Archive for Anthony Mann

Forced March

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2022 by dcairns

Rewatched MEN IN WAR, this time in a proper widescreen copy. Previously wrote about it here. It’s even more interesting than I previously gave it credit for.

The blacklisted writer was Ben Maddow, who also penned THE BIG COMBO without credit. Maddow spent the war writing training films, so his knowledge of the army is strong but of combat less so. The film’s structure is a series of suspenseful crises akin to WAGES OF FEAR, as Robert Ryan marches seventeen men back to US lines, having been cut off. Some of these crises aren’t wholly convincing: there’s a short piece of road they have to run down under enemy shelling — at either end of the road they are apparently completely safe, though there’s no apparent geographical reason which this should be so. When a soldier discovers a concealed landmine, everybody assumes this is the START of a minefield, rather than that they’re already IN the minefield. The continue running up and down the line even after somebody is blown up back there.

But I note all this without being unduly bothered by it. The compositions are taut, the performances sweaty, the cutting tense, and you sort of go along with the flawed logic.

I really like Robert Ryan’s tough but uncertain commander, but what makes the movie is Aldo Ray’s unique character. He’s pursuing his own personal struggle, determined to save his shellshocked Colonel (Robert Keith, superb in a near-wordless evocation of catatonia). There’s that discussion in JULES ET JIM about whether a man can indulge in his own conflict during war. “You two have taken yourselves out of this war,” says Ryan, explaining why they don’t matter to his plans.

Ray’s insubordination may not be without precedent, and I guess his indifference to the war finds an echo in A MIDNIGHT CLEAR (1992), where the young G.I.s just want to survive, but I never bought that film. Soldiers have training, and mostly they want to do a good job. It’s improbable to have a whole unit just crapping out. But one guy, sure. What’s particularly compelling about Ray is he’s not given up on the war out of weakness. He’s a tough guy, except he loves his Colonel. Never had a father.

He’s also too tough — particularly prejudiced against “gooks” — soldiers’ racism towards their enemies is something I suspect has been largely phased out of war movies — and he enjoys killing a little too much. The horrible thing is, you’d want him on your side. See Ray sit by the roadside to patiently await the arrival of assassins, so he can kill them instead. He covers his nose with one giant meaty fist, the way a polar bear does when it’s hunting…

This might be my favourite Anthony Mann movie? But there are still several I haven’t seen, I should correct that.

Nero LeRoy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2021 by dcairns

“Is this, then, the end of Nero?” asks a dying Emperor Peter Ustinov at the climax of QUO VADIS?, more or less quoting Edward G. Robinson at the end of LITTLE CAESAR. Which was directed by the same guy, Mervyn Leroy, back when he was young and awake. Since there are varying accounts of Nero’s actual or supposed last words, and none of them include a quote from a Warners gangster picture, this must surely qualify as one of the most prominently placed in-jokes in Hollywood history.

Would that there were any other evidence that the film had a sense of humour about itself. It’s entertaining rubbish, though: the sets are big, and the acting varies from dreadful (Robert Taylor, not a screen god in this household) to the impressive — how Deborah Kerr, Leo Genn, Abraham Sofaer (the judge/surgeon from AMOLAD), Marina Berti and Rosalie Crutchley are able to make their dreadful lines sound like human speech is quite staggering.

Crutchley, darkly gorgeous, is the only character who’s apparently read the whole script, not just the scene she’s playing: she knows how it’s going to end.

I watched a bit of TORA! TORA! TORA! on TV the same day, and it was interesting to see how the American scenes in that managed to turn comparatively recent US history into the same kind of lifeless tableaux as the typical ancient world epic. I forget if it was in this film that Ustinov blew on his soup to cool it, and was told the gesture was too modern. “In what age, pray, did the wretched Romans stop eating their minestrone piping hot?” he inquired. Of the two films, QV has slightly more authentic human behaviour. By the end, I was dying for some actual life.

So Fiona wondered if Ustinov contributed his own famous last words, since the man did have a sense of humour absent elsewhere in this roaring stodgefest. The scenes at court are weapons-grade camp, with Patricia Laffan (DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS) a resplendent whore-empress Poppaea, and Ustinov clearly taking to heart departing helmer Anthony Mann’s character sketch of the depraved Caesar: “Strikes me as the kind of guy plays with himself nights.”

QUO VADIS stars Quentin Durward; Sister Clodagh; Starbuck; Hercule Poirot; Nyah; Magwitch; Benjamin Disraeli; Queen at Tarsus (uncredited); Vargas the Diablo Giant; Hecuba; Inspector Buchanan, Special Branch; Horatio, His Friend; the screenwriter of THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN; Mrs Dudley; Mrs Alexander; Bambino; and the voice of Morbius.

God Goes West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2020 by dcairns

One of our watch party gang requested westerns, and another didn’t like westerns, so I tried to find two westerns that weren’t.

Jacques Tourneur’s STARS IN MY CROWN is set in a small western town but doesn’t really have any of the expected action and Joel McCrea plays a parson. It’s wonderful, though.

WINCHESTER ’73 is pretty much a pure western but it’s wall-to-wall film noir people. Anthony Mann, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea. Seeing it on my little b&&w portable as a youngster was a decisive cinephile moment, I don’t know why. But I was immediately taken with Duryea.

I guess you could say these films offer contrasting visions of America. STARS is pretty timely, actually: McCrea considers his work so important he continues going door to door after his young ward comes down with typhus, and there’s reason to suspect he could be a super-spreader. McCrea comes to see this as a mistake — the film eventually lets him off the hook, rather, but it’s an interesting point.

Little Dean Stockwell complains of the quarantine lockdown — “It’s like we’re all in jail only we ain’t done nuthin’.”

Then there are these guys. I wish they didn’t seem equally timely.

I remembered McCrea’s great scene facing down the Klan armed only with a couple sheets of paper, to save Juano Hernandez from the noose. I’d forgotten it was the climax, but of course, how could they top it?

STARS gives the lie to the idea that a western can tell any kind of story. I don’t think it can tell a pacifist one. McCrea’s preacher has been a soldier, but he isn’t about to strap on his guns again, and so it never feels like SHANE or something, where the moment may be deferred, but is inevitably coming. So we have a film with all the accoutrements of a western, the period and the Americana, but we just can’t call it one.

WINCHESTER ’73, as the title implies, is one of the most gun-obsessed westerns ever made. Not the rootin’-tootin’est, but possibly the shootin’est. But at least it has an interesting female character. Mann’s westerns usually did. Unlike Ford he didn’t primarily regard women as homemakers…

It turns out to be an almost biblical tale of blood vengeance, and I realise now that not only is Duryea scary and crazy, but very hep and modern. And he can wheedle arrogantly, which is some trick. When he’s identified as the fastest gun in Texas, he wheedles, “Texas? Baby, why limit me?” Also, he’s the only person in the film who seems to be having a good time.

STARS IN MY CROWN stars John L. Sullivan; Sofia de Peralta-Reavis ‘The Baroness’; Doctor Wellington Yueh; Little John; Nayland Smith; Duke Harris; Miss Robin Crusoe; Lucas Beauchamp; Homer Higgins; Juror 10; Butch Cassidy; ‘Dum-Dum’ Clarke; Col. Edward Carruthers; ‘The Thing’; and Pee Wee.

WINCHESTER ’73 stars John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson; Charlotte Haze; Duke Pastrami; Sheriff Al Chambers; Senate Minority Leader; Marvin Unger; Jordan ‘Bick’ Benedict Jr.; ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ Brewster; Chota; and Sidney Falco.