Raoul Walsh was born in 1887, grew up in New York City, traveled the country working various jobs, took up acting, landed in Hollywood, became D.W. Griffith’s assistant, started directing his own films in the silent era, and continued making movies from the 1920s to the 1960s.
He directed dozens of films in all genres, but was best known as a master of action, and today is remembered for his gangster films, “The Roaring Twenties,” “High Sierra,” and “White Heat.”
Of all his films, three in particular are urban, comedy-dramas set in the 1890s, the era in which Walsh was coming up. Regardless of the cities or the characters’ names, these three movies are Irish films as filtered through Walsh’s own memory and background.
The films are: “The Strawberry Blonde,” “Gentleman Jim” and “The Bowery”
“The Bowery” from 1933 is a film rich in detail about the once tough, flashy section of New York City when it was all saloons and gambling joints and long before it was the city’s skid row (and long, long before it became the cool, hip area it is today.) An energetic George Raft plays Steve Brodie, a saloon owner and chief of one of New York’s many then-private fire departments. Burly Wallace Beery plays Chuck Connors, a rival saloon owner and chief of a competing fire company. The story works its way up a dare between these two that Raft can jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, and live to collect the prize money. Walsh handles all the competitions and fights, the mugs and thugs with a light touch and a large dose of fond nostalgia.
So, if you can find one or all of these good old films, please take a look, and leave Sean Thornton and Mary Kate alone this year. Spend some time with the Irish Americans.