Raoul Walsh


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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1. Il banditismo eroico

Nei primi ventidue anni della sua vita, Raoul Walsh, di New York, riesce a lavorare come domatore di cavalli nel profondo sud, ad arruolarsi fra i banditi messicani di Pancho Villa, a prestare consulenze per una biografia filmata del leggendario condottiero e a farsi valere come attore teatrale nell'est e infine a impressionare Griffith, che gli affidò in Birth of a nation la parte dell'uccisore di Lincoln. Avviato così a una carriera di interpretazioni truci e gagliarde, in linea con il suo passato di cowboy/desperado, non disdegnò al tempo stesso di cimentarsi alla regìa.

Fino al 1929 fu in effetti più noto come attore, prendendo parte a molti film del maestro, anche se diresse uno dei migliori film di Fairbanks, The thief of Baghdad (1924), principio e culmine delle operine esotiche ambientate in epoche leggendarie (Fairbanks incarnava sullo schermo il tipo furbo e atletico che Walsh era stato in gioventù), e anche se il suo adattamento della commedia What Price Glory (1926) fu uno dei più serrati e raccapriccianti film di guerra (carne di soldati spappolata nelle trincee e carne di prostitute a zonzo per gli accampamenti, alcool e nostalgia), un reportage crudele frutto ancora una volta delle sue esperienze personali.

In pochi anni il suo eclettismo ebbe modo di dilagare. Dopo il bellico e l'avventuroso, Walsh abbordò anche gli altri filoni del film d'azione, il western e il gangster, con il tipico stile aspro e spoglio. Si adattava facilmente alle mode perché il suo ideale di cinema era basato sull'immagine in movimento, che è il cinema tutto intero. Oltretutto sapeva ottenere una rara efficacia dagli attori che dirigeva, cogliendo il lato più cinico e avventuriero delle loro maschere, in linea con le sue stesse interpretazioni (precursore cioè egli stesso di un tipo di "duro" alla Bogart o alla Cagney).

Un robusto flessibile artigianato e la propensione per il secolare mito "selvaggio indomito astuto simpatico" degli americani gli conferirono uno dei magisteri più alti della Hollywood degli anni ruggenti. Ma Walsh, che aveva vissuto in prima persona quel mito, lo annacqua con l'amarezza di chi ha capito che dietro ogni vittoria si nasconde una cocente sconfitta, di chi ha provato sulla propria pelle la brutalità della violenza e la miseria morale che l'accompagna sempre in perfetta simbiosi. Anche se poi la sua drammaturgia scaturiva dall'immagine, non dall'indagine psicologica.

They Drive by Night (1940) is a film noir.

Two truck driving brothers, who are trying to start their own firm, give a ride to a beautiful waitress, Cassie, and witness an accident in which two drivers burn alive because the driver fell asleep. Paul is married, but Joe is not married and is attracted to the stranger, Cassie. In town, Joe gets attacked by another driver and has to beat him. The boss, Ed, calls him up to his apartment. Ed's young wife Lana despises truck drivers and spends all her time shopping, but she flirts with Joe. Thanks to Joe's business acumen, the two brothers make enough money to buy their own truck. Paul, still shocked by the accident he witnessed, has the exact same accident: Joe is only lightly wounded, but Paul loses an arm. They also lost their truck, and Joe must return to work for boss Ed. Ed's wife Lana convinces her husband to give him a job not as a driver but as a manager. At their wedding anniversary party, the woman shows contempt for her husband's gross behavior and tries again to seduce Joe. But Joe is not interested in the frustrated wife: he has proposed to Cassie. Paul instead is going through hell, despite his loving wife's help.
Lana hates her husband so much that, after the party, she kills him, faking a car accident. She now owns the company and offers Joe to become her partner. But she is dreaming of more than just a business partnership: when she sees him kissing Cassie, she almost faints and then gets hysterical. Understood that he has no intention of becoming her lover, she vents her frustration and threatens him. She even tells him that she killed her husband to be free. She begs him, but he leaves, shocked and disgusted. Then Lana's obsessive love turns into hatred. She tells the police that she killed her husband but Joe made her do it. In court, Lana goes mad and Joe is free.
The second half of the film is basically the same story as Bordertown (1935).

The Strawberry Blonde (1941), based on James Hagan's play "One Sunday Afternoon", is a farcical comedy.

