Regeneration with Young Romance
"The first full-length gangster picture ever made," according to its director, Raoul Walsh, who would later make The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra, The Bowery and White Heat, Regeneration is a powerful slum melodrama produced in 1915 on location on the Lower East Side of New York City, with a gaggle of authentic lowlife types performing alongside professional actors. It's in the tradition of The Musketeers of Pig Alley, directed by D.W. Griffith from whom Walsh learned his craft as an assistant on The Birth of a Nation. But in camera and editing technique as well as in performance, the former apprentice equals and often surpasses the master. Regeneration was added to the Library of Congress National Registry of essential American films in 2000.
The gangsters in Regeneration aren't Mofiosi; they are two-bit street corner hoodlums trapped by their circumstances. Regeneration approaches them sympathetically yet unblinkingly, bringing to mind Jack Warner's comment that Raoul Walsh's idea of a tender scene is when he burns down the whorehouse. The tough-as-nails orphan bred on unforgiving slum streets to become a hoodlum hero eventually finds the straight path from Mamie Rose, a settlement house worker, but the melodrama doesn't compromise the characters or the visual authenticity of this amazing first feature.
Young Romance, also released in 1915, is a recent rediscovery and a poignant reminder of the film treasures which have been lost, since only about 15% of films from this period survive today. "This production forever silences the claim that refined comedy cannot be conveyed via the screen. A more refined comedy has never been shown since the days of Molière," wrote the early trade magazine Moving Picture World. "It is the sparkling, exuberant, bubbling humor of our own country condensed and trebly distilled and an everlasting provocation to hearty laughter." This disguise plot, worthy of on Elizabethan drama, was written by William de Mille (brother of Cecil, father of Agnes), and directed by George Melford (The Sheik, the Spanish Dracula).
Produced for DVD by David Shepard