RAOUL WALSH

Raoul Walsh, the legendary director of countless classic films, was the subject of a wonderful documentary I watched recently on TCM entitled The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh (2014). I’ve always been a fan of Walsh’s work but had my eyes opened to some of the man’s personal experiences of which I knew very little, such as his friendships with the likes of Mark Twain, Wyatt Earp and Pancho Villa. 
 Those factors aside, it was the man’s plethora of films that has stood the test of time as he, along with a handful of others (John Ford, Howard Hawks, etc), were the pioneers of American action films. Of course, when it came to more contemporary action films there are the likes of Robert Aldrich and Sam Peckinpah.
   I mention these gentlemen in total because one of the things they had in common is that I believe Lee Marvin may be the only actor who worked for all of them, with the exception of Howard Hawks. So, imagine my pleasant surprise when the Walsh documentary included a late life interview with Marvin. He told a great anecdote about the man that was echoed later by the likes of the late Jane Russell and Tab Hunter. 

(L-R) Phil Carey, Roberta Haynes and Lee Marvin in Raoul Walsh’s Gun Fury.

The film Marvin made for Walsh was a western programmer entitled Gun Fury (1953)  that toplined a young Rock Hudson and Donna Reed, along with Leo Gordon, Phil Carey, Roberta Haynes and Neville Brand. What isn’t mentioned n the documentary was the fact that film was shot in 3-D ….and Walsh only had one eye! 

Original poster for Gun Fury that shows Lee Marvin terrorizing Donna Reed in the top left corner.


   Also not mentioned was the ingenious additions Marvin added on camera and, according to costar Leo Gordon, the ingenious pranks he pulled off camera. all of which are recounted in Lee Marvin Point Blank. 

   Of course,the post-civil war revenge tale of Gun Fury is not one of anybody’s more impressive works but the fact it was made at all certainly looked good on Marvin’s resume’. 

The highlight of the Raoul Walsh documentary for me was the better films he made with such stalwart Warner Brothers stars as Errol Flynn (Gentleman Jim), Ann Sheridan (They Drive By Night), and mostly James Cagney (Strawberry Blonde, The Roaring Twenties & White Heat), among others. He was an original, that’s for sure and although it’s cliche’ to say it, the cliche in this case was born of truth: We shall never see his like again.

(L-R) Errol Flynn, director Raoul Walsh & set visitor James Cagney.


– Dwayne Epstein

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MAY 2022 ON TCM

May 2022 on TCM means the airing of a couple of Lee Marvin perennials and some special tributes I am very much looking forward to seeing.  As to the perennials, for this May 2022, it seems TCM loves to show these two classics, especially around Memorial Day…

(L-R) Russell Collins, Walter Brennan, Spencer Tracy (seated), Dean Jagger, Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan in Bad Day at Black Rock.

Marvin confronts Robert Ryan in the Oscar-winning The Dirty Dozen.

As to the rest of the month’s line-up, there are some interesting Lee Marvin connections, even though he doesn’t appear in the films listed. That aside, I chose to highlight the ones worth watching. Don’t forget to check your local listings for your time zone’s start time…. 


Dark of the Sun (1968) Wednesday, May 5th & Tuesday May 24: Airing in tribute to Yvette Mimeux, this little seen acton film has Rod Taylor delivering one of the most amazing fight scenes I’ve ever witnessed, as well as a pretty decent performance from Lee Marvin’s Dirty Dozen costar, Jim Brown. 
The Verdict (1982) & Hombre (1966) Thursday, May 5th: Two very different performances from two different time periods by two very great directors but both feature Lee Marvin costar Paul Newman. I’ve written about Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict previously but Martin Ritt’s Hombre deserves a second look. An ensemble cast features superb performances by all but especially Richard Boone. Could very well have been played by Lee Marvin. Also costars The Iceman Cometh’s (1973) Fredric March.
The Catered Affair (1956) Sunday, May 8th: Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin’s frequent costar, costars this time around with the legendary Bette Davis in this poignant inner-city drama directed by Richard Brooks, based on the TV play written by Paddy Chayefsky. Davis has never been better and Borgnine revisits Chayefesky’s Marty (1955) persona in a very different way. Also look for a young Debbie Reynolds, Rod Taylor and curmedgeonly Barry Fitzgerald.
John Ford, The Man Who Invented America (2018) Sunday, May 8th: I don’t know anything about this documentary but you can bet the house on the fact that I will be watching. In my humble opinion, this director of such Lee Marvin classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Donovan’s Reef is the greatest of all American directors.
Crossfire (1947) & Edge of the City (1957) Saturday, May 14th: Robert Ryan’s sole Oscar-nomination and John Cassavetes self-proclaimed best early work highlight the Dirty Dozen’s costars claim to fame. Very different films but definitely worth watching for their performances alone. 
The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh (2014) Wednesday, May 18th: As with the John Ford documentary, I never heard of this either but since Walsh directed many of my favorite films (including an early western with Lee Marvin) I’ll be checking it out. 
Seven Days in May (1964), Papillon (1973), The Wind & The Lion (1975) Wednesday, May 25th: These three well made films are being shown as part of a tribute to my all-time favorite film composer, Jerry Goldsmith. Watch these films for the music alone and you’ll see why he’s my favorite.
Memorial Day Weekend Marathon featuring: 
Bad Day at Black Rock
(195?) Saturday, May 28th & The Dirty Dozen (1967) Monday, May 30th: All weekend long Turner is showing some great films which naturally means the airing of these two perennials!

