Wednesday, June 23, 2010

#19: Anthony Mann

- “The shock of glimpsing an entire life, an entire world, in a single little shot is much more important than the most brilliant dialogue.”

Anthony Mann & The Western Renaissance

I post the link to this wonderfully written article, titled “Anthony Mann & The Western Renaissance,” because writer Peter Wild raises a key point that factors into my own assessment of the career of Anthony Mann. Wild’s piece deals with the recent mini-renaissance of high-quality westerns that have been released – The Assassination of Jesse James, the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, The Proposition, Seraphim Falls – and argues that many key elements in these films are heavily influenced by Mann’s work in the genre five decades earlier. It is a very interesting read, and I encourage anyone interested to read through the whole thing, but there is one point in particular that I want to highlight. Wild brings up the fact that there isn’t a single Anthony Mann western that one would likely hold up as “the greatest western ever made.” John Ford has The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and My Darling Clementine. Howard Hawks has Rio Bravo and Red River. Clint Eastwood has Unforgiven. Sam Peckinpah has The Wild Bunch. All have, at one time or another, been listed as possible candidates as the best western of all time.

Despite making a number of outstanding westerns, Anthony Mann has no such signature film. His cycle of Jimmy Stewart westerns is universally praised. Man of the West, seen as one of Gary Cooper’s final great performances, is highly regarded by critics. Overlooked gems such as The Furies have been rediscovered and re-released in the past few years and are beginning to be appreciated. But even I, as a huge Anthony Mann fan, don’t know that I would put forth just one of these westerns as possibly the best ever made. Instead, as Wild points out in his article, the power of Mann’s westerns is apparent when considered in total. Individually, they might not reach the heights of the best Ford or Hawks western, but cumulatively they make up a body of work that places Mann as an equal of any other director to work in the genre. The same kind of argument could probably be extended to cover his work in film noir as well. In my opinion, none of his noirs are quite to that “greatest of all time” level, but when you look at how consistently outstanding his work is and consider a body of work that includes gems like T-Men, Raw Deal, Side Street, Border Incident, and even a noirish thriller like Reign of Terror, it becomes apparent that he really is one of the best.

Particularly with his westerns, I think the main reason why it is not easy to select just one or two of them as his best are that they are all of a consistently high quality. The five “psychological westerns” that Mann made with James Stewart are all great films. But which one is the best? Ask five different movie fans and you could get five different answers. Then you have to consider accomplishments like Man of the West, The Furies, and even Devil’s Doorway which is an overlooked gem. Such consistency makes it hard to pinpoint exactly which of Mann’s westerns deserve to be championed as worthy of the lofty labels mentioned earlier.

And this is without even mentioning the final stage of Mann’s career, that of the epic adventure. I have only seen El Cid from this stage, but I absolutely love it, as I do Mann’s entire output. He was a workingman’s director, who gradually moved his way up through Hollywood and pieced together a wonderful career. There is not a bad film listed below.

1. The Man from Laramie (1955)
2. Bend of the River (1953)
3. T-Men (1947)
4. El Cid (1961)
5. Winchester ‘73 (1950)
6. The Furies (1950)
7. Man of the West (1958)
8. The Naked Spur (1953)
9. Raw Deal (1948)
10. Reign of Terror (1949)
11. Devil’s Doorway (1950)
12. The Tall Target (1951)
13. The Far Country (1954)
14. Side Street (1950)
15. The Tin Star (1957)
16. Men in War (1957)
17. He Walked by Night (officially credited to Alfred L. Werker) (1948)
18. Border Incident (1949)
19. Strategic Air Command (1955)

Reactions to the next entry ought to be interesting and all over the map. Up next is the always controversial Brian De Palma.

And just as a general note, I decided that we're going to the "blind countdown" mode at the midway point, so 15 and in. That's the perk of running things, I can switch it up slightly at my own whim! Revealing each director in advance only gives one off day to prepare any kind of list. But with two days allotted for each posting, the blind reveal still allows a second day for comments and lists. So, to heighten drama for the second half, I think it will work well.


  1. Dave, maybe Mann doesn't break into the absolute top rank of westerns because his belong to the "psychological" subset or, alternately speaking, they're only superficially westerns but are really about more timeless or cosmopolitan issues. His westerns aren't really statements about "the West" as such of the kind that Ford, Peckinpah, Leone and others made, but they are still (mostly) great films that infused the genre with fresh air and the sensibility he developed in his noir years.

