ANTHONY MANN (1906-1967)

anthony mann
In the violent, revisionist cinema of Anthony Mann pioneers of the Old West and hungry young men from the Greatest Generation were stained by greed and poisoned by avarice on quests to realize the American Dream. From 1945-1960 Mann put together a stunning, and mostly unheralded, body of work in film noir and westerns; the two genres most noted for anti-heroes and rugged individualism. His fatalistic films often broke with the Romantic storytelling template Hollywood steadfastly clung to, even as the dictates of the Studio System began to wear down. Along with contemporaries Nicholas Ray, Robert Aldrich and Douglas Sirk, Mann explored the dark side of the Eisenhower years and what he unveiled wasn’t especially pretty.

By the 1960s Mann, almost inexplicably, moved on to work on the sort of elephantine productions loathed by the auteur critics who championed him. At the time of his death Mann’s reputation had already been obscured by the trendy young lions of the day (Sam Peckinpah, Monte Hellman, Dennis Hopper, Sergio Leone) who borrowed freely, if not always faithfully, from the master’s example.

Born into a family of academics, Anthony took to acting at an early age and with the death of his father he quit school to pursue a career on the New York stage at the ripe old age of seventeen. Mann began an extended apprenticeship in the theatre, learning his trade as an actor, stage manager and set designer. He became a director in the early 1930s and a string of Broadway successes led to a job offer from David O. Selznick in Hollywood.

Once in California, Mann undertook another lengthy apprenticeship in his new medium. He was assigned to scouting talent and directing screen tests before landing a job as an assistant director at Paramount. Mann finally got a chance to direct in 1942 and during the next few years he was at the helm for several low-budget programmers in a variety of genres for RKO, Universal and Republic Studios.

The most interesting of the bunch Strangers in the Night is an atmospheric mystery about Marine John Meadows (William Terry) returning to the States to only find his romantic pen pal has disappeared. He is stonewalled by the woman’s crippled mother (Helen Thimig) and soon finds he is falling in love with an attractive doctor (Virginia Grey) he has taken into confidence. This revelation spurs the old dame into a murderous rage, capping off this intriguing early effort.

    Deadly correspondence.

Also of interest is The Great Flamarion, a tawdry drama about a vaudevillian sharpshooter (Erich Von Stroheim) who falls prey to his comely and ruthless assistant (Mary Beth Hughes). Despite the presence of Stroheim Flamarion is somewhat disappointing, but it still bore early evidence of Mann’s pessimism and expressionistic tendencies.

    Murder at the side show.

Mann finally got a chance to shoot something more up his dark alley with the surprisingly snappy murder mystery Two O’Clock Courage. RKO’s suave, B-picture leading man Ton Conway plays a wandering amnesiac nearly run-over by cabbie Patty Mitchell (Ann Rutherford). She takes a shine to the bewildered man and decides to help him find his true identity. He is soon linked to an unsolved murder and through a little sleuthing they find he is actually Step Allison, a lawyer set up to take the fall after he confronts an old friend who betrayed his client.

   Region 2 PAL DVD

It is in the weird, multi-layered revenge drama Strange Impersonation where Mann finally finds his comfort zone. The wildly implausible story follows the travails of a Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall), a brilliant scientist who after being scalded by her assistant takes on the identity of a dead woman who tried to blackmail her. Nora undergoes plastic surgery to appear like the woman and returns home to find the scheming research assistant has married the doctor she loves. Nora goes to work for her old beau and he unwittingly falls in love with her all over again leading to an explosive climax.

Saddled with another mediocre cast, Mann took his camera to the mean streets and pumped the pulpy scenario for all it was worth, creating a nightmarish world where trust is betrayed and violence settles old scores.

  Two-faced woman.

For the RKO production of Desperate Mann was given a better script and near A-List cast helping him turn out the first in a series of taut and often brutal noir thrillers.

When truck driver Steve Randall (Steve Brodie) doesn’t play ball with ruthless mobster Walt Radak (Raymond Burr) the thug abducts him and tries to force him into taking a murder rap for Radak’s younger brother. Randall breaks free and hits the road with his newlywed wife, thus beginning a dangerous flight from the mob and the law.

