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Sailor’s Luck: A Call to Action: The Films of Raoul Walsh

Film - Feature | July 5 | 7 p.m. | PFA Theater, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, Ca 94720

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Walsh followed the freewheeling Me and My Gal with this more tightly structured but no less rambunctious comedy, a study in controlled chaos in which an improvisatory tone masks a careful development of the central romantic relationship and a shrewdly calibrated use of deep-focus space. The film carries over several character actors from the previous film—including broken-nosed Frank Moran repeating his role as a man of the sea with surprising intellectual inclinations—and places them in support of James Dunn and Sally Eilers, whose teaming in Frank Borzage’s Oscar-winning Bad Girl (1931) had established them as Fox’s leading star couple (a down-to-earth, Depression-era sequel to the other worldly couple formed by Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell). He’s a sailor on shore leave in a Southern California port; she’s an unemployed beauty whose figure immediately gets her a job as a swimming pool lifeguard, even though she can’t swim. Their physical attraction is immediate and mutual (was any filmmaker ever less coy about sex?), but before they can become a couple they must overcome a number of comic misunderstandings and scrapes, most of them engineered by Eilers’s oily, predatory landlord (Victor Jory), who wants her for himself. Bertrand Tavernier and Jean-Pierre Coursodon are being rather prudish in Fifty Years of American Cinema when they complain of “painful gags that take minorities as their target and manage to offend them all, from Italians to Jews passing through homosexuals.” Rather, the humor is rich in the kind of broad ethnic stereotyping that was a staple of American vaudeville (and Walsh’s youth), and which historically offered an effective way to vent and defuse ethnic tensions in immigrant America. (Suggestively, the only real villain in the film, Jory’s “Baron Potrillo,” hides behind a made-up ethnicity and a phony aristocratic title.) The film climaxes with a fight scene in a dance hall scarcely less epic than the battle sequences in What Price Glory, and just as superbly rendered in terms of colliding waves of force.

• Written by Mészáros. Photographed by Tamás Somló. With Kati Kovács, Teri Horváth, Adám Szirtes, Gábor Agárdi. (80 mins, In Hungarian with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, PFA Collection)

 $5.50 BAM/PFA Member; Cal Student,  $6.50 Cal Faculty and Staff; Disabled Patron; Non Cal Student; Senior Patron ( 65 & Older); General Admission Youth (17 & under),  $9.50 General Admission

Buy tickets online, or by calling 510-642-0808.