A One-Eyed Director's Three-Dimensionality
Amassing well over 100 feature film credits as a director across a 50-year span, Raoul Walsh (1887-1980) with astonishing regularity, and through sheer volume of activity would eventually steer movies regarded as indelible classics (The Thief of Baghdad, What Price Glory, High Sierra, White Heat) as well as lower-profile “program pictures” not particularly innovative in content but still marked by his flair for dynamic pacing and uncanny knack for encouraging actors to give their all to their roles. By the early 1950s he had nothing to prove, considering that he had helped shape the screen personas of the likes of John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Errol Flynn, Gregory Peck, Ida Lupino and Alexis Smith. Lately, he’d begun a multi-picture working relationship with a rising star named Rock Hudson, who had grown in box-office appeal and acting skill through roles in such action “programmers” as 1953’s The Lawless Breed and Sea Devils. His third go-round with Hudson that year (before which the director also sandwiched in another memorable Cagney vehicle, A Lion Is in the Streets) was a Western with another interesting element: 3D filmmaking, an intriguing choice for a man whose depth perception was impaired by the loss of his right eye via an auto accident during the production of In Old Arizona (1929). In her 2011 Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director, biographer Marilyn Ann Moss notes: “Walsh showed better judgment, in current cinematic trends, when he knew to embrace 3D technology at this juncture in time – a repeat, although on a smaller stage, of his great enthusiasm for sound pictures when they loomed on the horizon back in the late 1920s. While shooting Gun Fury (1953), Walsh gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times explaining his enthusiasm for the 3D process. He disliked widescreen cinema because it was, to him, unnecessary to see that much scope. He believed that a spectator could see everything in the action with a ‘normal’ screen size. But 3D excited him. He could cut a 3D picture, he said, exactly as he would a ‘2D one, close-ups and all.’ He thought that 3D had great possibilities because it didn’t depart from the principles of shooting a picture that he had followed from the earliest days. To Walsh, 3D was part of the future.”
Jeff Stafford’s TCM.com essay neatly covers the plot and production of this brisk, outdoor Technicolor badlands tale of kidnapping and revenge, which also stars Donna Reed (who would win her Best Supporting Actress Academy Award® for another Columbia outing, From Here to Eternity, that opened three months prior), Phil Carey, Roberta Haynes, Leo Gordon, Lee Marvin, Neville Brand and Robert Herron; read it here: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/296744%7C248716/Gun-Fury.html. Marvin (who also rose in prominence in 1953 via his roles in The Big Heat (a Twilight Time title) and The Wild One) would affectionately recall Walsh (whom he and castmates called “Cotton-Eyed Joe” because of his trademark eye patch) at work on the set in a reminiscence Moss includes: “He was an action director. He loved horses, stagecoaches and explosions. He was an old-timer and rolled his own cigarettes. If you had a scene to do with dialogue, he’d say, ‘You’re over here, you’re over there, roll it.’ Then he’d look down and roll a cigarette and when all this talking had stopped he’d turn to the script girl and say, ‘Did they get it all?’ She’d say, ‘Yeah,’ and he’d say, ‘Print it.’ But for the action stuff he’d get excited….’OK, we’re over here with a 35mm lens. Now the stagecoach comes rolling down the pass and the gunmen gallop out from behind this rock.’ Raoul would come to life!” Walsh would adapt in succeeding years: the “golden era” of 3D would quickly subside, and he would come around to filming in Cinemascope and Panavision (as the times would demand). But the “old-timer” would deliver the goods in deftly staged action, visual sweep and characterizations for another decade of vigorous moviemaking. From a screenplay by Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins and sporting gorgeous Sedona, Arizona, location cinematography by Lester H. White, the fast and furious Gun Fury – in dual-compatible 3D and 2D versions on one disc – arrives locked and loaded September 19 on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. Preorders open September 6.