On the eve of his brother’s execution Radak corners and captures Randall vowing to kill him in an ultimate act of revenge. The menacing Burr would be the first in a line of mentally sick and twisted Mann villains who formed uneasy ties with the under the gun protagonists.

   On the lam in the sticks.

It seemed like Mann had finally got the break that would jump start his career in Hollywood, but it took an unlikely diversion to a poverty row studio where his kinetic collaboration with a poet of light and shadow helped form one of the most unique and harrowing visions of the immediate post-war years.

At Eagle-Lion Studios, Mann found kindred spirits in hard-boiled screenwriter John C. Higgins and, more fortuitously, journeyman cinematographer John Alton. His first effort for the studio Railroaded (written by Higgins and shot by Guy Roe) is a refreshingly nasty noir about a slick gangster Duke Martin (John Ireland) who holds up his girlfriend’s numbers racket while looking for a big score. But when his accomplice is shot, Duke plots an elaborate cover-up, implicating an innocent man and paving his way to what should be a clean South American getaway.

   Who could eat a cake with a gun in it?

Mann’s first work of maturity, T-Men (written by Higgins and photographed in a lushly sinister fashion by Alton) is a shocking police procedural about two treasury agents (Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder) who infiltrate the Detroit and Los Angeles mobs in order to capture an elusive counterfeit ring. As with many of Mann’s memorable protagonists the agents are malleable loners, fully capable of assuming new identities and, as the case here, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of justice.

It is also in T-Men where Mann and Alton began to create a fully unique brand of noir through a blitzkrieg of bizarre camera angles, chilling depth of focus photography (often advancing the Welles-Toland example), and borrowing from the UFA masters to create a new brand of stark, street poetry.

   What’s the matter, you getting the wim-wams?

The exciting and visually stunning prison break flick, Raw Deal is told through the eyes of gun moll Pat Regan (Claire Trevor) who watches in agony as Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe) the wrongly convicted man she helped spring from the brig falls in love with a pretty young social worker (Marsha Hunt) he has brought along for the ride.

Mann and Alton make terrific use of rugged Northern California locales and day for night shooting as the unlikely trio flee the cops and a vicious mob boss (Raymond Burr) who wants Joe dead.

     She might go soprano on us. 

The chilling police procedural He Walked by Night (signed by Alfred L. Werker but mostly directed by Mann) follows the plight of sociopath cop-killer David Morgan (Richard Basehart) who uses state of the art technology to plot his crimes and avoid arrest. Arrogance is Morgan’s downfall and he is forced to descend into the spooky Los Angeles sewer system where trapped like a rat in a maze he meets his doom.

The subtle balancing of graphic and psychological violence (explicitly realized in the white-knuckle scene where Basehart removes a bullet from himself) would be an important trend dominating the Mann’s future and more mature work.

  Sinister underworld.

Mann’s final film for Eagle-Lion Reign of Terror (aka The Black Book) is a shamelessly thrilling take on the political machinations in the court of the sinister Robespierre. While purging his cabinet of undesirables Robespierre (Richard Basehart) learns the black book which lists his enemies has gone missing. The underground enlists agent (Robert Cummings) to masquerade as an aristocrat to help recover the book and save several important revolutionaries from the guillotine.

Aside from the bland Cummings, this murky historical-noir boasts vivid performances (Basehart, Arnold Moss, Arlene Dahl, Beulah Bondi and Norman Lloyd), ravishing set design from producer William Cameron Menzies and may well be Mann and Alton’s visual masterpiece. In capturing the frenzy, paranoia, and the mob rule mentality of the French Revolution this unusual B-movie has few rivals.

    Like all good soldiers, he outlived his usefulness. 

Mann’s first film for MGM the brutal Border Incident bridged his penchant for the police-procedural/noir to his future Westerns in scintillating and spellbinding fashion.

