Wednesday, May 31, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0117 - REGENERATION (Raoul Walsh, 1915, USA, 72m, BW)


REGENERATION (Raoul Walsh, 1915, USA, 72m, BW)


REGENERATION (Raoul Walsh, 1915, USA, 72m, BW)

Directed by Raoul Walsh
Produced by William Fox
Written by Carl Harbaugh (adaptation)
Raoul Walsh (adaptation)
Based on My Mamie Rose
by Owen Frawley Kildare
The Regeneration
by Walter C. Hackett and Owen Frawley Kildare
Starring Rockliffe Fellowes
Anna Q. Nilsson
James A. Marcus
Carl Harbaugh
Cinematography Georges Benoît
Distributed by Fox Film Corporation
Release date
September 13, 1915
Running time
72 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles


Rockliffe Fellowes - Owen Conway
James A. Marcus - Jim Conway
Anna Q. Nilsson - Marie 'Mamie Rose' Deering
Maggie Weston - Maggie Conway
Willam Sheer - Skinny
Carl Harbaugh - District Attorney Ames
John McCann - Owen Conway (10 years old)
Harry McCoy - Owen Conway (17 years old)


Regeneration is a 1915 American silent biographical crime drama co-written and directed by Raoul Walsh. The film, which was the first full-length feature film directed by Walsh, stars Rockliffe Fellowes and Anna Q. Nilsson and was adapted for the screen by Carl Harbaugh and Walsh from the memoir My Mamie Rose, by Owen Frawley Kildare and the adapted play by Kildare and Walter C. Hackett. Cited as one of the first full-length gangster films, Regeneration tells the story of a poor orphan who rises to control the mob until he meets a woman for whom he wants to change.


The story follows the life of Owen (Rockliffe Fellowes), a young Irish American boy who is forced into a life a poverty after his mother dies. As a result, Owen is forced to live on the street eventually turning to a life of crime. Owen is eventually reformed, however, by the benevolent Marie Deering (Anna Q. Nilsson). Also featured is a fire aboard an excursion ferry, much like the General Slocum disaster of 1904.


Considered one of the most impressive films of the pre-1920 era and an important social document of its day, the silent classic Regeneration (1915) was the first feature film to be directed by Raoul Walsh, later to gain renown as the director of such vigorous and distinguished movies as What Price Glory (1926), The Big Trail (1930), The Roaring Twenties (1939), High Sierra (1941), White Heat (1949) and The Naked and the Dead (1958). It has been said that, with Regeneration, 28-year-old Walsh virtually invented the gangster film. Luckily for silent-screen buffs, the only surviving print of the film, originally produced by the Fox Film Corporation, was found in a soon-to-be-demolished building in Montana in 1976. Regeneration was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2000.

The selection of Regeneration for Walsh's first film was purely a case of luck. The studio actually offered another director, Oscar Apfel, a choice of two scripts first, one being Regeneration. According to Walsh in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich for Who the Devil Made It, "Oscar Apfel selected the wrong script and I got a thing called Regeneration, a gangster picture, which is right up my alley because I knew all those bloody gangster kids and everybody in New York....I went down around the waterfront and around the docks and into the saloons and got all kinds of gangster types, people with terrible faces, hiding in doorways. Now at that time Fox owned the Academy Music Theatre and the average run of a picture was three days. Regeneration ran three weeks."

Urban criminals have been part of cinema at least since “The Bold Bank Robbery” and “Capture of the ‘Yegg’ Bank Robbers” – both follow-ups to Edwin S. Porter’s smash hit “The Great Train Robbery.” Many of the tropes now familiar to the genre were established when D.W. Griffith made “The Musketeers of Pig Alley.” Raoul Walsh, who learned filmmaking from working for Griffith, returned to the theme for his first feature, “Regeneration,” and in doing so quite probably made the first feature-length gangster movie. The similarities between “Musketeers” and “Regeneration” are pronounced – both involve the redemption of tough guys who’ve grown up in a harsh environment, and both emphasize the human side of the underworld, drawing on the audience’s desire to sympathize with the criminal.

This movie may confuse modern fans, however, because rather than spending the bulk of its length depicting its protagonist’s criminal career, it chooses to focus on his efforts to rehabilitate himself (his “regeneration”). This can partly be explained by the source material, a book called My Mamie Rose, by Owen Frawley Kildare. This book is a fairly typical “conversion narrative” from the point of view of a former hoodlum gone straight, who wanted to tell of “the miracle that transformed me.” 

Unlike most such narratives, it isn’t Jesus Christ or a particular church that Kildare credits with his salvation, but the love of a woman named Marie Deering. The real Marie Deering died of pneumonia in 1903, the same year Kildare wrote his autobiography. It was popular, especially among reform-minded progressives, who held Kildare up as an example of the basic decency inside of every criminal, and gave rise to a stage version by 1908. In 1915, William Fox, a successful Nickelodeon entrepreneur who was breaking into movie production (read up on Fox at Once Upon A Screen’s contribution to the blogathon), bought the movie rights and handed the direction to Raoul Walsh.

Based on the autobiographical My Mamie Rose: The Story of My Regeneration by Owen Kildare and a stage adaptation of that book, Regeneration spans several years in the life of a tough-as-nails Irish-American product of the New York City slums, Owen Conway (played as an adult by Rockcliffe Fellowes). Conway, who has emerged as a ruthless gangster by the age of 25, falls in love with Mamie Rose (Anna Q. Nilsson), a settlement worker who teaches him to read and sets him on the path to redemption. Carl Harbaugh plays a crusading district attorney who also loves Mamie Rose and is determined to bring Conway to justice.

Walsh brings a documentary-like authenticity to Regeneration, strikingly photographed in actual slums of New York's Bowery district on the Lower East Side with real hoods, prostitutes and other street types as extras. Regeneration also benefits from a believable and charismatic performance by Fellowes, whose virility and rough poignancy seem to foreshadow those qualities in the acting of Marlon Brando forty years later.

Additional Information

born March 11, 1887, New York City 
died Dec. 31, 1980, Simi Valley, near Los Angeles

U.S. motion-picture director popular in the 1930s and '40s for his tough, masculine films.

Walsh began acting for the stage in 1910 and on film in 1912, the same year that he began directing. He played John Wilkes Booth in D.W. Griffith's greatest success, The Birth of a Nation (1915), and went on to direct about 200 motion pictures, usually characterized by their simplicity and quick action.

In 1949 he completed the film White Heat, a classic study of a pathological criminal. Other of Walsh's more complex pictures include High Sierra (1941), a sympathetic portrayal of an aging criminal whose life ends in tragedy, and The Naked and the Dead (1958), an effective translation of Norman Mailer's novel into film. Walsh's other films include: The Thief of Bagdad (1924), What Price Glory? (1926), The Roaring Twenties (1939), They Died with Their Boots On (1941), The Tall Men (1955), and A Distant Trumpet (1964).


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