    1. El Cid
    2. The Naked Spur
    3. Winchester 73
    4. The Man From Laramie
    5. Side Street
    6. Border Incident
    7. Man of the West
    8. The Furies
    9. The Far Country
    10. Devil's Doorway
    11. He Walked By Night (if you say so!)
    12. T-Men
    13. The Great Flammarion
    14. The Fall of the Roman Empire
    15. Reign of Terror
    16. God's Little Acre

    I've inexcusably failed to see Bend of the River and The Tin Star among the westerns,but I have just picked up a copy of The Last Frontier, so expect to read more about that one soon.

  2. Your point about Mann not having one singular Western but rather his work having to be taken as a totality reminds me of Budd Boetticher, a director for whom that may be even more true (though I'm partial to Ride Lonesome).

  3. Samuel - Good points all around and your probably right as to why he isn't always thought of in the same vein as Ford and the others. But I still think his overall body of work in westerns, and in general, is as strong as anyone else, so it's an interesting phenomenon. As for Bend of the River, as you can tell, I love it. I definitely will be interested to hear your thoughts on that one. The Tin Star is also good, though not quite up to his very best.

    MovieMan - Very good point on Boetticher and I agree... also agree that Ride Lonesome is the best from Budd.

  4. I've seen 10 Anthony Mann films......

    1. Winchester 73
    2. The Furies
    3. Raw Deal
    4. The Tin Star
    5. He Walked By Night
    6. The Man From Laramie
    7. Man Of The West
    8. T-Men
    9. Border Incident
    10. Side Street

    I need to see more of his westerns as there are obvious gaps. I will say that I seem to prefer his BW films in this genre over the more celebrated color ones that I have seen. I don't know if this will continue to hold true since I still need to watch Bend Of The River, The Far Country, etc.....M.Roca

  5. Yes, Mann is a director who worked in cycles, elaborating on his key themes across all his films rather than crafting a single definitive statement. I agree that it doesn't make him a lesser director, but it does explain why he isn't thought of on the same rung as Ford et al.

    I agree about your #1 pick, Dave, and if there's any one film I'd hold forward as Mann's best and definitive masterpiece, it'd be that one. I'm also glad to see Men In War on your list, since so few people have even seen it, but I'd rank it much higher myself. Such a great, bluntly powerful war film.

    1. The Man From Laramie
    2. The Naked Spur
    3. Man of the West
    4. The Bend of the River
    5. Men In War
    6. Winchester '73
    7. Side Street
    8. The Furies
    9. The Tin Star
    10. Raw Deal
    11. T-Men
    12. The Far Country
    13. The Last Frontier

  6. Dave:

    1. Winchester '73 (1950)
    2. Reign of Terror (1949)
    3. T-Men (1947)
    4. Raw Deal (1948)
    5. The Man from Laramie (1955)
    6. The Furies (1950)
    7. Side Street (1950)
    8. The Naked Spur (1953)
    9. Desperate (1947)
    10. The Tall Target (1951)

    Thank you for your enlightening summary. Often we know the information which is stated, but hearing a view from a different angle, summarized succinctly, is rewarding. I like Anthony Mann.

    I chose just four of the westerns to keep my list to ten. Winchester 73: I have little to add about Stewart turning the corner. The bar scene with Dan Duryea might be the Jekyll and Hyde moment of Stewart’s career. Laramie has Stewart benefiting from Arthur Kennedy. I like The Furies. Will close out the westerns with Naked Spur. I watch it every time it appears – a superb cast, but for an outdoor film it feels cramped to me. I suspect there is a dissertation somewhere explaining all that.

    Oh, to see Reign of Terror (Black Book) just one more time, a fresh print in a dark theatre. It glistened when first seen in my teens in a shadowy Bronx movie house. Stunning black and white. (I did not know about John Alton then.) Richard Basehart as Robespierre and the creepy Arnold Moss stay in mind. I was probably equally taken with it because of the Napoleon punch line. That is the sort of closing scene you told your boyhood friends about. Alas, when seen today in current manifestations, Reign of Terror is invariably faded. I will retry Netflix.

    The Film Noir contingent (I am one) rightly treasure T-Men -- and Raw Deal has Claire Trevor. And there is something about Desperate that enthralls, with a little guy in trouble and on the run being played by little guy actor (so to speak) Steve Brodie. Side Street works “in spite of Farley Granger.” (I wonder how many films to which we might apply that phrase?) But it is one of those New York movies that we natives love to watch.

    I bypassed the other genres. I am a Cain fan and regret what happened to Serenade but it was likely the script, the Code and Lanza that killed that. I watch Roman Empire when it plays on television and enjoy it, but watching Rome fall in your living room lacks punch. Mea culpa on my never having seen El Cid. We all have sinned in some similar instance I am afraid. Thank you again.


