Regeneration (1915)

Regeneration (1915), directed by Raoul Walsh.

We open with young Owen, sitting alone in his slum apartment, dressed in rags, as the wicker coffin containing his mother's body is loaded into a hearse on the street. An orphan now, he is taken in by coarse brawling neighbors and grows up tough.

As an adult he is head of a street gang. He meets society girl Marie when the District Attorney takes her family to visit a music hall to see the "gangsters". It changes her life and she moves into the Settlement House to do good works for the poor.

Owen's love for her reforms him over time.

This was Raoul Walsh's first feature film and he co-wrote the screenplay based on a popular memoir and stage play of the time. The villain of the film is Owen's lieutenant "Skinny", who has an eye-patch just as Walsh would wear after a car accident in 1928. Different eye:

Folklore has it that Walsh didn't want a glass eye because he'd have to take it out when fighting.

According the wikipedia:


Set in New York City, Regeneration was shot on location in New York City's Lower East Side and used real prostitutes, gangsters and homeless people as extras. It is the first film produced by Fox Film Corporation, a forerunner of the 20th Century Fox.

Regeneration was previously thought to be lost but was rediscovered in the 1970s.

The DVD packaging says: "Regeneration has survived in a single known nitrate print found in the basement of a building in Missoula, Montana, in 1976".

It boggles my mind that I can see a feature film of this age, made by one of the great directors when he was 28. The time and place remind me of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and Owen's sad, thoughtful Irish face suggests Gabriel Byrne in Miller's Crossing (1990)


Available on DVD, but it is also free online since it is in the public domain. The sole surviving print has a few cases of the nitrate bubbling common to early film stock but is otherwise watchable if you accept its age and rarity.

Philip Carli provides a new piano score for the DVD.