In the 19th century Biff (James Cagney) is a dentist with just two patients, happily married to Amy. His good friend Nick is the only one to know that he is an ex convict. He also knows Biff's story with Virginia (Rita Hayworth) and the hated Hugo, a story that Biff would like to forget. An important man phones that someone needs a dentist urgently: it's the very Hugo. Biff reminisces how the trouble started. Hugo was a beginner dentist. Hugo was a playboy. All the men in the neighborhood were obsessed with a blonde, Virginia. Virginia's best friend is the feminist Amy, who demands the right to vote for women. Virginia would not go out alone with Hugo, so Hugo begs Biff to have a double date with Amy. The two girls are just opposites. Virginia and Amy are complete opposites: Virginia wants to play the game of the shy girl, whereas Amy wants to be direct about what girls want. Biff is disappointed to be left with Amy while Hugo enjoys the company of Virginia. He is also disgusted by Amy's "manly" behavior. Nonetheless he agrees to another doubledate, this time on a boat. The boat is sold out after Hugo and Amy board it, so Biff and Virginia are left alone on land. They go to the zoo, have a nice dinner, dance. Virginia promises to see him again. They meet in front of Hugo's new shop, as Hugo is becoming a promising business man. Virginia promises the date, but then does not show up. Amy shows up to tell him that Virginia married Hugo. Biff is upset, but soon comes to realize that the boring Amy is actually an old-fashioned shy girl who is nervous when he tries to kiss her. Biff marries Amy. A while later Virginia, a rich woman thanks to her husband Hugo's fortune, invites them to dinner. Virginia now hates her arrogant husband. She talks Hugo into hiring Biff as his vice-president. And she secretely kisses Biff on the mouth, although Biff thinks she's his wife. Biff, who is basically penniless, accepts the job, but is then held responsible of Hugo's building graft that causes a building to collapse. Biff goes to jail instead of Hugo. He tries to be a dentist in prison, but only causes damage to the warden. When he is released from jail, Biff returns to his faithful and simple Amy. The flashback is over. Back to the present, Hugo and Virginia arrive to Biff's house. They are a bickering couple. Virginia has become a vulgar woman. Hugo is in bad health. Biff takes his revenge by pulling Hugo's tooth without anesthesia. But now Biff is almost pitying Hugo because he married the petuland and selfish Virginia. Biff is happy with Amy.
  • Bellico: What Price Glory (1926), Objective Burma (1945), Battle Cry (1955), The Naked And The Dead (1957), Desperate Journey (1942, propaganda), Background To Danger (1943, propaganda);
  • Gangster: Roaring Twenties (1939), a movie that is organized as a fictionalized documentary (the narrating voice describes the events of the 1920s that form the context for the action of the film) George (Bogart) and Eddie (Cagney) are soldiers in WWI. When the war ends, Eddie goes back to his old neighborhood, but things have changed: he can't find a job anywhere, and life is more expensive. His only friend is his housemate Danny, a taxi driver. Trying to make some money, he accepts to deliver a package to a girl named Panama in a restaurant: it turns out it is alcohol, and the police were just waiting for a chance to arrest Panama. Eddie helps Panama get acquitted and Panama pays bail for Eddie. Introduced by Panama, Eddie and Danny start an illegal business selling alcohol. As demand for alcohol skyrockets, Eddie and Danny get rich. They hire an old friend, Roy, to be their lawyer. For being criminals, they are relatively honest and straight. Eddie meets again a schoolgirl, Jean, who had written to him when he was a soldiers, except that now she is a young attractive chorus girl. He gets her a job as a singer at Panama's restaurant and then proposes to her. Panama watches melancholy.
    Things begin to change when Eddie meets George again, and the two become partner: George knows where to get the alcohol, and Eddie knows where to sell it. But Eddie's operations, like every other bootlegger's operations, are getting more and more illegal and more and more violent, and George only helps making them even more dangerous. After Eddie and George rob a warehouse and kill a police officer, Roy, the honest lawyer, decides to part ways (George would be happy to kill him, but Eddie intercedes). Jean is less and less excited to be the woman of what is becoming a gangster, and prefers the company of the honest and simple lawyer. Before they can tell Eddie, a war erupts with a rival mob that delivers the dead body of Danny. Eddie calls his boys to arms, but George senses this is the right time to doublecross him and alerts the rival mobster. Several of Eddie's men die in the trap, but Eddie survives and kill the enemy. He is also understands that George has betrayed him. The only faithful ally who is left is Panama. She is also the only one who has the guts to tell Eddie that Jean never loved him, and that she loves Roy. At first, Eddie is furious, but then accepts the fact.
    The stock market collapses, and Eddie is one of the people who get ruined. George buys his share in the business for nothing. Then the new president ends the Prohibition, and bootleggers get out of business. Eddie becomes a taxi driver. One day, Jean takes his cab. Roy, now Jean's husband and father of their child, has become an important lawyer, and they have a nice house. Eddie is not resentful, but proud, and does not accept the help they offer. But he warns his old friend that George is trying to build a respectable career and may not like that someone knows his past. Sure enough, George sends Roy a message to destroy any information he may have on him. Jean, scared, asks Eddie for help. She finds him drunk in the joint where Panama is now the singer. Eddie first refuses, but then Panama convinces him to help out. Eddie walks into George's den and asks George to leave Roy alone. Instead, George orders his men to kill Eddie, because Eddie is even more dangerous than Roy to his career: he knows a lot more that could destroy his reputation. Eddie manages to grab a gun, and kill George. Then he is killed by George's gangsters while he is trying to flee from the building, and dies in Panama's arms.
    White Heat (1949), The Enforcer (1951);
  • Avventuroso: The Thief Of Baghdad (1924), Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), The World In His Arms (1952, pirati);
  • Western: The Big Trail (1930), Dark Command (1940), Pursued (1947), Colorado Territory (1949), Distant Drums (1951), They Died With Their Boots (1942), Cheyenne (1947), Silver River (1948), Along The Great Divide (1950), Saskatchewan (1954), The Tall Men (1955), Lawless Breed (1952) , Gun Fury (1953), in which a cowboy chases down the outlaws who kidnapped his fiancee during a stagecoach robbery,
  • Commedia d'azione;
  • Pugilato: Gentleman Jim (1942).

