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Film / Regeneration

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Regeneration is a 1915 film directed by Raoul Walsh.

Owen Conway is orphaned at the age of 10, growing up in the grinding poverty of New York's slums. With no other way out of his situation, he becomes a criminal, and the leader of an Irish mob gang. However, he clearly still has a moral conscience, like when he protects a physically deformed friend of his from bullies.

Into his life comes Marie Deering, a privileged society lady who meets Owen when her admirer, District Attorney Ames, takes her on a visit to the slums. Marie is so shaken by the crime and poverty that she sees that she throws herself into charity work, starting a mission in Owen's neighborhood. Owen and Marie fall in love, much to the disgust of DA Ames, and Owen leaves his criminal past behind—but his criminal acquaintances aren't as willing to leave him behind.

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Raoul Walsh was a protege of D. W. Griffith. Walsh embarked on this project after finishing work on Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, for which he was an assistant director as well as an actor playing John Wilkes Booth. Regeneration owes an obvious debt to Griffith's 1912 short film The Musketeers of Pig Alley, another film about Irish gangsters in the crime-ridden New York slums.


Tropes:

  • Attempted Rape: Skinny tries to rape Marie. She locks herself into a closet, which Skinny is trying to force open when Owen shows up.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: The movie doesn't say exactly where in New York Owen lives, but it is filthy and rotten and crime-ridden and awful. Marie is deeply shocked when she sees how the other half lives.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Averted. Marie is shot and mortally wounded by a bullet fired through a closet door.
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  • Contrast Montage: The movie cuts back and forth between the refined, luxurious dinner at the Deering household to the raucous vaudeville hall where Owen and his buddies are relaxing.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Skinny, who takes over leadership of the gang after Owen is reformed, wears an eyepatch. Apparently it was just to make him look like a badass, as he removes it and reveals a perfectly good second eye.
  • The Irish Mob: Owen and all his fellow hoodlums in the neighborhood.
  • Iris Out: Used effectively in a scene where Owen's awful self-appointed guardians are screaming at each other, only for the camera's iris to zoom in on Owen stuck between them.
  • Love Redeems: Falling in love with Marie is what turns Owen away from a life of crime and on to the straight and narrow.
  • Meet Cute: Owen meets Marie for the first time when he has to save Ames's behind, after Ames's tour of the slums goes bad and he's about to be beat up by the toughs in the vaudeville hall.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The opening scenes feature a 10-year-old Owen dressed in rags, living in a filthy tenement, made a quasi-slave by his neighbors after his mother's death leaves him orphaned. Then there's a time skip to Owen at age 19.
  • One-Word Title
  • Produce Pelting: An unsatisfactory violinist is driven off the vaudeville hall's stage by a rain of garbage from the audience.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The ferry boat that catches fire while taking Marie's people to a picnic outing is clearly inspired by the General Slocum disaster of 1904, in which the Slocum, taking a church group on an outing, caught fire and sank. The film goes Lighter and Softer, though, saying "All the kiddies were saved", while in Real Life 1100 of the 1400 people on board the Slocum died.
  • Time Skip: From Owen as a penniless 10-year-old orphan to Owen as a 19-year-old dockworker, then to 25-year old Owen as a gang leader, which is when the main story starts.
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