Saturday, 22 September 2018

Women of All Nations (Raoul Walsh, 1931)

Programme note written for the Fox Film Corporation retrospective (curated by Dave Kehr) at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2018. E.K.

USA, 1931
Director: Raoul Walsh

Italian title.: Sempre rivali. Story: Barry Conners. Script: Barry Conners. Photography: Lucien Andriot. Editor: Jack Dennis. Art director.: David Hall. Score: Carli Elinor.
Cast: Victor McLaglen (Captain Jim Flagg), Edmund Lowe (Sergeant Harry Quirt), Greta Nissen (Elsa), El Brendel (Olsen), Fifi D'Orsay (Fifi), Marjorie White (Margie), Jesse De Vorska (Izzy Kaplan), Marion Lessing (Gretchen), T. Roy Barnes (Captain of the Marines), Bela Lugosi (Prince Hassan). Production: Fox Film Corporation

During the closing years of the silent era, Walsh met with great success for his depiction of the rivalry between two U.S. Marine officers in What Price Glory? (1926). Nevertheless the director felt some dissatisfaction: in the absence of sound, the sharpness of the film's dialogue was lost in the intertitles. In the early 1930s, Walsh returned to the same characters, Jim Flagg and Harry Quirt, first in The Cock-Eyed World (1929) and then Women of All Nations, by which time the focus had shifted from war and military life to sex and comedy – yet the two seem to be intertwined. In the latter film Walsh frames a WWI trench and a line of bare female legs with the same type of dazzling tracking shot. Both are associated with mobility too. As the Marines are sent on missions to different countries, where they encounter women, a Swedish dancer enjoys her own freedom of movement, with her own ‘weapons’ to help her.

Unlike What Price Glory? Walsh was able not only to make the ludicrous conversations audible, but also enriched the soundtrack with the sounds of shelling, women giggling and mewing – Walshian sexual innuendo through sound.

The film is almost bereft of plot, instead introducing a series of situations and gags, both comic and dramatic. A stunning battle sequence leads into slapstick, as the viewer is whisked around the world. The scenes are linked by intertitles, the first one of which is signed by Walsh himself as ‘narrator’. Throughout, a small number of ideas are masterfully exploited by Walsh to the point of absurdity.
Audiences were far from enthusiastic however, perhaps tired of the Flagg/Quirt partnership, and the film lost $175,000. Surprisingly, Fox didn't give up, making a fourth and final installment, Hot Pepper (1933), directed by John G. Blystone. This madcap, fast-moving film is a thoroughly enjoyable example of Walsh's most lucid period of filmmaking – the work of a man who can turn even vulgar sex jokes into unassuming art.

-- Ehsan Khoshbakht

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