So-called by a columnist, Times Square M.D. he (“anybody I kill is purely accidental”), on a ten-dollar bet he rescues a jumper who’s not what she seems, and subsequently thwarts a vengeful convict out for his hide (not what he seems), thus combining and expressing the very themes of Antonioni’s I Vinti, which therefore is the best analysis bar none (cf. Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel). “Come on over to my place and have a snort.”
“I could stand a snort, but it’ll be with someone worth snorting with,” says the detective sergeant, “I’ll snort by myself, then I’ll be in good company!” The jumper is “strictly from hunger” and becomes the doctor’s receptionist, “I can see where my office is going to break out in a rash of little feminine touches.”
“Don’t you like little feminine touches?” With the racketeer, it’s a case of Great Expectations met by considerable opposition.
A brilliant, swift, keen Broadway-style debut at the start of the war or the resumption of hostilities (“everybody thought that Bluebeard was a swell guy, too, till they starting digging in his cellar”), story Borden Chase, screenplay Art Arthur (Charlie Chan on Broadway, dir. Eugene Forde), décor Hans Dreier, cinematography Theodor Sparkuhl. The consequences are very far-reaching, cf. Furie’s The Circle (The Fraternity), say, on a basis of Lumet’s Child’s Play.
Leonard Maltin, “nicely done on a low budget”. TV Guide, “a poor first film”. Bruce Eder (All Movie Guide), “unassuming little B-picture.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “adequate filler”.
Strangers in the Night
Idyllic South Seas islands where the war rages, a particularly elegant and fastidious explanation is offered, likewise a comparison made.
TV Guide, “a fine film”.
Sandra Brennan (All Movie Guide), “a bizarre love affair”.
Hitchcock’s Suspicion is openly cited (cp. The House on Telegraph Hill, dir. Robert Wise, for the general structure).
The Great Flamarion
The Hitchcockian opening follows patrons into a Mexico City music hall and continues slowly to the stage, where the clown Tony performs his act (Young and Innocent), this overture is of the greatest importance and is plainly a tour de force.
The main gag is also from Hitchcock, the jealous husband sketch in Elstree Calling that points up the theme in Renoir and Lang. The peculiarity of Mann’s construction follows Hitchcock in that the title character is an interloper, a great artist (cf. Scarlet Street).
The effect sought and achieved by Mann was not grasped by the New York Times reviewer (“an exercise in tedium”), nor by Halliwell (“heavy-handed melodrama”).
It puts you out of your pain for an hour, the new formula she’s working on at the Wilmott Institute (chemical research), she tries it on herself and dreams this film, a perfect representation of dream as drama, and when she wakes up her problem is resolved by the workings of her mind in sleep, she’s ready to marry her colleague at the Institute and go to France.
The dream is closely related in its realism to Sekely’s Hollow Triumph (The Scar), and advances a strong case for the positions required severally, one after another, for her mind’s understanding.
The commonplace world and the inner life, described and reconciled.
The Bamboo Blonde
She adorns a B-29 over Tokyo and sings in a New York nightclub of sorts.
Mann’s wit and discernment carry the romance of the millionaire farm-boy pilot and the chanteuse who swings it past the flak of his society fiancée and the animosity of the bomber crew toward a new man in the driver’s seat to a successful conclusion.
Just another masterpiece for Mann quietly unobserved by critics.
The astonishing parallel is Sirk’s exactly contemporaneous Lured, the thrust of Mann’s bizarrerie is to frame a hobbyist for a crime done by an “artist”, the overture is simple, beauty parlor where the girls get gussied up and bet on horses, gunmen slip through the back door, cop sticks his nose in.
The kid was in his garage workshop, a stout defender of his sister, when the beauty parlor operator and the manager of Club Bombay decided to ace the big cheese, a gentlemanly sort who quotes Wilde or Coward on women.
From the old River Gang to the Vantucci mob, Detroit. Then to Los Angeles for the center of the counterfeiting operation.
“The Shanghai Paper Case” hinges on shipments of Chinese paper for the bills.
Great location work, Mann’s technique is of the very best. Except in the opening scene, lighting is secondary to camera placement, scenes and locales are introduced partially. Planes and shapes, often on the diagonal, define the image.
The film noir supreme in a lightless universe that slowly reveals a Copernican system.
