Why Filmmakers Used To Make Movies Based On Genres? How Did Raoul Walsh Challenge The System?

The last time we talked about “A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies,” we discussed the examples given by Martin Scorsese regarding the never-ending struggle of a Hollywood filmmaker. We learned about the eternal conflict between a director and a producer on the sets. Since the early days of filmmaking, directors’ vision was somehow overshadowed by producers. The producers decided everything on and off the stage, interfering with the work of a director and altering the scripts on their terms. Martin Scorsese finally suggested that a director needed to make one film for the production house and one for his own. He said that it was the only way for the directors to be free to do what they wanted with their art.


Today, we are going to talk about another aspect that was brought upon by the legendary director himself. He quoted Raoul Walsh and said a director doesn’t have anything to offer if he didn’t have the story. In this discussion, we will talk about how directors started to value the film’s story rather than the genres as the process of filmmaking evolved with time. American filmmakers have always been more enthusiastic about creating fiction than delivering reality to the audience. The very foundation of the studio system was to produce a genre-specific story that would attract a more significant number of people. Scorsese added that Hollywood directors have always been entertainers for a better or worse reason, which compelled them to follow a more conventional and stereotypical form of storytelling.

How Did Genres Play A Crucial Role In The Hollywood Studio System?

The genre was the first thing that was taken into consideration while crafting a story in the early 1950s. The studios had set their rules around a specific genre system, and the audience had started to love this approach. Even the great directors of that period never showed any concern about directing such stories. Scorsese added an incident to give an idea about the importance of genre in a director’s life. He talked about John Ford, an eminent director of the 1950s, who stood up in a meeting at the Directors Guild of America and introduced himself as a director who made “Westerns.” He never mentioned his more acclaimed pictures, such as “The Informer” or “The Quiet Man.” This is how the directors of that time wanted the audience to trust them with specific genres. They even ignored their better works in order to gain attention by mentioning a specific film genre.


Scorsese talked about the first master storyteller of the American screen, D.W. Griffith. His filmmaking style was heavily inspired by 19th-century literature; he forged the new art of the 20th century. In his short film “The Musketeers of Pig Alley,” he represented nearly every genre, including gangster films. That too, in 1912, long before the First World War. His style of adapting the obvious and giving them a particular shape was derived from literature, inspiring many aspiring filmmakers in the future.

Breaking The Genre Limitation

Raoul Walsh was one of the most outstanding apprentices of Griffith. For the first time, he showed that genres should not be rigid; they could be expanded to greater possibilities. In his “High Sierra,” the audience didn’t root for the police or ordinary citizens, but they were more concerned about the gangsters. The outcasts in these genres were beyond good or evil; as told by Martin Scorsese, their lust for life was unsatisfied, even as their decisions brought about tragic conclusions. Walsh would give the outcasts in his movies a world that is too small a place for them. Martin Scorsese used the word “cosmic battleground” to express the idea introduced by Walsh for his characters in the climax scenes. These scenes often played a crucial role in involving the audience more naturally with the story.


Eight years after “High Sierra” (1941), Walsh made the same film in a completely different genre, now a Western. In “Colorado Territory” (1949), the story remained the same as in “High Sierra,” and the climax contained the same gigantic landscape, minimizing the human figures. Raoul Walsh gave his heroine almost the same strength as his protagonist: she rebelled against the law herself. The mystical approach at the end of the film broke down every genre limitation of that period. The Navajos were chanting in the night, and listening to them, the protagonist of the story accepted his fate. This is how Walsh bent the genre and ended the tragedy by killing both the protagonists.

The Relation Between Movie Genre And The Directors

The movie genre was so crucial in the early 1950s that it was almost impossible for the filmmakers to escape its barriers, and thus they had to shape their ideas within those set territories. However, thanks to directors like Raoul Walsh, who made it possible for the upcoming directors to craft stories within the genres while bending them with their perception at times, Walsh made two movies with almost the same storyline but broke down the limitations of the genres. He made one with a gangster approach and the other with a western style. There were only a few changes to make the western look more noticeable to the eyes. So, this proves that the only thing that matters to a director is the story and nothing else. The genres, on the other hand, are what interests the producer or the audience. The director may or may not think about the genre, but as the film’s narrator, he should be most concerned with telling the story.


American directors of the 21st century, like Steven Spielberg, Todd Phillips, and Martin Scorsese, have delivered quite a number of stories without worrying much about the genres. Like John Ford back in 1950, Christopher Nolan doesn’t consider himself as someone who makes only sci-fi movies. Although he is mainly recognized for them, he will also be remembered as the man who created “The Batman” trilogy. The same goes for Martin Scorsese, too, as the legendary director has delivered movies like “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas,” “The Irishman”, and “Shutter Island.” While “Taxi Driver” and “Shutter Island” are psychological, “Goodfellas” and “The Irishman” are gangster films. These are a few examples of how modern world directors focus on being a storyteller first than thinking about a specific genre.

In the next chapter, we will discuss three of the earliest genres of American filmmaking. The frontiers of Hollywood first introduced Western and Gangster films that originated in the East Coast cities, and lastly, the Musicals, which were presented on Broadway. The master filmmakers showcased their magnificent talent in shaping their stories around these genres to depict the changing times in Hollywood. How? Well, let’s continue with this discussion in the next chapter.

See More: How Did The Storytelling Of The Western Films Evolve With Time In Hollywood?

Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy is a creative content writer. Formerly he used to write film reviews on an international film festival website named Beyond the Curve International Film Festival. He also interviewed global directors. He also interviewed one of the characters from the show 'Trailer Park Boys', Mr. Bernard Robichaud, platformed in Netflix. Shovan tends to write through the third person narrative and he loves to do psychoanalysis. He can't say that he has mastered it but that is some sort of hobby of his. Film is a platform where he loves to spend most of his time learning.

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