In an effort to stop the tide of illegal immigration over the Mexican-California border two government agents, the Mexican Pablo Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban) and American Jack Bearnes (George Murphy) go undercover to infiltrate a band of migrant workers and the Combine which exploits and kills the helpless “braceros”. Cut off from all means of communications the agents are outwitted then led to slaughter by the ruthless boss (slimy Howard De Silva) and his bloodthirsty sidekick (Charles McGraw).

  It’s dealer’s choice and I’m the dealer. 

Side Street is a cautionary noir about a postman and his pregnant wife whose indiscretions in the criminal world cost them dearly. Part-time NYC letter deliverer Joe Norson (Farley Granger) has dreams of taking his young family to see all the great sites of the world, but in the meantime he has to provide for his pregnant wife Ellen (Cathy O’Donnell), so when the opportunity to lift $200 from a wealthy lawyer presents itself Joe makes the grab. When he takes the pilfered parcel home Joe is shocked to find he actually has $30,000 in stolen booty and the mob on his tail.

In Side Street Mann’s predilection for all things vertical comes shining through.  Shot mostly on location (by Joseph Ruttenberg) in New York City, the city’s skyscrapers and streets eerily resemble the jagged mountains and deep canyons of the director’s psychologically complex westerns.

  The loneliest, the kindest, and the cruelest of cities.

The Tall Target is yet another police procedural, but this time framed in an intriguing historical context. Set in 1860 John Kennedy (Dick Powell) is a New York City cop frustrated by his inability to convince his bosses of an impending conspiracy to assassinate the newly elected President Abraham Lincoln. Kennedy boards a Baltimore-bound train to head off the President but he quickly finds the conspirators are on to him. After he loses his gun and seat on the train, Kennedy finds he must use all of his wits to trip up the elaborate plot and ensure the President’s survival.

Like the undercover agents in T-Men and Border Incident, Kennedy is a flawed but selfless cop willing to give up his identity and brazenly sacrifice his well-being in the line of duty.

    Narrow margin.

The major themes in Mann’s westerns (opportunism, greed, revenge, justice) were appropriated from his fatalistic noirs to play on the grand stage of the frontier. These extraordinary films pay lip service to the pioneer spirit but, unlike the morally upright westerns of Ford and Hawks, Mann’s brawny approach to the genre is clouded with Cold War era suspicion and paranoia.

A socially conscious western, Devil’s Doorway takes the point of view of a successful Shoshone Indian rancher hard-pressed by locals to give up his land to poor sheep herders who want to move into the territory. A decorated veteran of the Civil War Lance Poole (Robert Taylor) returns to his hometown to find his old Caucasian friends have fallen under the evil influence of Verne Coolan (Louis Calhern), a transplanted lawyer seeking to gain political influence and power in the region.

Coolan uses new legislation intended to “protect” Indians so he can strip Poole of his civil rights and prosperous ranch. Tapping into the prejudices of the public, the lawyer paints the Indian soldier as greedy and savage and he recruits a band of sheep farmers to move onto Poole’s rich, grazing land. Unwilling to compromise to in order live in harmony with the white man Poole defies the advice of his idealistic lawyer (Paula Raymond) by making a last stand against the gun-toting locals and a cavalry summonsed to protect the Shoshones.

    I got a saddlebag full of dreams.

Loosely based on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and penned by Niven Busch (novel) and screenwriter Charles Schnee, The Furies is a tale of two monsters, the bombastic cattle ranch T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston) and his hard-as-nails daughter Vance (Barbara Stanwyck).

The ruthless, hedonistic T.C. has whittled away the family fortune and mortgaged the New Mexico family ranch, so he can continue his fast-living. Promised the ranch as part of her legacy Vance is stunned to find her father is intent on marrying a gold digger (Judith Anderson) who has no intention in sharing either T.C. or “The Furies” ranch with her future daughter in-law. Likely owing to a deep-rooted disappointment in Vance’s being a daughter rather than his son, T.C. signs off on the wedding setting off a chain of events which will change their lives forever.

In a spectacularly gruesome sequence Vance disfigures her rival with a pair of scissors and leaves the ranch vowing revenge on the love of her life, T.C. She then painstakingly buys up her father’s debt notices but her triumph rings hollow when he is gunned down in the street by one of his many enemies.