Outside this realm is the law, just inside is the lawyer’s girl, who comes into the orbit of convict Joe, gravitationally allied to psychopathic crime boss Rick by virtue of doing a job and taking the rap, at the center is Joe’s girl, her thoughts provide the first-person narrative.
A dreamlike narrative, more and more so, as commentators have written.
Bosley Crowther, the New York Times reviewer who never misses a banana peel if he can help it, gave his opinion as “pretty low-grade”.
Reign of Terror
Something like the best of British chiaroscuro is seized by the scruff of the neck and made into suitably hysterical vistas at the high point of composition. The lighting is a two-edged sword that exposes the mortal fear in the Terror’s victims as well as the sick inanity of its fat, powdered leaders.
In Halliwell’s Film Guide you will read that this wonderful film is a “moderate period melodrama with an attractive though artificial look.”
The filthy business of human trafficking is immediately addressed by Mann in the Canyon of Death, where a rock outcropping casts a shadow of Lincoln’s profile.
A brutal, grisly film that is properly understood in its technique as close to Reign of Terror by the chiaroscuro.
A vast masterpiece, a lesson in the cinema, perfectly done, followed by Jerrold Freedman’s Borderline and Tony Richardson’s The Border.
No critic saw it, for Bosley Crowther of the New York Times it was nothing more than a “routine adventure”, Variety said it “never breaks out of its formula framework”, Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) and Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) share the same opinion, with an increasing awareness of something extraordinary.
They didn’t start making this kind of film until much later, around Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, so it’s no wonder no-one noticed.
“Respectable but somewhat tedious” (Bosley Crowther, New York Times).
“Well-made but rather boring” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
The transmutation of Hitchcock by a catalyst of Welles produces an explosive mixture that is entirely Anthony Mann, one of the greatest films of the American cinema and one of the most brilliant anywhere.
A central focus on New York gets past the Gotham at every point of its range and settles for nothing less than the city, the surrealist mystery of New York.
Writers on film are always looking for the watershed Western, and this is as good as any, but they’ll keep going back until they find William S. Hart as psychologically savvy as anything, and the Western a genre of genius (Crowther said Winchester ’73 is not a “mature” film).
The best and purest analysis is by Sergio Leone (especially The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), a learned director.
Mann brings all his knowledge to bear on it, and that’s all it needs to get behind the perfidy and weakness and menace to the Cain and Abel shootout in the high rocks outside Tascosa.
A New Mexico cattle ranch lends its name to the title, it was assembled by an admirer of Napoleon (the emperor’s chef works for him) over some opposition, he issues his own currency bearing the picture of a girl riding a bull.
This was necessarily obscure at the time, hardly less so even now to the mass of film critics.
A Medal of Honor at Gettysburg means nothing out West, where the Shoshone sergeant major finds his land taken from under him for homesteaders squired by a lawyer who doesn’t like the way Indians smell.
It becomes a fight, and there’s an end. Mann anticipates the reversals of a man called Horse when his redskins defend their cattle ranch from a horde of marauding sheepmen.
When the camera leaves Medicine Bow for Devil’s Doorway and Valley Meadow, Mann’s landscapes are instantly recognizable.
The Tall Target
A. Lincoln as president-elect, the Baltimore Plot.
Mann exhibits the profoundest awareness of Hitchcock by duplicating the master’s formal device in Blackmail at just the middle of the film, after four reels of intensive antebellum hysteria the reins slacken and he slowly gathers momentum on the basis of Col. Jeffers’ second pistol shot establishing a de facto murder investigation where before had been only suspicion.
It was a great day for film criticism when Bosley Crowther characterized this great work of the cinema as a “moth-eaten melodrama” (New York Times).
The investigating officer’s name is John Kennedy.
Bend of the River
An unbroken stream of wagons passing by the camera fills the credit sequence. After a brief conversation en route, Mann concludes this overture with the fullest possible statement of his theme in a single shot, snowy mountain above forest above wagon train above rocks extending into the foreground.
The density of this pictorial view is seen in the town as the wagons fill main street and half the screen, the other half being the shops.
This is an ideal extension of Hathaway’s ideal perfection (and Losey’s later). Everything is in relation to everything else, as in music or sculpture or painting. There are other ways to make a picture (Ford realized this).
