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The Crime Films of Anthony Mann

The Crime Films of Anthony Mann

Max Alvarez
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Crime Films of Anthony Mann
    Book Description:

    Anthony Mann (1906-1967) is renowned for his outstanding 1950s westerns starring James Stewart (Winchester '73, The Naked Spur, The Man from Laramie). But there is more to Mann's cinematic universe than those tough Wild West action dramas featuring conflicted and secretive heroes. This brilliant Hollywood craftsman also directed fourteen electrifying crime thrillers between 1942 and 1951, among them such towering achievements in film noir as T-Men, Raw Deal, and Side Street. Mann was as much at home filming dark urban alleys in black-and-white as he was the prairies and mountains in Technicolor, and his protagonists were no less conflicted and secretive than his 1950s cowboys.

    In these Mann crime thrillers we find powerful stories of sexual obsession (The Great Flamarion), the transforming images of women in wartime and postwar America (Strangers in the Night, Strange Impersonation), exploitation of Mexican immigrants (Border Incident), studies of the criminal mind (He Walked by Night), and Civil War bigotry (The Tall Target). Mann's forceful camera captured such memorable and diverse stars as Erich von Stroheim, Farley Granger, Dennis O'Keefe, Claire Trevor, Richard Basehart, Ricardo Montalbán, Ruby Dee, and Raymond Burr.

    The Crime Films of Anthony Mann features analysis of rare documents, screenplays, story treatments, and studio memoranda and reveals detailed behind-the-scenes information on preproduction and production on the Mann thrillers. Author Max Alvarez uses rare and newly available sources to explore the creation of these noir masterworks. Along the way, the book exposes secrets and solves mysteries surrounding the mercurial director and his remarkable career, which also included Broadway and early live television.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-005-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
    (pp. 3-8)

    In the world of cinema history studies, Anthony Mann is an enigma: a celebrated twentieth century Hollywood filmmaker whose life and career is shrouded in haziness and mystery. Compounding this is the fact that what little has been written about Mann in his native country is erroneous and apocryphal. While never reluctant to talk about his work when journalists interviewed him on infrequent occasions, Mann did not leave behind a detailed account of his private and professional existence. Some have used his erratically documented background as an excuse not to investigate further or, even worse, to consult well-worn and dubious...

    (pp. 9-18)

    Anton Bundsmann was a show business professional long before “Anthony Mann” ever existed. Bundsmann was Mann’s stage name prior to 1941 and the name he continued to live by after unofficially changing it. He was not a teenage immigrant eager to Americanize himself but a thirty-five-year-old San Diego native with impressive entertainment credentials. At the time Paramount Pictures hired him in 1941, Bundsmann had acted on Broadway and directed stage plays with film stars of the past, present, and future. He had served as talent scout and screen test director for Hollywood producer David O. Selznick and directed live television...

    (pp. 19-33)

    With the Depression ravaging the United States economy in 1933 and Anton Bundsmann the actor having retired from public view, Bundsmann the director appeared on the New York scene. The play Thunder on the Left was not a political tome but “a fantasy in three acts” by Jean Ferguson Black, based on the 1925 Christopher Morley novel. This production opened at Maxine Elliott’s Theatre on October 31, 1933, and ran for thirty-one performances. The play was about a ten-year-old boy experiencing the world in an adult body.¹

    Thunder on the Left received mixed newspaper reviews, but Morley praised the playwright,...

  6. CHAPTER 3 DR. BROADWAY (1942)
    (pp. 35-43)

    Although not a film noir, Dr. Broadway does take place over a twenty-four-hour period and mostly at night. The comic thriller features dark rooms, shadowed back alleys, and a supporting cast suitable for a police lineup in any 1940s crime picture. Reminiscent of the writings of Damon Runyon, Anthony Mann’s first film is populated with big city working-class (and underclass) eccentrics fighting and sometimes beating the odds through a collective spirit. The most diverting of the Mann crime pictures, Dr. Broadway provides a pleasant counterbalance between humorous antics and an atmosphere of intrigue.

    The film was the second to star...

    (pp. 45-50)

    The gothic melodrama Strangers in the Night is the strangest and shortest Anthony Mann picture. The film’s running time of fifty-six minutes barely qualifies the project for “B” classification. William Terry stars as a wounded U.S. marine searching for a woman named Rosemary with whom he had corresponded while serving in the South Pacific. After military discharge, he travels to California to meet Hilda (Helene Thimig), Rosemary’s elderly mother, who assures him that her absent daughter will be returning soon to meet him. As the days pass, the veteran suspects that something is amiss and that Hilda and her repressed...