Mann’s first true A-Film, The Furies is epic storytelling but it’s also packed with the sort of vigor and passion his later attempts at spectacle filmmaking (Cimarron, El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire) mostly lacked. Unlike many of Mann’s demure western heroines, the brassy Stanwyck was capable of trading punches with another broadly charismatic performer in Huston, leading us to understand just what this star-crossed father and daughter saw in one another.

    Honey, you wouldn’t be new anyplace. 

Mann’s groundbreaking collaboration with James Stewart was instrumental in making the director a darling of the auteur crowd and gave the leading man a chance to use his considerable acting chops in a variety of psychologically complex roles.

Stewart went against his stalwart member of the community type in his westerns with Mann. In these films he invariably plays a loner haunted by the past and not particularly interested in connecting with anybody in the present. The bitterness and frustration first seen in It’s a Wonderful Life come to the forefront here, creating a new kind of western anti-hero.

His first film with Mann, Winchester ’73 is a tightly-wound story (written by Borden Chase) about a rare and expensive stolen rifle which falls into the hands of a sharp-shooting crook, a Flim-Flam man, an Indian Chief, a coward, and a killer bandit as it makes its way across the old West.

A stranger in town Lin McAdam (Stewart) enters a high stakes shooting contest against a slew of accomplished gunslingers, the prize being a “one in a thousand” Winchester rifle. Lin defeats crack shot Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally) to win the rifle but his opponent soon ambushes him and takes off with the prize. Enraged, McAdam begins a bizarre cross-country odyssey to track down the gun and the man who killed his father.

Given its gimmicky structure and zesty characterizations Winchester 73 is the easiest entry to the Mann-Stewart series. These films took on greater gravity once the director began to rely more on his camera than the spoken word.

      Awful lot of law for a little cowtown. 

In the robust and colorful Bend of the River (written by Chase) Stewart plays Glyn McLintock, a former Missouri border raider who leads a band of puritan settlers to the Oregon Territory. Along the way he saves horse thief Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy) from being hanged. After recognizing one another Glyn and Emerson form an uneasy alliance and even thwart an Indian raid on the settlers before arriving in Portland.

Looking to finally plant roots, Glyn follows the settlers north but when their much needed supplies don’t arrive, he returns to Portland to find the quiet port community has become a corrupt boom town. After a shootout Glyn enlists Cole to help him deliver the supplies but his friend’s double-dealing tendencies plants seeds of doubt in his mind.

Glyn is wary of disclosing his criminal past to wagon train leader Jeremy Baile (Jay C. Flippen) and he ends up defending his ethically-challenged sidekick when the older man expresses doubts about Cole’s slippery character. While trekking the needed supplies over rugged terrain, Cole shows his true colors by hijacking the booty forcing a deadly confrontation with Glyn.

     There’s a difference between men and apples.

Filmed in spectacular Grand Canyon locales, The Naked Spur comes closer to resembling a high stakes poker game more than a shoot ‘em up western. Rancher Howard Kemp (Stewart) ruthlessly tracks killer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) across the west in the hope of claiming the $5000 bounty on his head. Along the way he enlists two shady sidekicks, a down at the heels miner Jesse (Millard Mitchell) and Anderson (Ralph Meeker), a dishonorably discharged Union soldier on the run from the Blackfoot Indians.

The two men help Kemp capture Ben and his girlfriend Lina (Janet Leigh), but when they find out about the reward they decide to accompany the trio on the long journey back to Abilene for their share in the booty. Amoral Ben and the sociopath Anderson patiently wait for Kemp to crack from nerves, the festering bullet in his leg and the amorous attentions of the beautiful Lina leading to a cliffhanger finale in a dangerous mountain river.

Freed from the populist design of the first two Mann-Stewart efforts, The Naked Spur gets down to brass tacks. Having been left at the altar Howard Kemp is already damaged goods and his methods in manipulating both Jesse and Anderson to help him secure Vandergroat speak little of his character. The heroine Lina shows more loyalty than any of the men but her devotion to her wretched boyfriend is an unsettling but common occurrence in Mann’s films.