So there you have it, May 2022 on TCM for Lee Marvin fans and cinephiles alike. If you want to know more any of these films or the people involved, there’s always Lee Marvin Point Blank. Until then, all the best!
– Dwayne Epstein

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WHITE HEAT

White Heat (1949), James Cagney’s last gangster film for Warner Brothers, was the choice of Clint Eastwood’s pick for a film deserving of a second look when asked to write about one for the Locarno Film Festival project, Serious Pleasures published in Europe. The project’s editor, Bill Krohn, is a friend of mine who granted me several of the titles to write about.The way it worked was a known director would pick a favorite film worthy of rediscovery, write about why, and then I’d research and write about the film’s backstory. Previous examples posted include The Sand Pebbles, Point Blank, The Hill, One-Eyed Jacks, etc. I was overjoyed to write about White Heat while still researching Lee Marvin Point Blank
Eastwood’s thoughts on White Heat are below in italics, followed by my detailed essay on the film’s production. The images are from several sources since I’ve been a lifelong Cagney fan and have numerous books on the subject.

Title page for my chapter on WHITE HEAT.


THE LAST GANGSTER
In the first scene, a man was disfigured by the burning steam of a train engine. In the last scene, the protagonist fired into a gas tank and detonated an apocalypse. In between, you were treated to countless explosions of violence as gangster Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) went on a rampage. You have never seen such savage lawlessness on screen before; You have never imagined a more vicious American family than Jarrett’s gang. White Heat hits you like a torpedo!
 Raoul Walsh had a lot do with the film’s impact. As a story-teller he was only interested in bigger-than-life characters; good or bad, they had to be exceptional or excessive. Now wonder he found White Heat’s outlaw inspiring. Cody Jarrett was the last gangster, possibly the final incarnation of Public Enemy. He was not the corrupt business type in vogue in the late forties noir, but a tragic figure afflicted with epileptic fits and an Oedipus complex. Walsh’s other good fortune was to be reunited with Cagney, whom he called the best actor he ever worked with. After Bogart (High Sierra), Cagney was one of the rare stars he was able to kill at the end of the movie. When I saw this one in an Oakland theatre, I was about 20 and already a big Cagney fan.
  There was no moral standard in White Heat. The cops remained anonymous, mere instruments of Jarrett’s fate. Compassion didn’t pay either: The gang started unravelling when a wounded accomplice was spared by his appointed executioner. Actually, Jarrett was betrayed by everybody, his wife, his second in command, and especially the undercover agent who befriended him. Everyone but his mother. By contrast, the gangster retained an odd integrity throughout. His one fatal weakness was a neurotic attachment to Ma. Somehow this monster overshadowed all those who surrounded him and you found yourself more interested in his madness than in his punishment. 
  In spite of the dark overtones, Walsh never lost his sense of humor. His fine touches are everywhere: He had Cagney whimper at Ma’s knees during one of his fits, brutally kick Virginia Mayo off a chair, casually shoot a man through a car trunk while munching on a piece of chicken. Later, you saw Jarrett communicating with his dearly beloved beyond the grave, and ultimately confiding: “All I ever had was Ma.” When Jarrett learned the truth about his undercover “friend,” he bursts out laughing. He was like a gambler so driven by self-destruction that nothing mattered anymore. 
   Walsh’s pace was relentless. I had never experienced anything like that before. The most unsettling was that the tone would change suddenly and the black humor veer into grandiose drama. Watch the scene where Jarrett is told of Ma’s death and, like a wounded animal, runs amok across the prison dining-hall until they strap him into a straitjacket. The explosion of rage and despair, expertly choreographed by Walsh and Cagney in a few long takes, is still one of the most powerful scenes in American cinema. So is the end the journey when Cagney yells from the top of the butane tank: “I’m on top of the world, Ma!” before disappearing into a fireball. 

WHITE HEAT
As the screen credit on White Heat states, the original story was by Virginia Kellogg, a former L.A. journalist who had fashioned a sketchy treatment for a gangster yarn inspired by the Denver mint robbery of 1922. Screenwriters Ben Roberts and Ivan Goff, newly contracted to Warner Bros., but partnered since World War II, wrote the screenplay and fleshed out the fictional plot and characters.

(L-R) Ben Roberts & Ivan Goff at work on the script for WHITE HEAT.



After the war, darker characters began appearing in American film with new stars (Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark) to play them, and established stars like Clark Gable and Tyrone Power began playing darker versions of their previous screen personas. Ironically, James Cagney had gone out of his way after the war to break free of his Warner Bros. contract and tough guy image to make independent films with warmth and charm, which failed miserably. For financial reasons, he had to return to Warners in defeat to play a character that would top all previous examples of darkness and evil. 

Jack Warner, who had dubbed Cagney “The Professional Againster” because of their constant bickering, conceded the boxoffice prospects when Goff and Roberts lobbied him to bring in Cagney to play Cody Jarrett and entered into negotiations with Cagney’s business partner, his brother Bill. Bill Cagney struck a deal which required Warners to pay off the heavy debt Cagney Brothers Productions had incurred in independent projects, and James Cagney returned to the studio he had once vowed he would never work for again.

The only bright spot was the prospect of working with some of the contract players who had become lifelong friends. The studio promised to give a role to one of Cagney’s closest friends, character actor, Frank McHugh. According to Cagney “I asked for him and Warners ‘yessed’ me and ‘yessed’ me until the first day of shooting, when they told me they just couldn’t get Frank. I found out later Frank had never been asked…It was a typical example of sacrificing quality for time and money.” 

(L-R) Edmond O’Brien and James Cagney between scenes.



When it came to saving time and money, the studio had the perfect man for the job. Raoul Walsh, who had made two masterpieces for Warners with Cagney [The Roaring Twenties & The Strawberry Blonde] had a well-deserved reputation for driving actors hard, shooting fast and denying retakes, partly for budgetary reasons but mostly because he didn’t want the actors to lose their freshness and spontaneity. Like the hero of the prewar Cagney-Walsh collaboration The Roaring Twenties, and many other heroes of Walsh films, Cody Jarrett is doomed by fate and betrayed by a friend, but these themes were turned on their head in White Heat, where Edmond O’Brien’s character betrays Jarrett out of necessity, and Jarrett’s death is a comfort to the viewer instead of a tragedy. 

Even though White Heat was not the first gangster film to venture out of the urban jungle — Walsh’s High Sierra had done so previously — in this respect the film set a precedent for Cagney. With White Heat he not only left the mean streets of New York for the mountains of California, but pulled his heists as if he were in the Old West by robbing trains and company payrolls (Goff and Roberts working title was “The Last Outlaw”). Cagney also looked different in White Heat; instead of losing weight before the start of production as he had for previous roles, the actor, now middle-aged, allowed himself to look genuinely paunchy onscreen for the first time. As Raoul Walsh said later of his cast, “Virginia Mayo was a beautiful girl. Cagney was a nice guy, but he ate too much.” 

Raoul Walsh & Cagney in 1939 during the making of THE ROARING TWENTIES,



An historical bone of contention concerning White Heat has been whose idea it was to make Jarrett a mother-fixated psychopath. Both Cagney and Walsh have stated publicly that the idea was theirs, but the first draft of Goff and Roberts’ script had already borrowed heavily from the story of Ma Barker by rolling all of her sons’ traits into Cody Jarrett.

Cody Jarrett having one of his fits as Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) tries to comfort him.



Other ideas can be attributed to Cagney, who was fond of “sprinkling the goodies along the way” — adding touches like the scene where Jarrett sits on his mother’s lap, which Walsh encouraged him to do when the actor wondered if audiences would accept it. In another scene Virginia Mayo, who played Jarrett’s slutty wife, recalls, “Jimmy said, ‘If I kick the chair out from under you, will you fall back on the bed and not hurt yourself?’ I said, ‘Yes, I can do it — it’s easy.’ So we did it. We did it in one take.” 

Verna Jarrett (Virginia Mayo) gets read the Riot Act from her husband Cody.



When Jarrett is told in the prison mess hall of his mother’s death, he goes into a psychotic rage. A very reserved, quiet man off-camera, Cagney had no problem doing the scene n front of the cast and crew, and even invited guests to watch the filming — accomplished again in one take. “For that particular scene,” he recalled, “I knew what deranged people sounded like because as a youngster I had visited where a pal’s uncle was in a hospital for the insane. My god, what an education that was! The shrieks, the screams of those people under constraint! I remembered those cries, saw that they fit and called on my memory to do as required.”

Critics and audiences loved what ultimately became the penultimate gangster film for the formerly socially-conscious studio, which now showed its hero as unredeemable. The film received only one Academy Award nomination — ironically for Best Original Story, by Virginia Kellogg, who had very little to do with the actual film. Cagney, who had wanted to be remembered as a song-and-dance man, became a psychotic to a whole new generation of filmgoers. “Although it turned out to be a good picture in a number of ways,” he later said, “It was just another cheapjack job.”

Orson Welles thought otherwise. After he and Peter Bogdanovich re-watched White Heat together, the two spoke about film acting versus stage acting. Welles said: “Look at Cagney. Everything he does is big, and yet it’s never for a moment unbelievable because it’s real. It’s true. He’s a great movie actor and his performances are in no way modulated for the camera. He never scaled anything down.”

“Made it, Ma! Top o’ the world!”



– Dwayne Epstein.

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