    (pp. 51-59)

    “I am somebody—but who? I am accused of murder, but I have lost my memory. My innocence depends upon who I am. If you know—help me!”¹

    Thus stated the publicity tack card for theater owners promoting Anthony Mann’s Two O’Clock Courage in 1945. Tom Conway appears on the card pressing a handkerchief to the side of his head, an image taken from the opening scene. The Conway character has a Kafkaesque name, “The Man,” for most of the narrative because he is an amnesiac. At the start of the film, the screen is completely black following the credits...

    (pp. 60-69)

    The theme of a calculating female destroying a gullible male is a mainstay in motion pictures and popular fiction, in religious legends and Italian operas. In the early twentieth century, the morality films of the 1910s and 1920s frequently exploited this subject, most poetically in F. W. Murnau’s 1927 expressionist drama, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and in silent melodramas featuring female flappers (the “vamps” inspired by the 1897 Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Vampire”) targeting weak men for destruction. Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (Germany, 1930) and Jean Renoir’s La Chienne (France, 1931) both addressed the subject at...

    (pp. 70-75)

    Anthony Mann’s final Republic Pictures film, Strange Impersonation, was smaller in scale and budget than The Great Flamarion and must have felt to the director like a professional regression. Irrespective of his reservations and despite its unsatisfying conclusion, the picture is an ingenious and frenzied little thriller, an appropriate culmination of the director’s association with the bizarre independent studio of Herbert J. Yates.

    Consider the first thirty-eight minutes of the movie. As chemist Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) experiments on a new type of anesthesia, her jealous assistant Arline betrays her. Arline has designs on Nora’s fiancé Stephen (William Gargan) and...

  11. CHAPTER 8 DESPERATE (1947)
    (pp. 76-88)

    In the couple-on-the-run film narrative formula, a man and woman are in perpetual escape from either sinister forces and/or misunderstanding law-men. Living as fugitives, they are forced into transient existences, unable to put down roots, fearful of betrayal and exposure. Over the decades, Hollywood directors specializing in crime and suspense thrillers have displayed a fondness for this premise. Alfred Hitchcock popularized it in The 39 Steps (1935) and, to a lesser degree, Saboteur (1942). Fritz Lang visualized it in his pre-film noir You Only Live Once (1937), and Nicholas Ray and Joseph H. Lewis both used it powerfully in their...

  12. CHAPTER 9 RAILROADED! (1947)
    (pp. 89-100)

    On December 9, 1932, two robbers shot and killed Chicago police officer William Lundy during the robbery of a delicatessen. The woman who owned the establishment, the sole witness to the killing, identified two men in a police lineup as the criminals, one of whom was twenty-four-year-old Joseph Majczek. Both men received opprobrious prison sentences in 1933, but it was not until October 1944 that an enterprising reporter at the Chicago Times initiated a campaign to clear Majczek after suspecting something amiss in the case. Investigations uncovered corruption ranging from police intimidation of the alleged witness to political “war on...

  13. CHAPTER 10 T-MEN (1947)
    (pp. 101-116)

    Anthony Mann is speaking of his 1947 crime thriller T-Men, a film of many firsts. T-Men is Mann’s first breakthrough commercial success, his first collaboration with cinematographer John Alton, his first use of extensive location photography, his first motion picture to garner sufficient critical acclaim (including a pictorial in Life magazine), and his first to open commercially in France. It even received an Academy Award nomination (Best Sound, Jack R. Whitney), the second for a Mann picture.² T-Men did not have to support a so-called “A” release from a major studio but held its own as a leading theatrical attraction...

  14. CHAPTER 11 RAW DEAL (1948)
    (pp. 117-134)

    If ever a case could be made for the viability of creating cinematic art from an artistically bankrupt literary source, Raw Deal would be it.

    The story of this Anthony Mann triumph begins with Corkscrew Alley, a virtually unreadable sixty-two-page film treatment by Arnold B. Armstrong and Audrey Ashley. It is told in the first person by antihero Tex Lester who, with friend Bitsy Morgan, escapes from a southern chain gang where Tex is serving a sentence for armed robbery. After liberating Tex’s girl “Lady” from the women’s reformatory, the troika carries out a series of robberies until Tex finds...

