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Regeneration (1915)

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."

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.

Presenter (Producer): William Fox
Director: Raoul Walsh (as R. A. Walsh)
Screenplay: Carl Harbaugh, Raoul Walsh, from autobiography My Mamie Rose by Owen Frawley Kildare and play The Regeneration by Kildare and Walter C. Hackett
Cinematography: Georges Benoit
Principal Cast: Rockcliffe Fellowes (Owen Conway at 25), Anna Q. Nilsson (Marie "Mamie Rose" Deering), Carl Harbaugh (District Attorney Ames), John McCann (Owen at 10), H. McCoy (Owen at 17), James Marcus (Jim Conway), Maggie Weston (Maggie Conway).

by Roger Fristoe

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