The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Dark Streets and Vast Horizons: The American Vision of Anthony Mann” opens Wednesday at the Walter Reade Theater and runs through Aug. 29. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool film buff, that’s all I’ll need to tell you (in fact, you’ll already know about it). If not, here’s part of what the Film Society’s Web site has to say about Mann:
Anthony Mann, born Emil Anton Bundesmann, began his career in show business on the New York stage, first as a child actor, then as a production manager, and finally as a director. He was brought to Hollywood by David O. Selznick, and he shot many of the screen tests for Gone with the Wind and Rebecca. He left Selznick in the mid-40s and began his movie-directing career making a series of visually distinctive B pictures, each one more inventive than the next. Of his film noirs of the late 40s, most of them made with the great cameraman John Alton, Manny Farber wrote: “The films of this tin-can de Sade have a Germanic rigor, a caterpillar intimacy, and an original dictionary of ways in which to punish the human body.” You can lose yourself in the velvety shadows of those films, and in their beautifully, almost geometrically precise action. Then, in the early 50s, Mann went outdoors with James Stewart and quietly altered the Western genre. Until they quarrelled during the production of Night Passage in 1957, Mann and Stewart made eight marvelous films together, the last seven in a row. The best of them introduced a new frankness to American cinema, thanks to the boldness of Stewart’s often dangerously neurotic characterizations, and to the almost supernatural acuity of Mann’s eye for the great outdoors….
To which I’d add only that it was Mann, not Alfred Hitchcock, who first put Jimmy Stewart in touch with the dark side of the force, making it possible for him to draw on the near-paralyzing fear he had known as a pilot in World War II and thereby adding a dangerous, disturbing edge to his already accomplished acting. The Stewart you see in Winchester ’73 (and, to a lesser extent, in the last reel of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life) is the Stewart of whom Hitchcock would later make such fruitful use in Vertigo.
Mann’s Westerns are seen quite regularly on cable TV, but not such earlier exercises in film noir at its hardest and toughest as Raw Deal, which have to be sought out on DVD, usually in blurred, flimsy prints. In any case, you have no idea what you’ve been missing if you’ve never seen a classic Western in a theater. Now that the Film Society of Lincoln Center is finally screening all of Mann’s major work, I plan to go as often as my schedule permits. I’ve never seen any of these films on a large screen, nor have I ever seen a decent print of any of Mann’s pre-Stewart films. I can’t wait.
– The Naked Spur (1955, with Stewart and Robert Ryan), Aug. 11 and 13
– Bend of the River (1952, with Stewart), Aug. 11 and 12
– The Man from Laramie (1955, with Stewart), Aug. 12, 14, and 16
– Winchester ’73 (1950, with Stewart and Dan Duryea), Aug. 14
– T-Men (1947, with Dennis O’Keefe), Aug. 21 and 24
– Raw Deal (1948, with O’Keefe and Raymond Burr), Aug. 22 and 24
– Man of the West (1959, with Gary Cooper), Aug. 27 and 29
– Men in War (1957, with Ryan), Aug. 27
For more information, go here.