Week in Review
It's Anthony Mann week! Strap yourself to the couch and get ready for a parade of double-crossing cowboys, gold digging (literally) rednecks, Rock Hudson playing an Indian Chief who speaks broken English, town drunks, Jimmy Stewart tougher than you've ever seen him, half-brothers in a gunfight, the heartbreaking beauty of Tina Louise, Janet Leigh, Shelly Winters, Sophia Loren, and June Allyson, and Buddy Hackett's sage advice about the secret powers of albinos. It's high crimes and white-knuckled Westerns, with a couple of epics thrown in.
Anthony Mann's entire life was spent in the performing arts, even though he got somewhat of a late start in the film business. Mann was primarily a stage director until his thirties when he went to work directing noir pictures for Paramount, and shifted the rest of his life to Hollywood. He later worked for RKO, Universal, and Republic. His career took several notable turns.
Throughout the '40s, Mann directed B crime pictures. Even though he had no big stars with whom to work, and scripts that seem to have been written with the forethought of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel, Mann somehow crafted a few real gems. Strange Impersonation is one of these.
During the '50s, Mann switched to Westerns. What makes him notable in the genre is how he carried the darkness of noir from the '40s into the '50s Western. Mann's Westerns are cruel, violent, and often amoral. Any Western has its share of killing and fights, but Mann's, while not as explicit as today's films, portray the violence more brutally than their predecessors. One of the best filmed fistfights of all time is near the beginning of The Man From Laramie.
With the rise of television, Mann turned to the epic. The 70mm films were Hollywood's attempt to get America off the couch and into the theater. Now we are much more likely to see a quality film on the couch than in the theater. I really enjoyed the self righteous hero El Cid, played magnanimously by Charlton Heston, but was less than impressed with The Fall of the Roman Empire.
Anthony Mann never won a major film award, but nonetheless he is thought of as a master of the American Western. He's one of those directors whose individual films are bigger than his own notoriety. I wanted to rewatch The Man From Laramie, as I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. Some Western fans I know rate it and The Tin Star as two of the best of the genre. When I looked at his list films, I realized I had heard of many of them but couldn't remember specifically seeing them. So, in true bingeing fashion, I loaded up my Netflix queue with them. After watching a few, I decided to dedicate an entire week to watching nothing but Anthony Mann films.
Mann directed around 40 films in his career, but sadly, only 16 of them are available through Netflix. You probably only want to see one or two at a time, unless you're as obsessive as I am. Here, in order of my own personal taste are the 16 films rated for you, with a teaser line to help you decide what to watch.
1. God's Little Acre: Mann's only comedy stars Buddy Hackett, Tina Louise, and a bunch of hicks digging for gold.
2. The Tin Star: Henry Fonda in a rare antihero appearance.
3. The Man From Laramie: Jimmy Stewart demands his just rewards, and has one of the best fistfights in the whole genre.
4. Winchester '73: Mann's transition from crime to Western is a dark, violent, and brutal black and white film.
5. The Glenn Miller Story: See how much better the biopics were in the '50s (than they are now) in this sweet and heartbreaking story of the bandleader.
6. El Cid: Charlton Heston is perfect as the hero of Spain in this beautifully shot epic.
7. The Naked Spur: Jimmy Stewart's a bounty hunter who will stop at nothing to claim his reward.
8. The Far Country: A rare Alaskan Western with amazing scenery and the brutality of the wilderness.
9. Bend of the River: Stewart's Pacific Northwest settlers battle gold rushers for their winter's food.
10. The Last Frontier: Victor Mature is a trapper turned US Cavalry scout.
11. Strange Impersonation: Weird plastic surgery noir flick that's worth a watch.
12. The Border Incident: Ricardo Montalban investigates the world of illegal border crossing 30 years before Fantasy Island.
13. The Fall of the Roman Empire: The scenery and the sets are great, and Alec Guiness' performance is worth the film, but unfortunately, the story drags.
14. Men in War: This WWII B-movie is set in the Pacific and filmed in San Bernadino.
15. The T-Men: A documentary-style crime flick about the Treasury Department fighting counterfeiters.
16. Railroaded: A standard, by-the-numbers, crime noir frame up.
I watched 11 DVDs this week. 311 DVDs in 232 days. 189 DVDs left in the next 133 days for a pace of 9.94 per week. Next up: a slew of movies new to DVD. My internet access came back Sunday afternoon. It was our router, if you care.