2. Roaring 20s The Big Trail (1930) fu il western che lanciò John Wayne, nella parte di una guida che capeggia la carovana dei pionieri attraverso le terre vergini dell'ovest; sulla falsariga di The Covered Wagon di Ford, Walsh illustrò con asciutta grandiosità l'impervio cammino degli uomini, sovente costretti ad acrobazie spericolate, come quando la carovana viene calata a corda da una rupe.

Ma Walsh, ancora in ombra come regista, e vittima come tanti della disoccupazione, dovette rinunciare per un decennio al suo genere naturale e accontentarsi di dirigere qualche film da manuale.

Artists & Models (1937) is a musical.

Nel 1939 colse l'occasione di dirigere un gangster, nel periodo in cui il genere aveva ormai sfruttato fino alla nausea gli stereotipi di Little Caesar, e lo fece associando sullo schermo i due duri per eccellenza, James Cagney (il gangster dal cuore d'oro) e Humphrey Bogart (il gangster cinico e vizioso). Cagney è all'inizio un reduce della Grande Guerra che tenta in tutti i modi di re- inserirsi nella società; ma come taxista fa la fame e quando viene coinvolto per caso in un traffico di alcoolici da una bella entreneuse, accetta l'offerta dell'ex-compagno d'armi Bogart ora incallito contrabbandiere; il successo travolgente costellato da tragiche battaglie contro la banda rivale non gli ridà però la fidanzata di un tempo, che ha sposato un altro reduce, che fa l'avvocato per la banda; dopo aver ucciso il boss rivale, Cagney si mette in proprio, ma il crack del 1929 lo rovina; Bogart dal canto suo è nei guai con la legge e minaccia l'avvocato; implorato dalla ragazza, Cagney gli chiede di tener fuori l'avvocato e, al suo rifiuto, lo uccide, per essere poi ucciso dagli altri gangster.

Questo film segna la decadenza del gangster da ribelle mortale a nobile cavaliere, artificio melodrammatico che serviva a tener desto l'interesse di un pubblico svezzato a qualsiasi sparatoria o inseguimento.

Dark Command (1940), adapted from a novel by W.R. Burnett (the screenwriter of Little Caesar, The Asphalt Jungle, High Sierra), is a historical film and a western film about guerrilla rebel William Quantrill. The implausible script, the bland acting and the lack of psychological depth makes it a very inferior successor to Roaring Twenties.