    (pp. 135-153)

    The 1948 Eagle-Lion thriller He Walked By Night is the most confounding event in Anthony Mann’s career. Mann is not credited in the film but is believed to have either directed the production in full or in part. Before addressing this conundrum, let us first return to the scene of a crime.

    On the night of June 5, 1946, California Highway Patrolman Loren Roosevelt, the former Arcadia police chief, had a violent altercation with twenty-eight-year-old William Erwin Walker. On his hospital deathbed, Roosevelt testified that he had chased speeding motorist Walker and that the latter began firing a gun at...

    (pp. 155-169)

    The serial killer film is not a recent phenomenon. Mentally ill murderers targeting random victims have fascinated directors of various stripes and nationalities, from Fritz Lang and Joseph Losey (the 1931 M and its 1951 remake) to Edward Dmytryk (The Sniper, 1952) and Michael Powell (Peeping Tom, 1960). Richard Fleischer explored the theme on numerous occasions in his fluctuating filmography, most significantly in The Boston Strangler (1968) and 10 Rillington Place (1971). However, these two films were not his only forays into the grisly genre.

    In 1949, early in his Hollywood career, Fleischer directed Follow Me Quietly, a one-hour police...

    (pp. 170-190)

    By late 1948, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was soliciting Anthony Mann’s directing services. T-Men had impressed M-G-M, and Mann had another John C. Higgins screenplay for the Culver City film factory to consider:

    Metro said: “Make whatever picture you want.” John and I had thought of doing Border Incident, because the guys there were also involved with the Federal agents and T Men. Through the research we had made with T-Men we found the fantastic story of the Border Incident boys. We made it on location, but it was really not Metro’s cup of tea. When it came out, they were flabbergasted. It...

  18. CHAPTER 15 SIDE STREET (1950)
    (pp. 191-209)

    M-G-M backlot views notwithstanding, Anthony Mann’s Side Street is best remembered for its vivid Manhattan location filming. Through the evocative utilization of the streets, alleys, parks, and corridors of the monochromatic city of his stage and television background, Mann brought the sensibility of a displaced New Yorker to this film noir. In 1949, the director commented,

    There have been some fine pictures about New York City—Naked City to name one, which have captured the spirit of the city but which sublimated human factors in conveying that spirit. In Side Street we tried to get in much of the flavor...

    (pp. 210-225)

    A Baltimore-bound passenger train pulls into the Jersey City terminal station on a cold winter’s night. Police Inspector Reilly (Regis Toomey) boards the train to await the arrival of Detective Sergeant John Kennedy (Dick Powell). Meanwhile, the latter, having been tipped off about a murder scheduled to occur in Baltimore the next day, seeks help at headquarters from Police Superintendent Stroud (Tom Powers). Kennedy demands Stroud take immediate action, but the superintendent is too busy socializing with cronies in his dark, smoky office to take the sergeant’s warnings seriously. The men present find the whole theory laughable. Disgusted with their...

    (pp. 226-240)

    Anthony Mann directed another film in 1950, between the James Stewart western Winchester ’73 for Universal-International and his second-unit work in Italy on M-G-M’s Quo Vadis: the unreleased and lost Load. Mann himself never spoke of this short film noir drama, which in many respects is the most personal motion picture he ever made. Originally to have been included in the 1952 M-G-M omnibus movie It’s a Big Country: An American Anthology, Mann’s Load episode was cut from the feature prior to commercial release.

    The source material for this missing movie is an unpromising Dudley Schnabel story from Midland magazine...

    (pp. 241-247)

    The disappointment of Load did not deter Anthony Mann. In September 1950, Side Street producer Sam Zimbalist sent Mann to the Cinecittà studios outside Rome where the M-G-M blockbuster Quo Vadis was in production. Working for twenty-four nights with assistance from cinematographer William V. Skall (of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope), Mann directed the burning of Rome sequence while credited director Mervyn LeRoy supervised the daytime material.¹ Upon return to Hollywood, Mann elaborated on his Italian assignment:

    I shot for four and one-half weeks. We built blocks of streets and squares and bridges and sewers and staircases at the Cinecitta studios. We...

    (pp. 248-250)
    (pp. 251-262)
  24. NOTES
    (pp. 263-301)
    (pp. 302-303)
    (pp. 304-307)
  27. INDEX
    (pp. 308-324)