One of the Newport Beach Film Festival’s featured documentary films, The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh shines a light on famed iconoclast Raoul Walsh, an actor, director, producer, and founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with over 150 films to his credit, from the silent days up through the turbulent ’60s. In his own (simulated) words, he describes his childhood in late 1880s New York, where his parents would regularly entertain dinner guests of some note, from Teddy Roosevelt to John Wilkes Booth’s brother Edwin, who he later portrayed in The Birth of a Nation.
Detailing his days in motion pictures’ infancy at the turn of the 20th century, working as an assistant to acclaimed director D.W. Griffith, and learning every facet of filmmaking by simply watching, the film paints an interesting story of a larger than life character, both on and off the set. During this time, Walsh convinces Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa that his life would make a great film; including the actual executions put on film in The Life of General Villa. This was the sort of man he was; an adventurous, imposing raconteur, a true maverick in every conceivable way.
Through his adventure films, Walsh was one of the directors who shaped early Hollywood. Moving from Fox to Warner Brothers, and everywhere in between, he discovered, and named, John Wayne and Rock Hudson, as well as directing many of Hollywood’s most famous leading ladies, both on and off the set. Whether riding horses with Pancho Villa and Wyatt Earp or hard drinking with Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn,Walsh was a larger than life character, with a charisma that was simply magnetic, and the film tells hilarious and tragic stories that make the viewer feel as if they knew him personally.
The film was eminently interesting in its subject matter, and I laughed out loud quite a few times for sure, BUT, it was not very well made. Mostly comprising of unseen on and off set photos and video, with a few short interviews with Walsh’s friends and family, the film seemed like something I could have pieced together after a Youtube tutorial on iMovie; it just wasn’t festival worthy in my opinion.It was basically a glorified slideshow with narration. The film’s director, and Walsh’s biographer, Marilyn Ann Moss should probably stick to writing. The content was engaging enough, but the film just didn’t live up to its compelling subject.
Raoul Walsh is one of the most enduring icons of early Hollywood, a man who took chances; this documentary should have taken his example.