Just before the civil war, the southern and northern states are competing to send pioneers to Kansas. Texan cowboy Bob (John Wayne) arrives on a medicine wagon and meets a beautiful lady, who is courted by a handsome schoolmaster, William. The lady, Mary, is the spoiled daughter of a banker. He, Bob, is the son of a doctor who sets up shop to pull teeth. She is sophisticated and educated. He can't even read or write. The banker has decided that the town needs a marshal. Elections are called. The banker picks William as the natural candidate. His son, Mary's brother, becomes friend with Bob and lets him propose to Mary. Of course, Mary is amused by the idea. Bob, hurt, is ready to leave town but the doctor talks him into running for marshal. To prepare for his new job, the self-confident Bob decides to enroll into William's classes. William has a housekeeper who is actually his mother: they have been lying to the town about it because her mother is nobody (just like Bob's father). William is ambitious, his mother too. But Bob wins over the hearts of the populace and is elected. Williams is hurt: all his books are useless, if even a simpleton like Bob can get a higher job than his. Thus Williams starts running a gang of smugglers. Bob suspects him and gives him a warning. The teacher is losing the girl too. She is now more than willing to spend time with Bob, who is not just a hobo but the town's marshal. But one day the son of the banker, in a fit of rage, kills a man. Bob arrests him. The banker pleads for his release, Mary pleads Bob too. But Bob is honest and refuses to release a murderer. The eloquent William offers to defend the kid at the trial. When he wins the trial, the family feels indebted to him, and is embittered towards Bob.
When the civil war starts, William's gang gets bigger and bigger. They loot and pillage all over the state. While Bob is organizing a militia to restore order, the crowd panics and rushes to the bank demanding its savings. The banker, a good honest man, is ready to give them the money, but the crowd is out of control and a man shoots him dead in front of Bob. Mary and her brother hold it against Bob. Mary marries William, and Bob joins his band. William decides to pledge his raider band, which is now a full-fledged army, to the cause of the South. They ambush Bob and his militia. The militia is decimated. Mary's brother witnesses their barbaric methods. When the surviving men return to town, Bob is fired and Mary's house is attacked by the mob. Bob helps her leave town and reach her husband's headquarters. He now behaves like a conquering general. His men capture Bob, but he graciously saves his life to please his wife (who is having second thoughts after realizing that William's palace is stuffed with stolen goods). Mary's brother pretends to hate Bob, but at night helps him escape with Mary. Mary's brother is wounded but they reach the town. Bob organizes the defense while William's army is about to attack. Williams' elderly mother, who is still known as his housekeeper and hasn't forgiven his son for turning to violence, offers to help Mary. William's army sets the town on fire, but is defeated. William enters Mary's house but is confronted by his own mother, pointing a gun at him. One of his men shoots his mother before she can shoot him. Before dying she still manages to get him killed, by deflecting his gun when he is about to shoot Bob. Bob does not miss. William is dead. The town is saved. Bob and Mary can start a new life.

3. High Sierra

Durante la guerra Walsh diresse una dozzina di film, fra cui tre di propaganda ( Desperate Journey (1942), le mirabolanti avventure di un gruppo di aviatori americani capitanati da Erroll Flinn prigionieri dei nazisti che riescono dopo una lunga fuga a raggiungere Londra; Background To Danger, spie americane e sovietiche controbattono l'attività del servizio segreto tedesco in Turchia; e Objective Burma (1945), sul classico tema della missione impossibile di vitale importanza compiuta con sprezzo del pericolo da anonimi eroi,