Mann’s night exteriors are defined by untrammeled extensions of lighting (moonlight, lamplight or campfire) at a lower level of illumination than full daylight. He sets up his camera tripod on the riverbed for the last fight, and the surface is consumed by dazzling sunlight.
The Naked Spur
Certain aspects of The Naked Spur figure in the analytical remake by Arthur Miller and John Huston, The Misfits. The material again provides a valuable source for James Dickey and John Boorman in Deliverance. Mann’s film is consciously built on Western models and the innovations of Niven Busch.
Five characters, no sets. A nature study of the Rocky Mountains in spring is the jewel setting. Three characters, or perhaps two, are real, the others mere projections of a psychological feature study closely related to the joke of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the one about the man who was afraid of taking the plunge. The screenplay delivers the real and as it were imaginary consequences of a marriage that never took place, until the lesson is learned and a reflex is obtained exactly like the knife-throwing end of Freund’s Mad Love.
Mann has top-drawer actors for this who are capable of taking steps into another realm of thought. James Stewart reveals a precision of technique emulated by James Dean.
Finally, Mann has in reserve a mastery of cinematic art exactly comparable to Hitchcock and Hawks but only brought into play at certain junctures, effortlessly. Mann now sets to work filming, the intricacies of the script with its many pregnant points are translated by the levels of apparatus he has set himself into complex rhythms of camerawork and editing, the actors themselves are in constant counterpoint onscreen, had anyone paid attention Leone might not have come as a surprise.
Kaper’s score adds the right note, a symphonic style is indicated overall in a sense.
Oil on the bottom of the ocean, deposited millions of years ago, drilled for and made use of in the present, the hero’s unity of time.
The shrimp fishers repine, Port Felicity is like Huston’s Stockton in Fat City, the point is their hostility toward the oilman till golden shrimp come to light.
So with the rest, caricatures of relations between the town and the interlopers, Anderson’s The Whales of August has the same theme in suspension.
A.W. of the New York Times was mightily unimpressed.
“Regulation outdoor actioner,” said Variety, with “an interesting switch” (“well-produced outdoor actioner,” says Halliwell).
The Glenn Miller Story
Artist’s life, swing version. His long difficulties, material and stylistic. At last, a suitable expression, success, ordnance-tested.
Mann has very powerful resources, much of his film is a kind of allusion owing to terseness and swiftness.
Mainly this is seen in exteriors, the bride’s home, the university, the groom’s home, muddy or snowy roads on tour, the Miller home, an Army drill parade. Accurate, partial views, abodes that are lived in, circumstances suffered or witnessed, never an outside view. The pictures that tell the tale.
Youth gets over many of the travails, hardship is mainly blinked at, none the less real as indicated.
The several mysteries are left as such, fully expressed and not spelled out, the technique proceeds from the music to its description in the images, a very subtle idea of a great Forties designer at one point, though the story begins much earlier, at a pawn shop under Angels Flight below Bunker Hill in Los Angeles ca. 1925.
Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life figures large in the screenplay.
The Far Country
North of Skagway, Dawson.
Skagway has gone real bad under an outlaw named judge and jury by his wiliness and his gang, Dawson ain’t a town yet but hopes to be.
The gold is there in Dawson, the judge moves in on it.
Walter Brennan in another role is there from Wyler’s The Westerner.
Mann divides the screen early on, as in Bend of the River, between cattle bound for Dawson and the shops on Main Street they pass along, and repeats the vertical construction at the beginning of that film as mountains, miners, rocks in foreground.
The thieves and killers in ambush outside Dawson are from Border Incident.
The rest has been adequately analyzed by Leone, Altman and Eastwood.
The reviews are of no importance.
The Vienna joke is on what a man can stomach.
Strategic Air Command
Ballplayer in the Air Force Reserve is pulled back in to fight the Cold War on active service.
A continuation of the high-altitude missions in Twelve O’Clock High, from the same author.
The B-36 with an A-bomb is a thousand-plane raid, Wings Over the World.
The entire B-29 force against Japan is subsumed in one B-47.
They fly far on long missions for deterrence, vis-à-vis “the other guy”.
Juran takes a somewhat more comical view in the northern latitudes of The Deadly Mantis, a very expensive proposition. Mann picks up the theme from Henry King, the toll on men, even their wives are used up in the vast command.
Crowther (New York Times) had a notable grasp of the peculiar beauties and skills displayed, noted the ballyhoo and praised VistaVision over CinemaScope, but couldn’t see much dramatic point. Variety concurred in this as a general thing, so did Halliwell’s Film Guide, etc.
The Man from Laramie
The principle here is of a spread that’s just too big and growing or dying, as the proprietors believe. The owner (Donald Crisp) is going blind, and bolsters his psychopathic son (Alex Nicol) with a hireling (Arthur Kennedy) he can’t see is just as bad, only more cunning.
The two young men have a private deal to sell repeating rifles to the Apaches, enough to wipe out the territory.
The title character (James Stewart) runs afoul of the spread even before it comes out that he’s after the gunrunners. Every bit of nastiness and deviltry comes down the trail at our man, who prevails and sees the rancher hitched up with an old holdout (Aline MacMahon) from his buying spree, the very object of the deal with the Apaches.
The Last Frontier
A very sharp analysis of Fort Apache with certain stylistic touches to avow that Ford is under consideration, none of which mattered a hoot to Bosley Crowther (New York Times), who couldn’t tell the players without a program.
The fine meaning of the title at one point has a fur trapper out West literally between Red Cloud on the warpath and Fort Shallan.
The tragic forces at work, seen at close hand, break like a wave that leaves the dead strewn across the field of vantage, much great talk and wild comes to nothing for a realistic harmony that is the basis of civilization, as noted elsewhere.
It’s the time of the Civil War, men are scarce on the Western frontier, beyond Fort Laramie.
Men in War
The condition of the film is incommunicable experience represented from the inside out as mental states made visible. Time’s eloquent reviewer was most observant and came closest to understanding the batshit complement of soldiers thinned down to two who quietly seize the initiative in terms of sheer despair and lunatic bravura, there is no corresponding reality in this situation, no measured response or dramatic buildup, what the men are they are, time passing alters some, the prismatic view of a shattered platoon is as good as any one man getting shot at and shelled all day long, he musters enough force to silence the enemy and, exhausted, falls asleep.
Next morning, there are medals to hand out. No film is quite like this one, but reviewers often say not so, citing a resemblance not all there.
The Tin Star
Mann’s masterful dissection of a real nice town in the West, what it comes down to, a point of bravery.
He has Henry Fonda from Ford’s My Darling Clementine to set the thing, and Anthony Perkins in charge to figure the quandary.
A tough guy in the livery barn and half-breeds outside of town, also the problem of Injuns per se, in the abstract, as it were.
What a tin star is worth (cf. Winner’s Lawman) in the face of circumstances.
A Western classic as they come, only in widescreen to get a fulsome expansive picture of it.
Various brands of boyishness, one of them is a lynch mob, the rest stand to profit by the experience with an old hand on the job.
Crowther was bemused (New York Times), Variety was appreciative, Time Out Film Guide found it “a little too overtly didactic”.
“Customary pleasures,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide.
God’s Little Acre
It’s reserved for the Holiness Church, the rest of the farm goes for digging gold that’s never there rather than planting cotton. The cotton mill shuts down, but the cotton broker lives high on his late wife’s money.
Perfectly done by Mann, registering every integer of the complicated functions in this equation, down to the wind in the trees.
Man of the West
The joke form of the structure is ably analyzed by Lumet in Running on Empty, for this is simply what it takes to establish a schoolmarm at Good Hope or Sawmill.
All the implications are worked out very rigorously, it is a matter of civilization among savages who are part of one’s past, throwbacks that never growed up, led by a sick bastard growed old.
Supermann, Godard calls the director.
Variety and the New York Times (Howard Thompson) published vaguely favorable reviews, subsequent praise has been even higher, Halliwell’s Film Guide dourly calls it “talkative, set-bound, cliché-ridden... with minor compensations.”
Mann’s charming accomplishment is an epic on the slender theme of the pioneer, which must be elicited from the great wash of history. The Land Rush is a treat for him, he’s beaten out for his long-hoped farm by a whore of his acquaintance, and therefore accepts the editorship of the Oklahoma Wigwam, lately transplanted from Texas.
His probity and round fellow-feeling do much to alleviate the miseries of the frontier, as far as that goes, yet he is a fine line in the wilderness, almost evanescent. Bigots, bullies and robber barons fall to his sword and pen, variously, he is offered the governorship but finds an oil baron behind the gift. The refusal provokes a final rift with his wife, he travels the Klondike and sends back a polar bear rug. Last seen in Europe, he dies in Flanders fields against the Kaiser as a BEF volunteer.
The wife is a tenderfoot Easterner who dislikes ruckus and roiling, she raises the Wigwam into a skyscraper business and is proposed for a statue to the pioneer spirit. The late hero is instead unveiled.
Mann charms the skies with two wagons setting out from civilization, vast skies in open country, Mr. & Mrs. Cravat. The rise ex nihilo of cities in the wilderness proceeds from the terrifically-paced Land Rush and constitutes a major theme set forth in the credit sequence, moreover. By contrast, amid so many dramatic events, the hero is practically nonexistent, though Glenn Ford gives a great account of him as the nineteenth-century man of the daguerreotype in certain close-ups (black tie, collar, cast of face), more broadly a Westerner at home in a maelstrom of disregard, tomfoolery and mayhem.
The general structure is an opposition of authoritarian insensibility in a Moorish fanatic or the court of Ferdinand, and the Christian knight.
Diaz serves God, the King, and Spain. This threefold allegiance provides the course of the film, his mercy, his insistence on royal justice, his inflexible might.
Every aspect of the film is understood in these lights, which makes it a wonder that no critic did.
The degrees and stations and statures of medieval punctilio are measured out importantly, and the ravings of a Goebbels or Goering.
The Cid improves his time and, persevering even unto death, bears witness to his truth in a way that recalls, or rather anticipates, Joan of Arc.
The Fall of the Roman Empire
In “the beginning of the fall”, the army of Marcus Aurelius is paid by private wealth for the throne.
It takes a third of the film and slightly more to establish the formal structure on northern forest and Rome (and eastern provinces). This is the decisive factor in the critics’ long incomprehension.
Gibbon, but also William L. Shirer (The Collapse of the Third Republic).
The Danube region outside the late Roman fortress in spring and snow sets the tone of natural precision before the great central argument of Rome exactly represented as nowhere else, the thing itself, and then the rock hills and deserts of Armenia.
The acting is derived from this scenography, if it must be so described, and the keynote of it is Stephen Boyd’s soldierly face, a portrait like Sophia Loren’s lady with doves (cf. Franju’s Les Yeux sans visage), Eric Porter’s senator, Alec Guinness’s Aurelius (and John Ireland also as the chieftain Ballomar), Mel Ferrer right out of an antique figure as blind Cleander, and the superb shading of James Mason’s Timonides with its classic grimace at the crisis.
Solid Anthony Mann all the way, proceeding from Reign of Terror (and The Great Flamarion) through every bit of his œuvre.
The Heroes of Telemark
The dramatic license of the telling is not widely appreciated among literary habitués of the cinema in its full significance, if their notes on this aspect of the film are to be credited. A terse and somewhat complicated expression is in force amid the snowy landscapes (The Fall of the Roman Empire) and, briefly, neoclassical university buildings, it pertains to Dr. Pedersen “the playboy scientist” divorced from Anna and philandering with his students, also to Sigrid and her husband Arne in the resistance.
It is not enough to get to home base, the heavy-water distillery, the Germans only set it up again. No, the baby that wins the war must be born and nurtured in a lengthy metaphor of commando operations in Norway. The V salute has its other side as well.
A Dandy in Aspic
A long-term mole in British Intelligence has the cover of a well-dressed “snob” and “sexless”.
Actually, he’s a KGB assassin with a number of hits to his credit, and he’s conducting an affair with his private secretary.
He longs for home (“don’t vee all,” says a colleague in London), mirrors don’t reflect his true image, he says, paraphrasing Cocteau.
He has an admirer, she’s a young photographer whose mother he has slighted.
He tries very hard to return home, East Berlin is on orders from Moscow not to admit him. London sends him to kill the assassin, who is himself.
Renata Adler went and saw the picture for the New York Times and, as always, saw little or nothing. Variety found it very dull, Halliwell certainly agreed.
Code phrase and answer, from Heine.
The world is dumb, the world is blind,
It daily grows more tasteless!