William A Wellman, revisited

Just a brief round-up as I take a break from obsessing over William A Wellman’s early work to catch up with writing about some other movies. I thought I’d recap on the films I’ve written about so far, and share news of a forthcoming  Wellman biography. Many thanks to all those who have read along and commented – much appreciated.

Film historian Frank Thompson, who did the commentary on the DVD of Wild Boys of the Road, kindly left a message on my first posting about Wellman, where he said: “You may be interested to know that John Andrew Gallagher (a fine director in his own right) and I have just completed a book on Wellman that we intend as the final word on the subject. It’s almost insanely thorough. The book is currently being shopped around to publishers, so no word as to when it will actually be published. But when it is, you’ll probably need a friend to help you lift it.”

I’m definitely looking forward to more news on this and will post on my blog when I know more!

As regards my own coverage of Wellman, I’ve now written here about 16 of his silents and pre-Code talkies –   putting them in order of their release dates, those I’ve covered to date are: The Boob (1926); Wings (1927); Beggars of Life (1928); Other Men’s Women (1931); The Public Enemy (1931); Night Nurse (1931); The Star Witness (1931);  Safe In Hell (1931); The Hatchet Man (1932); So Big! (1932); The Purchase Price (1932); Frisco Jenny (1932); Lilly Turner (1933); Heroes For Sale (1933); Midnight Mary (1933) and Wild Boys of the Road (1933).

I was going to try to list my favourites out of these but it is really difficult as I like just about all of them – however, I’d say all six titles included in the Wellman Forbidden Hollywood set are well worth seeing, while Wings and Beggars of Life are both silent masterpieces which deserve a full DVD release.  And The Public Enemy just seems to get better every time I watch it. My favourites out of the talkies not on DVD are Lilly Turner and Safe In Hell. For me The Hatchet Man and The Star Witness are probably the weakest in this bunch, but still interesting and with some powerful scenes. 

Wellman was incredibly prolific in the early 1930s and, even after watching this lot, there are still a lot of his pre-Code titles I haven’t seen – some seem to have disappeared from view, but there are a few I’m still aiming to see and write about in the future. Central Airport (1933) has just been released in the  Warner Archive series and Love Is A Racket (1932) has just been shown at the Film Forum in New York as part of their series on newspapers.  If anyone has seen these or any other rarities, I’d be interested to hear what you think of them.  I also want to write about some of his later films in the future, and there are plenty of those to choose from, of course!

11 thoughts on “William A Wellman, revisited

  1. That is interesting news Judy about a Wellmen bio. Hopefully it won’t be oo long before they can getit published. I read his autobiography back in the 1970’s. time it was called “A Short Time Fo Insanity” or somehting like that.

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Thanks, John – I hope we don’t have to wait too long for it too. I haven’t read his autobiography but would be interested to do so.


  3. Hi Judy,
    Just discovered your blog–really liked your write-up on the great “Wild Boys of the Road.” Another Wellman movie I enjoyed is “College Coach” (1933), which deals with corruption in college football, and is pretty sharp and funny in parts (it has an uncredited John Wayne in it; maybe it was his first movie?) along with Pat O’Brien, Dick Powell, Ann Dvorak, and my dad, Lyle Talbot.


    • Thank you very much, Margaret, I’m honoured to have you commenting, and thanks for your kind comments on my write-up of ‘Wild Boys of the Road’. I’m fascinated by the description of ‘College Coach’ – it sounds like one I will have to track down in the future, and when I hopefully do so I will watch out for John Wayne, who I understand lso has an uncredited bit part in Wellman’s ‘Central Airport’. I’ve seen quite a few films featuring your Dad – recently saw him as Bette Davis’ fiance in Dieterle’s ‘Fog Over Frisco’, which I enjoyed a lot.


  4. Judy, I plan to watch SO BIG, STAR WITNESS and the above mentioned COLLEGE COACH very soon.

    It’s exciting to know that Frank Thompson not only reads your blog but has prepared, along with John Andrew Gallagher, a book on Wlm Wellman. Here’s to hoping it will be accepted and published soon.

    Also exciting to know that Margaret Talbot has discovered your blog. I always enjoy a movie with Lyle Talbot (PURCHASE PRICE, A SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT, KLONDIKE, THREE ON A MATCH, NO MORE ORCHIDS, etc.) Coincidentally, I also was able to watch FOG OVER FRISCO just a few weeks ago.

    Nice round-up on on the Wellmans you’ve reviewed. Looking forward to whatever you’ll be doing next.


    • Thanks, CagneyFan – I’ll be interested to hear what you think of all those early Wellman movies. Definitely agree that it will be great to read that new biography once the authors find a publisher, and let’s hope that doesn’t take too long. It is nice to get encouraging comments on the blog and you are one of the people who gives me the most of them – so many thanks to you too.


  5. Ah Judy, I blew the chance I had to see LOVE IS A RACKET, while it played at the Film Forum, as I couldn’t get out of the family engagement I needed to attend. But I am tempted to invest in that Warner Archive edition of CENTRAL AIRPORT. I certainly will give it some thought.

    You’ve done a remarkable job here covering 16 early Wellmans, and I who could argue with your high positioning of THE PUBLIC ENEMY, BEGGARS OF LIFE and WINGS, nor with most of the Forbidden Hollywood lot?

    Getting the book announcement note from Frank Thompson is fantastic and well earned, as you’ve gone further than anyone not only in your comprehensive coverage of this great artist, but of the early 30’s in American cinema, a period you’ve shown incomparable expertise and appreciation for!

    I’m looking forward to more!!!


    • Thanks very much for the kind comments, Sam – the amazing thing is that I’ve still only touched the surface of early Wellman with those 16 movies, as he made such a lot more! Thompson really is an expert on him and it will be great to read that book once it is released, fingers crossed. You might find ‘Central Airport’ turns up on TCM, as I believe they have shown it in the past – maybe if they have a season on Barthelmess soon!


  6. That’s a good photo of Wellman. He looks thoughtful and sensitive. How chuffed and cheered you must have been when the biographer wrote to you here. A mark of real respect, Ellen


    • Thank you Ellen, glad you like the photo. Yes, I was chuffed that Frank Thompson found my blog and got in touch – it was very kind of him to take the time. Judy


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