Nelson (Errol Flynn) is an airforce captain stationed in India during World War II. His parachuters are ordered to locate a Japanese communication center in the middle of the Burmese jungle and destroy it. The plan succeeds. They exterminate the Japanese and destroy the radar. But then they are chased by swarms of Japanese soldiers from the nearby base, and the rescue plane cannot land. Nelson asks the plane for another meeting point further away, and decides to split the group in two. One group is captured by the Japanese. Eventually Nelson's group reaches the village where the other men have been tortured and killed. They manage to overrun the Japanese but then they have to run again through the jungle when more reinforcements arrive. The Japanese attack them when a plane drops supplies: Nelson has to leave the supplies and his radio is also damaged. Now they cannot communicate anymore with their planes. Men start dying during their long trek through the jungle. Nelson's men are given for lost, but days later a plane finally spots them. This time they get the supplies, but the delivery alerts the Japanese to their location. At night they are surrounded. But it's their last trial: the following day the sky is flooded by parachutes. They are soon reunited to their units. un film di ambiente camionistico ( They Dride By Night, la moglie del padrone si innamora di un onesto conducente al punto da uccidere il marito e da costituirsi denunciandolo come complice quando lui le preferisce una cameriera) e uno di ambiente pugilistico ( Gentleman Jim, biografia di uno dei primi campioni del mondo dei pesi massimi), due generi in voga in quel periodo. Tornò al western con They Died With Their Boots On, versione eroica dello sterminio dell'armata di Custer, e soprattutto al melodramma gangster con High Sierra, tratto da un romanzo di W.R. Burnett e interpretato da Bogart, che è questa volta il gangster buono, vittima della società. Roy (Bogart) esce dal penitenziario per intervento di un boss che progetta un colpo clamoroso a un hotel di lusso, e lo manda a incontrare il suo team in una localita` di montagna. Bogey, guidando su una strada deserta, si e` quasi ammazzato sorpassando una vecchia auto scoppiettante guidata da un nonnino simpatico ma sbadato, sulla cui auto nota la bella nipote. Bogart arriva nel mountain resort e fa la conoscenza della gang: due giovani inesperti e una ragazza, che i due si contendono accanitamene. Poi fa un giro all'hotel di lusso (contrasto fra l'ambiente idillico e tranquillo della montagna, e la frenesia artificiale della citta`). In citta` incontra di nuovo il nonnino, che ha causato un incidente e viene redarguito dalla vittima. Bogart interviene a favore del vecchietto. E` allora che si accorge che la bella nipotina, e` crippled, affetta da una malformazione che la famiglia non ha abbastanza denaro per curare.
Roy befriends the nice little old man and gets attached to the romantic good girl. When he meets a doctor, Roy asks him how much it would cost to perform the operation. The doctor examines her and determines that the problem can be easily fixed, and Roy offers to loan the money. THe girl is ecstatic.
Nel rifugio gli si attacca l'altra, ma Bogart pensa a questa e decide di pagarle l'operazione. Quando sta per chiederle di sposarlo scopre che è già fidanzata, e decide di non poter approfittare della situazione. Il colpo all'albergo riesce, ma nella fuga i due ragazzi muoiono e lui perde tempo per andare a salutare un'ultima volta l'amata. Ferito in una sparatoria e braccato dalla polizia, fugge in auto e si arrampica a piedi sulla montagna. The police asks in vain the girl to help get him to surrender, but the girl understands that for him death would be better than jail. The girl's dog betrays him, and a hit-man can kill him.
After the war Walsh became a specialist of western movies, starting with Cheyenne (1947), whose plot is intricate like a thriller's but also contains elements of the screwball comedy. Jim is a gambler who has just arrived in a town and immediately won a card game. A detective has tracked him down and blackmails him: Jim is wanted in another town and has to help the detective capture a robber or the detective will take him back to the town where he is wanted. Jim has no choice. The detective got a tip that the robber, known as the "Poet" because he likes to leave notes in rhymes when his hold-ups succeed, is trying to assemble a gang in the town of Cheyenne. Jim takes the stagecoach to that town. On the stagecoach he travels with two ladies, the cheerful (and probably not very respectable) Emily and the haughty and hot-tempered Anne. A gang of inept bandits attack the stagecoach but they find that it carries no money, just a note in rhymes. The bandits take Jim's money and let the stagecoach continue its journey. Jim and the two women reach the bustling town of Cheyenne, where it turns out that Emily, a singer, has been hired to be the main attraction at the saloon (a scantily dressed attraction). There Jim recognizes two of the bandits and forces them to take him to their boss, whose name is Sundance. Disarmed, Jim is at their mercy. Jim is surprised to find the proud and aristocratic Anne in the company of the boss of the gang, Sundance. Anne has come as a messenger of the "Poet" to invite Sundance to join the gang. Anne pretends that Jim is her husband, and therefore the "Poet", in order to save Jim's life. Sundance, eager to work with him, gives Jim back the money that was stolen and let them go. He then sends two of his men to follow them to make sure that he is really the "Poet". To convince them that he is Anne's wife, Jim has to sleep in Anne's house. Anne is convinced that Jim is a detective, and tells him that she will help him arrest the "Poet" because she hates his career. The following day Ann visits the office of the stagecoach company: it turns out that the new manager of the branch, Ed, is her husband and the "Poet". She is happy to see him, but then tells him that she is tired of that life. He promises that the next hold-up will be the last one. She doesn't believe him and outside she tells Jim where he can arrest Ed. Jim believes her and the two travel to a nearby place waiting to ambush Ed. Instead Ed strikes while they are away. When Sundance's gang attack the same stagecoach and find the usual note by the "Poet", they angrily confront the man they believe to be the "Poet" asking why he left them out of the hold-up. Anne helps Jim grab a gun and kill them all. But now Jim does not believe her anymore: he thinks that Anne simply took him out of town so that the real "Poet" could attack the stagecoach undisturbed. Jim leaves Anne alone in the middle of nowhere and rides to town. Anne has not told him the identity of the "Poet" yet, so Jim naturally talks to the manager of the stagecoach service, Ed, the real "Poet", about his mission. Jim has seen the stagecoach arrive with a heavy strongbox, presumably full of money, and suspects that it is the "Poet's" next target. Jim tells Ed that the "Poet" must be someone who works for the company. Outside he meets Emily who is radiant: a rich gentleman promised to marry her. Anne is found by the sheriff and arrives in town only to catch Emily in Ed's office. Ed swears that he is using the singer as a cover, but that he is ready to leave town in the morning with her, Anne, and start a new life. Anne pretends to believe his new lie. Then she tells Jim that he has the golden chance to arrest Ed, but Jim does not believe her as much as she doesn't believe her husband. In the meantime the sheriff talks to Ed about Jim, the mysterious stranger who is planning to catch the "Poet", and Ed convinces him that Jim must be the "Poet" himself.
It's early morning and Ed is getting ready to board a stagecoach with the loot of all his hold-ups. Ed puts Emily into the stagecoach and then finds an excuse to stay. Anne buys a ticket for the same stagecoach and rides with Emily. The sheriff tries to arrest Jim but Jim escapes. Ed steals Jim's horse and flees, so Jim has to take the stagecoach with the two ladies, just like when they arrived, except that now Emily boasts about her coming wedding with Ed, and Anne makes sarcastic comments about the gullible singer. The sheriff organizes a posse that attacks the stagecoach to arrest Jim. Jim manages to steal a horse and flee. Ed attacks the stagecoach to steal the strongbox and retrieve his bags full of money. Just before Ed can kill the driver, Jim arrives. Ed takes Emily hostage, but Anne grabs a gun and tells him to take a horse and leave. Ed tries to shoot her but Jim is faster and wounds him. Another stagecoach arrives carrying the detective who hired Jim, and Jim can now deliver the "Poet". There is still something missing: the loot. Jim is convinced that Anne knows where it is hidden and she wants it all for herself. Jim still does not trust her. Jim has flirted with Anne but Anne, a disillusioned married woman, has always been icy towards him. Anne, indifferent to the money, coldly dumps Ed's bags and leaves on the stagecoach. When Jim opens the bags, he realizes that they contain the missing loot. Realizing that Anne was honest all along, Jim jumps on his horse and rides after the stagecoach. He is in love and she will reciprocate.
