Regeneration [1997]

New York gangs have rarely been as realistically depicted as in this vivid, grungy 1915 melodrama. Aside from its status as one of the earliest gangster pictures, Regeneration is the first feature in the long directorial career of Raoul Walsh (White Heat), whose marvelously energetic and manly adventures brightened Hollywood's Golden Age. The plot is a stock tale of a hood (Rockliffe Fellowes, who has a true mug's face) reformed by a social worker (Anna Q. Nilsson, a silent star with some resemblance to Leelee Sobieski), but Walsh got the grime of the slums into the very grain of the photography. He once explained, "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." You can almost smell the beer slopping out of the pail when the hero (as a boy) brings home his cruel stepfather's alcoholic sustenance from the tavern. --Robert Horton

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