  He’s not a man, he’s a sack of money! 

In what could arguably be Mann’s most visually spectacular western The Far Country depicts Jeff Webster (Stewart) as a steely opportunist and adventurer who has already killed two men while leading a cattle drive to the Yukon where hungry gold miners await.

When his cattle are confiscated by the corrupt local lawman Gannon (John McIntire), Jeff strikes up a deal with the luscious local saloon owner Ronda Castle (Ruth Roman) who promises to get him over the border. But when Jeff returns to town and makes off into the night with the hot cattle, Mr. Gannon vows a revenge which will see him ruthlessly take over a quiet mining community and destroy Jeff in the process.

Mann and screenwriter Borden Chase collaborate on a fateful tale of good versus evil where the strong and mostly silent Jeff stands on the sideline, claiming the miners’ fights are not his own. In a likely answer to Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, in which the townspeople shrink from helping Sheriff Gary Cooper, the folks of Dawson City take up arms against the hoodlums occupying their town and inspire Jeff into finally doing the right thing.

  Have a nice trip! I’ll hang you when you come back! 

The final Mann-Stewart western finds the director going to pitiless lengths to plumb the raw neurosis of his muse.

Loosely based on King Lear the unforgiving The Man from Laramie finds Stewart as Will Lockhart, a loner and ex-Army captain who after delivering supplies to a store on a western outpost receives a brutal beating by Dave Waggoman (Alex Nichol), the cowardly son of the town’s patriarch Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp). The young punk’s men shoot Lockhart’s mules and burn his carts but Will decides to stick around town, much to the consternation of the elder Waggoman who offers to pay for damages with the caveat Will leave town immediately.

Lockhart suspects someone in town is selling new rifles to the same Apache tribe who ambushed and killed his younger brother. Bad apple Dave and the stalwart ranch manager Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy) take turns punishing the stubborn stranger before greed and jealousy gets the better of both men.

Mann and Stewart saved their most bitter film for last. The sadistic torture and excruciating violence directed towards Lockhart recalls the most nihilistic Mann noirs (He Walked by Night, Border Incident) and leaves an impression of loss and finality. In light of this gloom it seems all the more appropriate for Will to turn down the advances of the lovely Barbara Waggoman (Kathy O’Donnell) and return to Laramie, alone.

 This is the most unfriendly country I’ve ever been in.

The collaboration between the director and his leading man extended to films with contemporary themes but it’s hard to locate Mann’s hand in either The Glenn Miller Story or Strategic Air Command. Thunder Bay would prove to be the most interesting of these non-westerns, but this lively story about two wildcat drillers (Stewart and Dan Duryea) who manipulate the citizens of a bayou coastal town lacked the menace of a first-rate Mann film.

     Bidin’ their time.

Mann went on to make two very fine and two not-so-hot westerns after his partnership with Stewart finally came to a close.

The Last Frontier follows the dark path of a cavalry unit led by a deluded colonel who commands them into hopeless battle against a fierce Indian tribe. Banished to an Oregon outpost for sending 1500 of his Union soldiers to senseless deaths, Colonel Frank Marston (Robert Preston) aims to restore his standing in the army by preparing a band of horse soldiers for a showdown with the larger coalition of Indians who have surrounded their fort.

A trio of local trappers hired to scout the Native American tribes warn against the foolish confrontation and the most brazen of the lot, Jed Cooper (Victor Mature), forcefully sequesters the Colonel in the vain hope this would-be Custer will finally come to his senses. Although the main thread of the story centers around wild thing Cooper’s unlikely desire to become a part of the regimented military world it is Preston’s chilling performance as the mad Colonel which carries this ill-advised adventure to its riveting climax.

    Civilization is creepin’ up on us, lads.

The bleak and almost unspeakably cruel Man of the West turned out to be Mann’s farewell to the psychological Western. The mysterious Link Jones (Gary Cooper) is train bound to Fort Worth to hire a schoolteacher for his poor homesteading community. When the train is held up and Link is forced off he and his traveling companions, shady Sam Beasley (Arthur O’Connell) and saloon singer Billie Ellis (Julie London), come face to face with Link’s dark past in the person of his uncle, the outlaw Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb).