Pursued is a psychological thriller. Mitchum è stato allevato da una vedova del New Mexico, e fin dall'infanzia è ossessionato dall'incubo di un paio di speroni; ormai adulto decide di sposare la figlia della vedova; ma poco a poco riesce a ricordare: il padre fu impiccato sotto i suoi occhi; scopre così che suo padre era stato l'amante della vedova e aveva ucciso suo marito. Lo svolgimento del film somiglia più a una seduta psicanalitica che a un film d'azione di Walsh. Ma anche il successivo Silver River (1948), storia dell'ascesa e crollo di un gambler senza scrupoli, During the civil war, a Union captain sets fire to a wagon full of money rather than losing it to the Southerners who are chasing him. He is court martialed by the Union army for destroying money that belonged to the Union, and expelled from the army. He becomes a gentleman gambler on a Mississippi steamship, specialized in smooth talk and ripping off naive folks. When he needs wagons, he simply wins them from the owner who had already pledged them to the wife of a miner. The woman has to return to the mining town on the stagecoach, while Mike leads the caravan of wagons. And when the stagecoach breaks down, the woman has to accept a ride on Mike's wagon. Mike makes an enemy, a bossy businessman who offers him a partnership but whom Mike insults and hits, but makes two friends: the unemployed lawyer that hands out at the town's saloon, and the woman's own husband, the miner, who offers Mike a share in the silver mine in return for the wagons. Helped by the attorney, who goes from lonely drunkard to distinguished scholar, and leveraging his gambling operation at the saloon to acquire more and more financial power. Eventually, he decides to set up the first bank in the mining town, and all the mine owners have to grant him a share of their mines. Mike gets richer, the town gets richer, the miners get richer. The president of the USA comes to visit, and Mike throws a grand reception for him. Mike has made silver is a strategic resource for the entire nation. In the meantime, he keeps courting the wife of his partner, who loathes his attention. Mike is ready to purchase a vast piece of land and develop it. But he also finds out that the Indians are on the war path, and hides it from the citizens to avoid panic. The woman's husband has decided to explore precisely the Indian area, and Mike does not stop him (a chance to get rid of him?) Even the lawyer is disgusted. Then Mike pretends to organize a posse to rescue the man, but they find him dead. Now he can court the pretty widow without any impediment. He owns most of the town and he is building himself a new luxurious ranch. The widow accepts his proposal to marry him. But at the party that is supposed to celebrate his triumph, the lawyer tells the truth to the guests: that he is a selfish, despicable doublecrosser. All the guests leave. Soon, the miners create an alternative to Mike's financial empire. Mike decides to fight them, no matter what. The result is that all the mines shut down. People are unhappy that they lost their jobs. The lawyer starts a new career, as a politician who is running for senator; and he too blames Mike for the problems of the people. His wife, who disagrees with his selfish attitude and has heard rumours that he caused the death of her husband, leaves him. He is on the brink of bankruptcy, abandoned by almost everybody. He is finished. His opponents have won. But now they, not him, have a problem: the lawyer, who is very popular and would cause damage to them too. They have him killed during a campaign rally. Mike is shaken. He rallies the crowd and marches in front of them. The little army rids the town of the evil and reopens the mines. Mike leaves town alone on a horse, and his wife proudly rides away with him. Colorado Territory (1949), e` quasi una versione western di High Sierra e conferma la predisposizione onirica dei western di Walsh. Una vecchietta va a trovare il nipote in carcere, un fuorilegge incallito che ha compiuto diverse rapine e gli lascia un regalo di compleanno: dentro c'e` una sega con lui il bandito, Wes, riesce a fuggire. Salva la vita ai passeggeri della dilegenza su cui sta fuggendo, fra cui una bella meticcia che chiamano Colorado, e poi rintraccia una banda che si nasconde fra le rovine di una missione. Per prima cosa vorrebbe mandar via la donna di uno dei banditi, ma presto diventano invece amici al punto da suscitare la gelosia del suo ragazzo. Al tempo stesso Wes continua a condurre una seconda vita come rispettabile cittadino ed eroe. Fa visita fattoria della donna a cui ha salvato la vita e di cui si sta invaghendo: il padre non ha soldi ma e` deciso a farcela. Quando incontra il vecchio che gestisce la gang, Wes gli rivela di aver deciso di ritirarsi a fare fattore, ma il vecchio lo convince a compiere un ultimo assalto al treno. Con l'anticipo, Wes corre a comprare il vestito che la donna ha sempre sognato e poi offre il resto del denaro a suo padre per mandare avanti la fattoria. Il padre lo mette in guardia che la figlia e` innamorata di qualcuno nel paese da cui provengono, per di piu` un uomo che non ha intenzioni serie.
Torna al covo dei banditi e difende la meticcia dal suo protettore ubriaco. La meticcia diventa la sua confidente (lui e` stato segnato dalla morte della fidanzata, lei ha la sua storia triste) e vorrebbe diventare anche la sua ragazza, ma lui la respinge e le rivela il suo piano di diventare una persona rispettabile (implicito che lei non puo` fare la moglie di un uomo rispettabile).
Il colpo riesce grazie all'audacia del bandito, ma i complici tentano di tradirlo. Lui li ammanetta in modo che lo sceriffo li possa arrestare e poi fugge con la meticcia. Ligio ai patti, si reca dal vecchio a consegnare il bottino, ma scopre che e` stato assassinato da un altro traditore e deve eliminare anche lui. Wes va a confessare la verita` alla donna che ama, la quale ha pero` appena ricevuto una lettera dal suo amante e ha deciso di tornare da lui. Non solo: mentre lui riposa, la donna tenta di convincere il padre a consegnare Wes allo sceriffo per ottenere la ricompensa. Wes, infranto l'ennesimo sogno, riparte. Il destino lo consegna fra le braccia della ragazza della gang, l'unica che gli rimanga fedele al fianco anche se lui l'ha sempre considerata un semplice accessorio, indegna di diventare una moglie.
I due fuggitivi si rifugiano di nuovo nella missione, dove trovano un missionario che e` venuto a riprendere possesso della vecchia missione. Wes adesso vorrebbe sposarla, ma gli uomini dello sceriffo sono sulle loro tracce. Wes decide di lasciare la meticcia e i soldi nella missione e di fuggire da solo. La meticcia nasconde i soldi nella cassetta della elemosina della missione. Wes viene braccato dagli uomini dallo sceriffo in un paesaggio lunare. Si rifugia fra le rovine di un villaggio abbandonato. La meticcia li ha seguiti di nascosto e tenta invano di convincere lo sceriffo a lasciarli andare. Poi tenta di farlo scappare, ma vengono massacrati dalla pattuglia. Il frate riapre la missione con i soldi trovati nella cassetta.
Quel senso del destino ineluttabile, che aleggia sui film di Walsh fin da Roaring Twenties (1939), si esprime qui nella forma più compiuta. Il bandito e` la vittima di un destino crudele ma anche dell'infidia e della vilta` del genere umano. E` circondato da traditori, e l'unica persona fedele e` una poco di buono. C'e` del marcio ovunque vada, e il suo miraggio di redenzione, la donna aristocratica, si rivela essere una sgualdrina peggiore della ragazza che lui non reputa onorabile.
La fuga dei due amanti sembra un incubo, grazie ai paesaggi soprannaturali scelti dal regista (una città morta messicana e infine le carovane delle Moon Mountain)

