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Raoul Walsh. The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director

BOOK REVIEW: Raoul Walsh. The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director (Marilyn Ann Moss, 2011) – JANA BÉBAROVÁ (translated by JIŘÍ SLAVÍK) 

Česká verze recenze je dostupná zde / Czech version of the review is available here

In light of film history, Raoul Walsh (1887-1980) is one of the most formative hollywood director and this significant position is undeniable. Although he was crucial in shaping genres of adventurous and gangster film, he didn’t get that much attention as his colleagues from the same generation of prominent beg. of 20th century directors – Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford and Howard Hawks. Destiny very similar to the one of another director, Allan Dwan, who is two years younger than Walsh. Compact publication about him will be out this October – first text like this since 70‘ when Peter Bogdanovich wrote on him.1

Reflection of Walsh’s personality and career in the form of book was in terms of Anglo-American literature limited by now only to tender textbook edited by Phil Hardy that came out in the middle of 70‘ during film festival in Edinburgh. Famous essay by feminist critics Claire Johnston and Pam Cook called „The Place of Woman in the Cinema of Raoul Walsh“ was also published during the festival. Finally, there is an autobiography written by Walsh named Each Man in His Time. The Life Story of a Director (1974) that he wrote at the end of life and is quite embellished. The specialist on writing biographies and prominent critic of The Hollywood Reporter Marilyn Ann Moss wrote a biographical publication Raoul Walsh. The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director that essentially enriched director’s bibliography as well as other publication by Moss Giant: George Stevens. A Life on Film. Both became the first compact biographies of these artists.

Moss began with her research on Walsh in 2005 and it was rather challenge for her – as she writes in foreword, Walsh was known in his tendency for mystifications and his own biography is storied by lies and half-truths (he displaced his first two wives and adopted kids). She wanted to confront this with underlaid facts. Moss decided to objectively approach Walsh’s personal life and more than half of a century long carrier, from decisive collaboration with D. W. Griffith through his operation in Fox Film Corporation and golden era of Warner Bros studios until his late work in 50‘ and first half of 60‘, which was in token of continual downgrade.
It was indeed a formidable challenge, to include more than 150 movies directed by Raoul Walsh which basically copy the era of whole classical Hollywood since silent outset. She could not do that without knowledge of wide context of Hollywood history.2 Since she could not write about all the moviest – which was quite a limitation for her text –  mostly the milestones and peaks of Walsh’s carrier are presented. Silent movies Regeneration (1915), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), Sadie Thompson (1929), then financial failure The Big Trail (1930) after which Walsh’s carrier stagnated until another commercial hit Me and My Gal (1932). There are as well movies with Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, George Raft and Errol Flynn that were made for Warner Bros.

Likewise majority of  film artists‘ biographers, Moss also attempted primarily on portrayal of director’s personality and description of the approach to directing, writing scripts and also acting that Walsh actively followed till 1929 when he lost his right eye due to traffic accident during shooting of In Old Arizona. This text consists largely of interviews with still living collaborates and family members of Walsh that Moss was interviewing herself. Besides his family linkage, she puts accent on his work with actors and fulfilling his visions as a director, points on his preferences to shoot on location, to stage the action scenes and on his later work with color and wide-angle format. From internal correspondence of the studio, she got a lot of valuable informations about casting roles and about all sorts of troubles occurring during shooting, whereas overlooking the reception of the works by the audience.

Biography of Raoul Walsh by Marilyn Ann Moss is certainly praiseworthy contribution not only in the field of biographical but also historiographical literature that will surely be appreciated by everyone who is interested in history of classic Hollywood. Many of Czech film artists would deserve similar publication with carefully collected and analyzed informations about their lives and works.

Raoul Walsh. The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director

Marilyn Ann Moss
The University Press of Kentucky, 2011
482 pp.
The book is available on the website of the publisher

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  1. The book by Frederic Lombardi named Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios is in the publishing scheme of McFarland publishers. []
  2. Nevertheless there are some occasional mistakes in names of actors and movie titles, for example Byron Haskins (p. 236), Phil Carlson (p. 381), or incorrect title of Dassin’s noir Rififi (here Riffraff, p. 310. []


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