The mentally unstable Dock humiliates his long lost nephew and has him held at gunpoint until Link agrees to help hold up a nearby bank. Jealous of Link’s past ties to Dock, second in-charge Claude (John Dehner) plots to set up and kill his “cousin” during the robbery. Link stays one step ahead of the gang but when he finds Dock has raped Billie he pursues his demented uncle up the mountain for their ultimate showdown.

Big in scope but narrow in its unrelenting focus Man of the West anticipated the lawlessness and sadistic violence of the Spaghetti Western.  Perhaps sensing the genre’s inevitable demise into nihilism, Mann moved onto the safer, and better-paying, arena of spectacle filmmaking.

    Things have kind of gone to hell haven’t they?

Mann’s other two westerns from this period proved disappointing. The Tin Star is a lean but ultimately overwrought story about a bounty hunter (Henry Fonda) who lingers around a hostile frontier town to mentor a young sheriff (Anthony Perkins) charged with the thankless task of protecting a pair of murderers from a lynch mob.

Grounded by an inflated screenplay by Dudley Nichols and an aloof performance by Fonda, The Tin Star lacked the neurosis and terrifying spite which distinguished the Stewart-Mann westerns.

   I don’t mind the chill – I’m after money. 

The widescreen remake of the 1931 Academy Award winning film Cimarron is more a frontier story than a real western. Though Mann tried to bring sweep and grit to the unwieldy project both the stiff Glenn Ford and lightweight Maria Schell were disastrously miscast as pioneering newspaper barons and the film sinks underneath the weight of its dubious ambitions. Nonetheless, maverick producer Samuel Bronston came away from Cimarron impressed by the Mann’s brilliant re-staging of the Oklahoma land grab and quickly signed him to quarterback his biggest production to date.

American epics.

The introduction of the widescreen process in the mid-1950s prompted Mann to change his visual style. The Expressionism of Mann’s classic noirs and early westerns gave way to a more Impressionistic canvas featuring more fluid camera and much longer takes. The resulting new style was well-suited for his players to bring some compelling subtext to two of Mann’s most lyrical films, Men of War and God’s Little Acre.

Set during the early days of the Korean War, Men in War opens with army Lieutenant Benson (Robert Ryan) getting the thankless task of leading his platoon through a myriad of land mines and dangerous hills to reconnect with the larger regiment. Their plight is further complicated by the arrival of the reactionary Sergeant Montana (Aldo Ray) and his shell-shocked Colonel (Robert Keith).

As hope dwindles and soldiers fall victim to bombs and sniper fire, Montana steps up his game and leads a Rambo-like attack against the enemy, much to the horror of Benson who, in an existential crisis, begins to suspect he’s not the right man for this mission. With one final hill to take out, the bitter adversaries finally have to trust one another to get over the hump.

    We’re the only ones left to fight this war. 

Having succeeded in bringing the darkness of war to the screen Ryan and Ray would go on to co-star in Mann’s weirdest picture God’s Little Acre, based on the novel by Erskine Caldwell.

Here, Ryan plays the demented Georgia patriarch Ty Ty Walden who, along with his two sons Buck (Jack Lord) and Shaw (Vic Morrow), digs gaping holes in his property searching for his grandpa’s gold. Meanwhile, his eldest daughter Rosamund (Helen Westcott) is stuck in an unhappy marriage with unemployed factory worker Bill Thompson (Ray) who, as fate would have it, has a thing for Buck’s unhappy wife Griselda (Tina Louise). Hell-bent on self-destruction, Bill leads the locals on a drunken raid of a shut-down cotton factory leading to inevitable tragedy.

Although God’s Little Acre features intriguing performances by Ryan, Louise and Buddy Hackett (!) as a lovelorn county sheriff and some of Mann and cinematographer Ernest Haller’s most exquisite visual work, the film turned out to be an unsavory jambalaya.