Al principio degli anni '50 Walsh torna con White Heat al mondo della malavita. E` un'altra brusca sterzata nella sua carriera, questa volta verso l'atrocità, la perversione, la violenza.

Una gang semina il terrore, prima assaltando un treno e poi svaligiando banche. I gangster si nascondono a casa del capo (Cagney), uno psicopatico afflitto da misteriosi mal di testa, morbosamente attaccato alla madre e innamorato della bella moglie. Cagney si prende gioco del complice che lo odia e che fa una corte discreta a sua moglie. Approfittando di una tempesta, Cagney ordina a tutti (gang, moglie e madre) di partire, ma prima ordina a uno di loro di liquidare il complice che e` ferito e che sarebbe soltanto un peso morto. Questi fa soltanto finta, ma il ferito muore egualmente assiderato e viene ritrovato dalla polizia. La polizia scova la madre e seguendo lei arriva al motel dove si nascondono, ma Cagney riesce di nuovo a fuggire sparando all'ispettore che sta per arrestarlo. Lascia madre e moglie a un drive-in e fugge in un altro stato, dove si consegna alla polizia confessando di aver commesso un altro crimine di poco conto invece della rapina al treno che avvenne lo stesso giorno. Condannato, ha cosi` un alibi di ferro (non poteva essere in due posti allo stesso tempo) e scampa la sedia elettrica. Ma la polizia ha intuito il trucco ed e` ancora alla ricerca del bottino. L'ispettore decide pertanto di inserire una spia in cella con lui. Infatti l'intuito dice a Cagney di non fidarsi di quel compagno di cella.
Intanto il complice che lo odia e` gia` in combutta con sua moglie per eliminarlo. Un uomo fidato attenta cosi` alla vita di Cagney in carcere e a salvarlo e` proprio la spia. I due amanti fuggono e la madre va a raccontare tutto a Cagney, che allora capisce di essere stato vittima non di un incidente ma di un attentato. Cagney, preoccupato, scongiura la madre di lasciare a lui la vendetta, ma la madre e` decisa a mettersi personalmente alla caccia dei traditori. Cagney viene colto da un altro attacco ed e` di nuovo la spia a soccorrerlo. La spia lo convince a fuggire con lui (sempre per scoprire dove e` nascosto il bottino). Ma nel frattempo la madre viene uccisa dai due traditori, e alla notizia Cagney viene colto da convulsioni violentissime: abbatte una guardia dopo l'altra e alla fine viene rinchiuso in una cella di sicurezza e affidato a uno psichiatra. Cio` fa fallire il piano della spia, ma, con l'aiuto di un vero carcerato, Cagney riesce comunque ad evadere e a liberare i suoi amici, compresa la spia.
Cagney si mette sulle tracce dei due traditori e, quando li trova, non ha pietà dell'uomo, mentre si lascia abbindolare dalla donna (e` stata lei a uccidere la madre, ma fa credere che sia stato lui).
Sembra che tutto possa ricominciare come prima, e Cagney ha gia` pronta una nuova rapina. Ma la spia si mette in contatto con la polizia e riesce a farli cadere in trappola. Riconosciuto da uno degli amici di Cagney, la spia viene preso come ostaggio. La moglie offre alla polizia di tradire di nuovo Cagney in cambio della liberta`, ma la polizia non accetta: li ha circondati. La spia riesce a fuggire mentre la polizia bracca gli evasi all'interno di una raffineria di petrolio. Cagney si batte fino all'ultimo, uccidendo l'ultimo complice che e` rimasto con lui e che ha deciso di arrendersi. Sghignazza mentre la spia, tiratore scelto, lo bersaglia di colpi. Ormai senza scampo, si fa saltare in aria con un serbatoio di petrolio.
Il gangster Cagney è insomma un insicuro, tradito da tutti (moglie, complice e compagno di cella), che soltanto nella madre poteva trovare un punto di riferimento; morta lei la sua vita si trasforma in una cieca corsa verso l'auto-distruzione. Il personaggio è sintomatico della psicosi depressiva che investiva nel dopoguerra l'intera nazione, ed è il naturale aggiornamento ai tempi del gangster pieno di tic. Il senso di alienazione è quasi un presentimento di pericolo permanente, una cappa minacciosa che incombe sulla vita di tutti i giorni.

