Raoul Walsh
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Most Visited, Movies

He did so much so well, many have mistaken the brilliance of RAOUL WALSH (1887-1980) for mere professionalism. Born in Manhattan to affluent Irish immigrants, Walsh immersed himself in street life before finding himself a sailor, cowboy, actor and assistant to the reigning genius of world cinema, D.W. Griffith. In 1914-15, Walsh met Pancho Villa in Mexico; cried sic semper tyrannis as John Wilkes Booth in Birth Of A Nation; and directed the archetypal gangster picture, Regeneration. Of his many subsequent films, favorites include: The Big Trail (1930), upon which John Wayne and Ward Bond are first discovered; The Bowery (1933), a raucous Gay ’90s reckoning; High Sierra (1940, see below), Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino’s fatalistic Depression-era farewell; Pursued (1947), a brooding Robert Mitchum vengeance western; and White Heat (1949), James Cagney’s nihilistic apotheosis. In July 1957 came Band of Angels. While the screenplay differed from Robert Penn Warren’s two-year-old novel, its core themes of race, freedom and violence remained. “A nigger is what you can sell and I aim to sell her quicker than she can swallow her own spit,” says the man who’ll auction creole Amantha Starr (Yvonne De Carlo) in New Orleans to settle her white father’s debt and, whatever audiences expected from a Clark Gable Civil War picture, it’s almost certainly not what they got. Rather, Walsh made a searing Civil Rights movie in disguise — thank you Sidney Poitier — one ready for the integration crisis in Little Rock just weeks away.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Douglas Adams and Wanda Gág.

READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884-93).

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Brian Berger is a historian, journalist and poet. He was coeditor, with Marshall Berman, of New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg.