The foundation of Mann’s film style is laid in the simple decision that follows on the signing of a contract, he leaves the television studio to film on location. The Piletti house is a novel in itself, precisely the method of Jane Eyre.
Chayefsky maneuvers his scenes into a two-shot of Mrs. Piletti and her sister that just gives the newspaper story in Joyce’s Ulysses, it dissolves to Marty and Clara descending the stairs of the Stardust Ballroom.
Marty’s life is an endless shower, he steps into the breach and becomes a taxicab (Malle borrows this for Atlantic City) in a scene repeated under the end credits, no longer waiting for a bus in the middle of the night.
Desire Under the Elms
O’Neill’s As You Like It, Shakespearean drama for the American masses, with a Paradise Lost finish.
Mann’s treatment has the Homeric laughter and the Irish humor, and at intervals the O’Neill incense of psychological savvy rising to that “sky like a warm meadow”, in scenic exteriors like Grant Wood and stage-sets like Broadway.
Kazan’s famous instructions to Malden in rehearsals for Golden Boy might well be the basis, passengers on a bus...
The hoopla is understood from Hail the Conquering Hero (dir. Preston Sturges) as war stuff, enemy action, inimical. Even the noble D.I. makes ducks.
This is perfectly understood in Catch-22 (dir. Mike Nichols). Jean-Pierre Melville never got over seeing the police of his country used against him by the occupiers.
The technique unifies the field as far as possible in transitions to achieve a continuous set of images for its own sake and cumulatively, this makes for some of the critical difficulty at the New York Times, for example, where some obscurity was accounted for as ineptitude, “marred by unnecessary, sketchy and artificial implications.”
The Catholic News Service Media Review Office notes a line toward Five Easy Pieces (dir. Bob Rafelson), “wants to be accepted in both... finds he fits in neither.”
Hayes’ poetic letters home bear out the literary strain toward Nichols. Neil Simon was forced to barnstorm for his autobiography by an incredibly nervous publisher, no Suribachis on the hustings.
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “becomes a war hero but cannot reconcile himself to living in a white society... earnest and mildly interesting but not cinematically compulsive.”
Jim Thorpe is mentioned, the tribal council election evokes the hero’s last wish in The Babe Ruth Story (dir. Roy Del Ruth).
Lover Come Back
The dream comedy about Madison Ave., where an ad man at a pinch promotes a nonexistent product, then is obliged to come up with it. Mann treats this blistering material as light comedy, and has a band of players capable of rendering it justice on these terms (Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Edie Adams, Jack Oakie, the supporting cast includes Jack Albertson, Ann B. Davis, Jack Kruschen, Joe E. Flynn, Richard Deacon and Ted Bessell as the elevator boy).
Two remarkable scenes, Hudson has the idea in his mistress’s apartment, and when she asks him what it is, he floats enticing adjectives while literally inspecting the room for a clue. Randall, a neurotic heir to the agency, is sitting on the lap of Dr. Kruschen, who has invented the product (a superalcoholized cookie). “That’s some cookie you’ve got there, Doctor,” he says, causing this writer to fall on the floor for the first time in his experience (the other time happens later in this picture).
The screenplay (by Stanley Shapiro and the great Paul Henning) drives its point home with a rival exec (Day) who is too sensible to fall for these shenanigans and too naive to comprehend them. It just tips over like a barrel full of ad men.
A prophetic film for an age when the Internet is advertised as more significant than Gutenberg and even “the invention of language itself,” and “It” monopolized national discussion for a day as “more significant than the Internet.” If Lover Come Back and Executive Suite were in the curriculum at Harvard, the global economy would be a better place.
That Touch of Mink
The tycoon and the unemployed computer operator, or the man who has everything but her.
Their triple wooing is the structural element that critics missed, for or against, and all the gags are part of the construction.
She has an unmarried roommate with advice on dealing with men, he has a Princeton academic on his staff.
She nearly misses the plane to Bermuda, Paris and the Greek isles, it ends in Asbury Park, N.J.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was effusive, “a lively, lilting script... glittering verbal wit... briskly propulsive pace... pinpoint precision in timing sight-gags... bright new comic style... an unremitting joke.”
Variety, perhaps equally in the dark, found it “essentially threadbare... commonplace.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide has it a “jaded sex comedy”.
WGA award for the screenplay.
A Gathering of Eagles
Factors pertaining to operational readiness in the Strategic Air Command, with relation to Anthony Mann’s film.
Overall stress and strain are countered by attention to the purpose of the command, snafus and bottlenecks are reduced by delegation of authority, laxity is addressed by personal initiative, the strain on wives by their recognition of the duty involved, an especially rigorous and demanding one, thus “maximum effort” becomes “positive control”.
Bosley Crowther entirely missed the point in his New York Times review, Variety did somewhat better, Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Guide) missed the development of thought from Henry King’s Twelve O’Clock High, which is also Halliwell’s mistake.
A New York park, Manhattan, a train schedule that suggests Duke Ellington, a phone number, a ring, two capsules, the Plaza Hotel.
“So how are you lost if you’re at the Plaza?”
Sam she calls him, the amnesiac, the rest comes in on a wing and a beer (the joke is assuredly from René Clément’s Le Chateau de Verre), the lady’s name is Gloria (dir. John Cassavetes, later Sidney Lumet).
Cp. Midnight Cowboy (dir. John Schlesinger), to be sure. And what is a hack, anyway? Follow that cab, there’s Grace inside it, at Washington Square College one is turned away (cf. Wyler’s The Heiress).
The Surrealist Mystery of New York, says Dali.
“Are you Jewish? If you’re Jewish you’ve been there,” which is the fine note of Kafka on a film that owes more to Cocteau and silent comedy than anything else except Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, which is of course Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and that brings you to Dmytryk’s nonpareil Mirage, which must be gone one better, so to speak.
The location filming is vital and cumulative, that park is Central, etc.
“Wow. Where did that come from?”
“You got smart with Jupiter Pluvius.”
“And you a student of Mythology.”
“Ick. I’m soaked to the skin.”
“What is it?”
“Bach. St. John Passion.” Screenplay Dale Wasserman, novel Evan Hunter.
An epiphany in a blind alley, following on an impromptu demonstration (cf. Medak’s The Ruling Class and Lumet’s Network), just a headache (take those capsules). Grace, an auditioning actress, “my whole instrument was blocked.” Plight of the modern composer, “the A&R man... in the record business he’s God, that’s who.” Buñuel emulates the double casting in Cet Obscur Objet du Désir.
The sense of an anagram of Kershner’s A Fine Madness. Triple casting, opposite the man who thinks there’s someplace he has to be. “A hundred thousand dollars, a black Cadillac, a beautiful blonde on your arm, your name in the papers, and three lackeys to tell you how great you are,” there’s identity for you, “what are you,” echoing Welles’ Mr. Bernstein, “a printer or an editor?”
“Man, when you’re born black, you never know the smell o’ cool till it comes sailin’ down Broadway, sweet ‘n’ cool in ya nose,” cf. Castle’s Texas, Brooklyn & Heaven. A crap game in Harlem with Einstein’s dice, cf. Reisz’ The Gambler.
A.H. Weiler of the New York Times, a bag of wind to put it mildly, did not think it very “interesting or real.” TV Guide, “not blended well enough to keep the entire story going.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “rather muddled”.
Searchers for a Special City
New York, to film Mister Buddwing. The argument for location shooting, Pleshette. Ellsworth Fredericks devising angles with the director. Problems, the producer’s department, Garner.
Mann’s superb satire of the various ways Mother Church is understood or not in her minions and charitable activities took into account every aspect of the situation but one, namely that critics had not one sweet notion in the wide world of anything like that concerning itself with an ostensibly wealthy old woman (Edith Evans) on Riverside Drive kept blissfully ignorant of her servants’ larcenous doings on her behalf.
She makes her fortune, finally, by publishing a dictionary of misspellings that incidentally conveys a biography of her late father.
Heidi leaves the mountains and her grandfather to live with her uncle in Frankfurt. Klara, the daughter, is cheered up by the ingénue, the mother is dead in an accident that left Klara’s legs useless.
Heidi is allowed to return to her grandfather, it’s a holiday. Klara is sent to the mountains, too. The doctors think it’s psychosomatic, a punishment for her father.
The grandfather knows all about depths of courage and fortitude that come into play when called upon. Klara leaves her wheelchair on the verdant mountainside, crawls and walks.
The curmudgeonly old savage, as he is thought of by the villagers below, returns by the same token to his profession, church organist.
The interiors in Frankfurt are as fine as Mann’s Jane Eyre without the revealed complexity, his location shooting briefly evokes that film in a difficult shot on the steep slopes.
Delbert Mann has one great lesson to teach all television directors, camera placement is what makes pictures, and pictures are what television is all about. You may move your camera along lines of perspective obtained from Boys Town (rectilinear there, but here on elongated diagonals), and find surprising images without any effort (an easy quotation from Giulietta degli Spiriti, for example). No amount of set decoration or acting can take the place of the created image, which defines the placement of objects and the status of performers.
Mann’s power to create pictures is hair-raising, when Jane Eyre first emerges from her room at Thornfield, the mere camera angle creates a sense of bizarrerie. He cuts to the little girl at the river and whip-pans back to her and Jane on the hill below the manor above them, so that in a few seconds an extraordinary abridgment of elaboration builds up fleeting, monumental images without ponderousness. His close-ups, the mainstay of TV work, are portraits.
When you are able to impart Charlotte Brontë’s observation of social manners with a look or a gesture, merely by placing your camera just so, it can’t be a question of fiduciary constraints (“it costs more to make a bad picture,” John Huston said, “but we can make ‘em that way”). When you think how much the BBC spent on Vermeer sets for its Shakespeares.
The most convincing and lifelike representation of nineteenth-century life. Each shot is more thrilling than the last, a gallery of vivid images that can go from formality to intimacy in a trice by camera movement, and back again.
While Delbert Mann is quietly generating his masterpiece with a sensible gravity of motion, the composer whose work is put to the test as Jane plays it “a little” at the piano is John Williams.
The candlelight scene on the landing can be put against any, including Barry Lyndon’s. The first meeting of Rochester and Jane is better filmed than in the 1944 version. A film that is quintessentially English, the camera imbibes its locations and transmutes them into their sources and origins, as it were, which is to say the cinematography is excellent.
There is a crucial scene where the rather æsthetic Romanticism of Rochester confronts the rationality of Jane, and Mann places it among flowers and twittering birds in a long shot that zooms to a two-shot, very nervously, and then to a close-up of Jane. It is the only use of the zoom in the first Thornfield sequence (it reappears as an echo at the parsonage, along with a characteristic over-the-shoulder two-shot that spills over into the final scene), it is repeated, it is artistically apt. Is it necessary to point out that the mad scene is as simple as Hogarth, with a hint of Munch (which prepares the Ibsenesque parting that follows)?
The clear advantage of television which Mann perceives is the tight fit of the image, so that a very precisely weighed calculation of content and picture can be found to occupy a different sense of expectations and fill a different sense of time. Television is easily brought to the surface, the trick is to allow it depth in a rhythm suitable to it. It is simply possible to cover more ground faster with television, or the same ground more fully, if you capitalize on its intimacy and avail yourself of its resources.
The clearest evidence of the fortitude of Mann’s technique is in Jane’s declaration to the parson, which is made against a hilly background of verticals and horizontals that is a formulation one may derive from Whitman and Mondrian to fit such circumstances. But, of course, love is blind.
The Last Days of Patton
A very great film that is a monument to the general, who died in Germany under the rather sad, rather silly circumstances of a traffic accident. “Crazy,” says Hap.
He is forced down as military governor of Bavaria and transferred from Third Army for rejecting Gen. Eisenhower’s strict denazification policy. His view is of the coming winter (and the Soviet threat in five years’ time).
Fifteenth Army is on paper, a literary and archival unit. At a surprise birthday party, he sings with piano accompaniment.
It’s Lily from Piccadilly,
She is the blackout queen.
Lily from Piccadilly,
Ugliest girl I’ve seen.
With searchlights moving overhead
Till Messerschmidts are gone,
Don’t take her gas mask off, she looks
Much better with it on,
Lily from Piccadilly,
She is the blackout queen!
Immobilized in a military hospital, the evocation of Stroheim in Grand Illusion is very powerful and sums up the matter.
Gen. MacArthur (“I’d love to go and fight the Japanese,” says Patton) is held to be wary of a rival, his case offers a certain parallel.
The biographical source is Schaffner’s, The Belle of Amherst is a work by the same author.
John Hough’s Brass Target is a fictional analysis.
John Ford’s name is attached to a consideration of Howard Fast’s novel that was never filmed by him. Instead, we have Delbert Mann proceeding in a manner that is an extreme understanding of one way in which Ford directs, which is seemingly not to direct at all.
Mann avails himself of only one shot that hits the mark. The meeting house at Lexington is shown longitudinally divided between the seated townsmen and the raised dais with its protruding rostrum. The green at Lexington is secondarily treated with authenticity in varying light, also the wall-lined road and surrounding forests.
He does not direct the actors at all, because he wants a fluctuating anachronism and a sense of helplessness to bring his script points into play of themselves, and these are Moses Cooper’s explanation of how to load a musket, Solomon Chandler’s advice from Sgt. Saunders, “keep moving, keep firing,” and Adam Cooper’s remembrance of his father’s words, “don’t ask the Lord to take sides. Bear your grief and trust to reason.”
Against Her Will
An Incident in Baltimore
The case of a mental patient voluntarily committed for depression but untreated and brutalized is effectively mirrored in the plight of her lawyer and his widowed daughter-in-law and his granddaughter.
The formal pirouette is easily handled by Mann as something in the nature of a tour de force remarkably. The binding partnership with a retired Federal judge keeps the lawyer from active cases, he’s new to Maryland where English common law prevails. Sovereign immunity protects the hospital, a case of Becket v. Henry II dispels it.
The late son died in the war. The patient is a widow, originally from Greece. The daughter-in-law desires to remarry (1947) and is banished from the house paid for by the judge, who essentially acts as a negotiator for businesses in government cases.
The granddaughter is deprived of her grandfather by the move. All of this begins outside a tavern where the lawyer has just told the joke about a man with a parrot on his head.