Lo stesso disincantato scetticismo impregna The Enforcer.

Bogart è un procuratore distrettuale che conduce una lotta senza esclusione di colpi contro un boss della malavita imprigionato in attesa del processo; la sua banda riesce ad ammazzare l'unico testimone a carico, ma Bogart, dopo un'accanita caccia, riesce a scovare un altro testimone, una ragazza che assistette a un omicidio e che manderà il boss sulla sedia elettrica.

A parte una serie di film sui pirati (come The World In His Arms, rivalità in amore fra un cacciatore di foche, un pirata messicano e un principe russo), nella prima metà degli anni cinquanta Walsh diresse soprattutto cinque western: Along The Great Divide (Kirk Douglas è l'alfiere della giustizia che difende un vecchio inerme dall'odio preconcetto del padre e del fratello dell'ucciso fino a svelare che proprio quest'ultimo è il vero assassino), Distant Drums (un avventuriero in Florida), The Lawless Breed (un pistolero leggendario che ha scontato una lunga pena per omicidio distoglie il figlio dai suoi propositi bellicosi), Saskatchewan e The Tall Men

L'avventurosa traversata della prateria da parte di due cowboy che devono scortare una mandria per conto di un allevatore brutale. Clark Gable è l'unico a sopravvivere, ma deve usare le maniere forti per ottenere il compenso e la donna che ama). Pur essendo film corposi e diretti con l'agilità consueta, questi film denunciano una routine senza pretese.

Così anche i due film di guerra del periodo: se Battle Cry è un'originale analisi dei drammi umanitari di un gruppo di marine del Pacifico prima, durante e dopo la guerra a cui la sorte riserva trattamenti diversi, The naked and the dead è la solita eroica impresa di un gruppo di marine in un atollo pullulante di "facce gialle".

L'ultimo film, Distant Trumpet (1964), pur confermando il suo grande talento per le scene di battaglia, chiude sotto tono una carriera troppo compromessa con le mode.

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