#239) Regeneration (1915)

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#239) Regeneration (1915)

OR “Content Dictates Reform”

Directed by Raoul Walsh

Written by Walsh and Carl Harbaugh. Adapted from the book “My Mamie Rose” by Owen Kildare.

Class of 2000

The Plot: Owen Conway (Rockliffe Fellowes) has lived a tough life. His mother died when he was very young, his foster parents were abusive alcoholics, and he eventually ends up on the street and joining a gang (and this is all in the first 10 minutes!). One day he meets upper-class socialite Marie Deering (Anna Q. Nilsson). They are attracted to each other and Owen is compelled to change his ways. Owen wants to escape his life of crime, but is it too late?

Why It Matters: The NFR praises director Walsh, specifically his “naturalistic edginess” and “masterful use of close ups”. There’s also a very detailed essay by Raoul Walsh expert Marilyn Ann Moss.

But Does It Really?: This one is “historical significance” at best. “Regeneration” was the beginning of Raoul Walsh’s 50-year career as a director, and one of the first movies produced by Fox Films (now 20th Century Fox). As a viewing experience over 100 years later, it’s a bit on the slow side, but there are some interesting bits of film technique throughout (you can see the Griffith influence with Walsh’s use of intercutting). “Regeneration” is a noteworthy, if not pivotal, moment in American film history. In terms of its place among classic silent films, it falls somewhere down the middle: not on the same level as Chaplin or Griffith, but not an excruciating viewing experience either. “Regeneration” may only work as an academic viewing for the serious film buff, but it won’t be on the final.

Everybody Gets One: Almost everyone in this film, with the exception of Walsh and Nilsson. Leading actor Rockliffe Fellowes was one of many silent film stars who didn’t quite make the transition to talkies. Cinematographer Georges Benoit had just arrived from France and would collaborate with Raoul Walsh over the next few years.

Wow, That’s Dated: Aside from the slum life of the early 1910s, this film depicts a time when police officers would all pile into one car like the Keystone Kops.

Other notes

  • It’s been a while since I’ve had a “Belloq Film” on the list. “Regeneration” was presumed lost until a print was found in the ‘70s.
  • Owen’s mother is “passing gratefully”? Shouldn’t that be “gracefully”? I don’t think she appreciates dying.
  • Yikes, Oliver Twist had a better upbringing.
  • Owen could really benefit from the Fresh Air Fund. While you’re there can you figure out what happened to that kid on the boat?
  • Whoa, lots of glue marks on this print. The Library of Congress can only do so much.
  • If the name Anna Q. Nilsson sounds familiar, you’re remembering her from her brief appearance in “Sunset Boulevard”. She plays herself as one of Norma Desmond’s “waxworks” at the bridge game. “Regeneration” showcases Nilsson in her prime as an actress.
  • Co-writer Carl Harbaugh shows up in this film as D.A. Ames.
  • In his quest for realism, Raoul Walsh filmed on location and populated his scenes with real life residents of the Lower East Side (including prostitutes and gangsters). We know this to be true because let’s just say some of these extras have faces for radio.
  • The highlight of the film may be the fire onboard the ferry. Boy, that escalated quickly. I do enjoy the intertitle assuring us that “[a]ll the kiddies were saved.”
  • Skinny has excellent depth perception for someone with an eye patch.
  • And then Walsh gets arty with some optical effects. Though the bible quote “Vengeance is Mind, Saith the Lord” seems a bit harsh. Surely there’s another way to phrase that.
  • So the moral of this film is don’t trust anyone?

Legacy

  • Raoul Walsh would go on to direct three more films that would make the NFR: “The Thief of Bagdad”, “The Big Trail”, and “White Heat”.

Further Viewing: And now, because you’ve been so patient, here’s the obvious “Doctor Who” reference I’ve refrained from making until this moment.

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