  7. Well, as it is here I have to agree with Dave (and Ed) that THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (a decision I came to only recently) is Mann's masterpiece, though like Samuel Wilson I have loved EL CID since I was around 12. Obviously Mann is a major figue, and this time I am toasting a "Mann" and not lamenting his inclusion on such a prestige list. Mann's chief legacy for many are the five "psychological westerns" that set him apart from his genre peers. I'll go with a Top 15 with Mann:

    1 The Man From Laramie
    2 El Cid
    3 The Naked Spur
    4 Man of the West
    5 T Men
    6 Winchester 73
    7 The Furies
    8 God's Little Acre
    10 The Fall of the Roman Empire
    11 The Tin Star
    12 Border Incident
    13 The Bend of the River
    14 The Far Country
    15 Raw Deal

  8. I love that quote you used. If I remember correctly it's from an interview in Cahiers du Cinema; the interviewer was trying to connect Mann's film to Hawks, and Mann disagreed, hoping his work had more in common with Ford.

    I'm not sure I buy Wild's argument there. On some days I could very easily rank Man Of The West or The Naked Spur as the greatest western, just as easily as I would The Searchers or The Wild Bunch. As Samuel points out, Mann's westerns were more elemental than most, more concerned with a personal existence than the historical west, yet Hawks wasn't any more interested in the west in Rio Bravo. Wild's argument seems predicated upon some faulty preconceptions of what makes a movie great. I might add that while The Proposition and The Assassination Of Jesse James and Seraphim Falls were all definitely influenced by Mann, none were influenced by him enough. They all had flab you would never find in the best work of Mann.

    So far as Mann's masterpiece goes, I'd be more comfortable going with Man Of The West or Men In War than The Man From Laramie. While Man Of The West is a personal favorite, and contains some of the most incredible cinemascope compositions I've ever seen, Men In War may be the purest distillation of Mann's preoccupation with man's relationship with the landscape, and its presence as a terrifying metaphysical force. It's certainly his most elemental.

    My ten favorite:

    Man Of The West
    Men In War
    The Naked Spur
    Bend Of The River
    The Man From Laramie
    Raw Deal
    Winchester '73
    Border Incident
    Side Street
    The Furies

  9. Mann gave James Stewart three dimensional characters to portray who were sometimes as bad as the bad guys he was after or fought against. Up to that point in his career he was pretty much type cast.

    The list represents all the Mann films I have seen.

    The Naked Spur
    The Man from Laramie
    Man of the West
    Side Street
    Winchester ‘73
    Bend of the River
    Raw Deal
    The Furies
    He Walked By Night
    The Tall Target
    Border Incident
    The Tin Star
    God’s Little Acre
    Strange Impersonation

  10. First, I've only had the chance to see six of Mann's films, five of them westerns, but all of these are 4-star and above movies for me. The level of consistency with Mann was amazing.

    However, it's MAN OF THE WEST that stands out as his true masterpiece - it's the culmination of all he did with Stewart, but for as great as Jimmy is in all of those films, Gary Cooper defines both a Mann protagonist and a Western icon, creating in Link Jones the most nuanced of all his lead characters. It's one of my favorite films.

    1. Man of the West
    2. Bend of the River
    3. The Man From Laramie
    4. Winchester '73
    5. The Naked Spur
    6. Raw Deal

  11. ANTHONY MANN FANS REJOICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Those who live in or around the NYC area are in for a stupendous treat over the next two weeks (beginning on Friday, June 25th and running through July 15 at the Film Forum.)

    Virtually every significant Mann film on Dave's and everyone else's lists will be shown, and most as double features. On July 2nd and July 3rd one can be treated to a double feature of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE and THE MAN OF THE WEST.

    Ya hear that Troy? Are you gonna be flying in? Ha!

    Here is is folks. It's as if Dave had this all planned!

    It's interesting that THE LAST FRONTIER is considered one of Mann's best films according to Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Rosenbaum. It's one I haven't seen, and apparently only Ed has seen it or considered it.

  12. M.Roca - It's hard not to love his black and white films as a whole, not just in westerns, as his collaboration with DP John Alton during the noir phase remains one of the great director-cinematographer pairings of all time. Those two were magical together. Definitely check out his other westerns, though, as they are all of a high quality.

    Ed - I very nearly put Bend of the River at #1, which would have been an even more surprising pick, but watching The Man From Laramie again before finalizing my list made it inevitable. Honestly, though, I could have put any of my Top 5 at #1 and been satisfied.

    Gerald - I can only imagine how great it would be to watch a high-quality print of Reign of Terror on the big screen... hopefully for Sam and others that can attend that Film Forum even that he posted below, they will get the chance to do just that. I applaud your selections and it just reinforces the point that Mann made so many outstanding films that the ordering possibilities are endless. Even looking at my own list, I have Reign of Terror at #10 and Devil's Doorway at #11, which is crazy to think, but his work is so consistently good.

