director, Raoul Walsh’s career spanned over six decades and produced some of Hollywood’s most iconic classic movies. He was a capable director in a wide range of genres whose straightforward style was vibrant, but unpretentious.
Walsh’s heyday was in the 1940s, when he worked with some of Hollywood’s best actors. He did his best work with Errol Flynn, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Virginia Mayo.
Despite his career faltering after he left Warner Bros, Walsh was undeniably one of the most prolific craftsman ever to step behind the camera. Here are six classic movies directed by Raoul Walsh.
MGM Home Entertainment
After nearly two decades of directing, Walsh finally had his breakthrough film with this crime drama about three World War I veterans (James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart
and Jeffrey Lynn) who return home to find themselves caught up in the Prohibition Era. Cagney and Bogie enter the bootlegging business together, rising to the top of the criminal world, while Lynn becomes a prosecutor determined to wipe out the illegal liquor business. What transpires is a classic rise and fall of a compelling gangster, but what separates The Roaring Twenties
from other crime films is its sheer scope and compelling performances.
Adapted from a W.R. Burnett novel by John Huston
, High Sierra
is an excellent early heist movie that propelled Bogart into stardom and helped cement Walsh’s status as a bankable director. Bogie played a recently released convict Roy Earle, who has no intentions of giving up a life in crime and gets right to work planning a robbery at a California mountain resort casino. Of course, the meticulously plotted heist goes wrong, leading to a series of catastrophic events that lead to everyone’s downfall – literally in the case of Roy Earle. High Sierra
was a hit with critics and audiences, and remained one of the best gangster movies of the era.
Adept in just about any genre, Walsh turned to comedy with the director’s top-notch adaptation of James Hagan’s play One Sunday Afternoon
. James Cagney plays hot tempered Biff Grimes, a turn of the 20th century dentist and former convict who comes face to face with an old friend who happened to be responsible for landing him in prison. Not only that, but he added insult to injury by stealing Biff’s girl (Rita Hayworth
) to boot. With Cagney playing against tupe and Walsh stepping into a different genre, both were able to pull off an amiable farce that continues to please.
The second of seven films Walsh made with matinee idol Errol Flynn, Gentlemen Jim
is a vibrant, albeit historically inaccurate biopic
of 19th century pugilist James J. Corbett, who reinvented bare knuckle brawling by adding a more scientific approach. A great, but arrogant fighter, Gentlemen Jim earns a few enemies on his quest for a heavyweight title, and along the way earns the love of the high-born Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith). While Gentleman Jim
rests on the bravura performance by Flynn, Walsh’s work remains exemplary and the director keeps the picture moving at a brisk pace.
Combining film noir with the Western, Walsh directed Robert Mitchum
and Teresa Wright in this moody psychological melodrama
about a man unable to escape his past. Mitchum plays a man haunted by the slaughter of his family by unseen assailants when he was a boy, and once they find out that he’s still alive, he spends the rest of his days in a desperate quest to remember what happened. Certainly one of Walsh’s most layered and complex films, Pursued
–which features a great performance by Mitchum – may well be one of his best.
MGM Home Entertainment
Easily the most influential picture Walsh ever made, White Heat
is a classic film noir
of Freudian proportions. Cagney stars as Cody Jarrett, a ruthless and psychotic gang leader whose only solace from his debilitating headaches is the soothing touch of his Ma (Margaret Wycherly). After robbing a train, Jarrett gets sent to prison on a lesser charge and later learns one of his henchmen kills his mother, leading to a prison escape and a botched heist that results in his fiery end. White Heat
paved the way for later gangster movies and film noirs, while its iconic ending with Cagney going out on top of the world is one of the most indelible moments in cinema history.