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June 30, 2006

100 Year Old Mann

railroaded.jpg

Railroaded
Anthony Mann - 1947
Kino Film Region 1 DVD

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T-Men
Anthony Mann - 1947
VCI Entertainment Region 1 DVD

"1947 . . . is important for me . . . it marks my first critical and commercial success." - Anthony Mann
from Anthony Mann by Jeanine Basinger

As my way of celebrating the 100th birthday of Anthony Mann I finally got around to seeing two of Mann's noir films. I've seen all of the James Stewart films which are generally acknowledged as the most consistent of his best work, but have only recently seen the earlier films from the Forties. As a person who grew up in the Fifties, this double feature also has the distinction of featuring early performances by Beaver's dad and Lassie's mom.

Railroaded takes place in the dark throughout most of its length. Mann and screenwriter John Higgins immediately upend expectations by opening the film in a threadbare beauty parlor that serves as a front for a bookie joint with female clientele. The proprietor Jane Randolph has set up a robbery of her place by boyfriend John Ireland. The robbery is photographed with Ireland and partner Keefe Brasselle peaking out of the dark, or with the characters seen as shadows. Guns blaze directly at the audience. Even when detective Hugh Beaumont finally has enough evidence to arrest Ireland, his timing is off and he is almost too late to rescue the sister of the wrongly accused cop killer.

Part of what makes Railroaded so fun is that not only was there effort to add some twists to what could have been a routine story, but the dialogue is both terse and caustic. This is a film where the top bad guy quotes from Oscar Wilde. There is a gag about Ireland's character known as "Duke", the namesake of Humphrey Bogart's early major role, with a floozie responding, "I'm petrified." Most often Anthony Mann is discussed because of his pictorial qualities, but Railroaded has dark snappy wit that bests many bigger budget noirs.

T-Men is famed for Mann's first collaboration with cinematographer John Alton. The imagery is certainly more consistent with many deep focus shots of people running in and out of shadows, and more use of expressionistic angles. Lots of framing devices are usedsuch as windows, doors, lampshades. Like Railroaded, Mann again has close-ups of guns shooting at the audience. The film does get bogged down with its official narration by Reed Hadley and introduction by government talking head Elmer Lincoln Irey. Dennis O'Keefe gets beat up in a couple of scenes anticipating the kind of masochism that James Stewart would go through in Mann's westerns. The punishment O'Keefe goes through made me think that had Mann lived long enough, Mel Gibson might have made a perfect Mann hero.

That O'Keefe looks for a crook known as "The Schemer" by visiting several bath houses, and that women barely figure in the narrative add to a homoerotic element. Like the Alton filmed Big Combo and Sam Fuller's House of Bamboo, male relationships and partnerships are emphasised. T-Men is about false images - government agents pretending to be hoods, counterfeit money, and the top gangster posing as a philanthropist. Of the two significant woman in the film, one is essentially a "beard" for the real mastermind, while the other inadvertently uncover's an agent's disguise.

Posted by peter at June 30, 2006 10:00 AM