    I got the fever! You can’t stop the fever! 

Mann’s decision to take Samuel Bronston’s lucrative offer to make films in Spain effectively ended a long stretch of inspired creativity. But, having already pushed the boundaries of the crime film and the western to their aesthetic limits it’s not that surprising the ambitious director wanted to move on to the ultimate challenge in commercial filmmaking; the epic.

Loosely based on the legend of 11th century Spanish hero Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid is a largely heroic portrait of the Christian soldier who appealed to the Moors in his quest to save Spain and Valencia from raiding Berbers. Undeterred by the lack of chemistry between his star-crossed  lovers (Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren) and having to shoot on a daunting set and some sprawling Spanish locales, Mann kept the action moving at a steady clip and succeeded in mounting the ultimate spectacle.

Mann’s recent penchant for a mobile camera reaches its pinnacle in the thrilling finale where on a war-torn beach the dead Cid rides over the invading armies of Ben Yussuf (Herbert Lom) and into history.

People of Valencia! I bring you bread!

Spurred on the financial windfall of El Cid, Bronston signed Mann on to tackle what would turn out to be the studio’s most expensive project The Fall Of The Roman Empire. The story bridges the reign of the last of the enlightened emperors Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness) with the decadent fiefdom of his son Commodius (Christopher Plummer). Suffering the consequences are Marcus’ daughter Lucilla (Loren) and his favorite soldier and Commodius’ boyhood friend Livius (Stephen Boyd).

While the recreation of the Roman Forum (designed by Veniero Colasanti and John Moore) is truly breathtaking and the location shooting around Seville makes for many ravishing sequences The Fall of the Roman Empire is ultimately too ornate and suffers from not having a force of righteousness, like Heston, playing Livius. Audiences rejected the gloomy opulence and the resulting box office blood bath was instrumental in bankrupting Bronston’s studio.

  My first official act would be to have you all crucified. 

Mann rebounded from the debacle to make The Heroes of Telemark, an adequate WWII sabotage caper in the Guns of Navarone tradition. He had begun to shoot a Berlin-based Cold War spy flick, A Dandy In Aspic, before falling victim of a fatal heart attack. It was an inglorious end for one of filmdom’s great interpreters of the western and noir.

   European adventure.


Books on Mann:

Horizons West: Directing the Western from John Ford to Clint Eastwood – Jim Kitses **** This superlative study of three masters of the western (Mann, Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah) covers Mann’s brilliant work in the genre while touching on theme-related bases from his hard-boiled noirs. Post-edit: Horizons West has been updated with excellent chapters on Ford, Hawks and Clint Eastwood making this tome a true keeper.


Films by Mann:

1942  Dr. Broadway ***
1944  Strangers in the Night ***1/2
1945  The Great Flamarion ***
1945  Two O’Clock Courage ***
1945  Sing Your Way Home **1/2
1946  Strange Impersonation ***1/2
1946  The Bamboo Blonde ***
1947  Desperate ***1/2
1948  Railroaded ***1/2
1948  T-Men ***1/2
1948  Raw Deal ****
1948  He Walked by Night **** (signed by Alfred L. Werker, ghosted by Mann)
1949  Reign of Terror ***1/2
1949  Border Incident ****
1950  Side Street ***1/2
1950  Devil’s Doorway ****
1950  Winchester ’73 ****
1950  The Furies ****
1951  The Tall Target ****
1952  Bend of the River ****
1953  The Naked Spur ****1/2
1953  Thunder Bay ***1/2
1954  The Glenn Miller Story ***1/2
1955  The Far Country ****1/2
1955  Strategic Air Command ***1/2
1955  The Man From Laramie ****
1956  The Last Frontier ****
1956  Serenade ***
1957  Men In War ****
1957  The Tin Star ***1/2
1958  God’s Little Acre ***1/2
1958  Man of the West ****1/2
1960  Cimarron ***
1961  El Cid ***1/2
1964  The Fall of the Roman Empire ***1/2
1965  The Heroes of Telemark ***
1968  A Dandy in Aspic *** (finished by Laurence Harvey)

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