    Sam - A third vote for Laramie at #1... not really surprised by this, but probably wouldn't have predicted it. I too love El Cid and it has a wonderful DVD release that I picked up at a used CD place not too long ago. It is a glorious historical epic.

    Doniphon - Yes, I don't necessarily buy everything that Wild writes, but agree with the general sentiment that begins the article. I definitely think that the strength of Mann's work, particularly his westerns, is better appreciated when taken as a whole rather than singling out individual films. But, as you note, he does have a few that stand out - the thing with him is, that as the lists attest to, Mann fans find differing favorites in his body of work. As for flab in The Assassination of Jesse James, I suppose I can see the complaint, even if I completely disagree... as in a Malick film, it's flab that I am glad was included. But we've disagreed on this one before and that is an argument for another day. Your list is also outstanding, even if I like Men in War a bit less than you. As for the quote at the beginning of the post, yes it is from Cahiers du Cinema, in an interview done by Charles Bitsch and Claude Chabrol in 1957.

    John - I agree, the work with Mann and Stewart is like its own unique phase or period in Stewart's career... definitely something that stands apart from things like the comedy work, Hitchcock run, etc.

    Troy - Yes, the consistency really is most astounding. Although critically-speaking I would assume that Man of the West would be the most likely selection, the diversity in the various lists here shows that there are a number of viable choices to top a Mann ranking. I can't really dispute your placing it at #1... once again, just slight differences in preference.

    Sam - Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, if I could only make it to New York ASAP! LOL

  13. It's interesting that THE LAST FRONTIER is considered one of Mann's best films according to Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Rosenbaum. It's one I haven't seen, and apparently only Ed has seen it or considered it.

    Yeah, and it's been a while since I've seen it, but I wasn't too impressed — I remember especially thinking the central performance, by Victor Mature, was really grating, and a very sad contrast against Stewart's work with Mann.

  14. As to that Film Forum event -- I've never wished to live in New York City simply because I love living in the NW. However, when it comes to movies, Sam, you truly are where the action is. Now who do I talk to around here to get something like this in Portland...

  15. Anthony Mann's MEN IN WAR with Robert Ryan is on TCM tonight at 8PM EST!

  16. Regarding Last Frontier, I have only vague memories of it from when I was a kid, and I'd bet that the cast is the main reason for its critical neglect. On the other hand, I note the absence of two Stewart films from all our lists: THUNDER BAY (1953) and THE GLENN MILLER STORY (1954). Miller simply bores me, but I can't recall seeing Thunder Bay, except for the very end once when I was tuning in to another movie. So is there a consensus that Thunder Bay is bad, or is it more of a mystery film like Last Frontier?

  17. I have actually read that THUNDER BAY is pretty good - I know that at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They it is in the "Highly Recommended" category, which is their highest classification. I just have yet to get hold of a copy or have a chance to see it yet... I really want to, and perhaps now having all-region capabilities I can get myself a copy.

  18. No need to be region-free to see Thunder Bay. That one and Glenn Miller are both in the super-cheap James Stewart Screen Legend Collection in the US.

    Which, incidentally, I've had for years and never gotten around to watching either film yet. Ah, DVD backlogs. I've heard Thunder Bay is pretty good though.

  19. Ed - I obviously don't have that box set and never realized it was included! I knew that Glenn Millers was relatively easy to catch, but need to remedy not having Thunder Bay.

  20. THUNDER BAY and BEND OF THE RIVER are being shown at the festival on July 4th and 5th. (Sunday and Monday) I will be there one of those days for sure, and have THE NAKED SPUR, WINCHESTER 73, RAW DEAL and T MEN all lined up for the upcoming weekend with double features for Friday and Sunday. I agree with Samuel Wilson on THE GLEN MILLER STORY, and will probably take a pass at seeing it.

    Ed, I should have realized that your naming of FRONTIER at 13 of 13 should have been obvious to me! Ha! Yet, I'll give it a go, and see how it comes off on the big screen. It seems that Allan is urging ROMAN EMPIRE and EL CID as epics on the big screen seem the most important. But I'm not sure if I completely agree, especially since I did see the latter in this fashion years back.

  21. Troy, Portland runs circles around this area in many other important ways!!! Ha!! You are blessed to live there.

  22. If nothing else, Portland's supposed to have an amazing music scene. Go see Rollerball if they still play around there a lot, Troy!

  23. Winchester 73 is the best movie of this guy so far!

  24. My best film's list in that order:

    1- Man of the west
    2- Bend of the river
    3- The far country
    4- Winchester 73
    5- The naked spur
    7- Thunder bay
    6- The man from Laramie (I've never understood why people like this movie;by far the worst Mann/Stewart)
    7- The glenn miller story