Showing posts with label Anthony Mann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anthony Mann. Show all posts

23 March 2015

Blu-ray Review - Man of the West (1958)

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Genre:
Western
Distributor:
Eureka Entertainment
Release Date:
23rd March 2015 (UK)
Rating: 12
Director:
Anthony Mann
Cast:
Gary Cooper, Lee J. Cobb, Julie London
Buy: Man of the West - [Blu-ray]

Anthony Mann is considered by many to be one of the masters of American Cinema to come out of the studio age. He was one of those old time directors who had a crack at pretty much every genre under the sun, but he is best known for his historical epics and most famously his westerns. Man of the West was the second to last western he would direct, and it’s often cited as his finest along with the earlier The Furies.

Man of the West is one of the most startling westerns I’ve seen from the “classic” era of the genre. Around this time (1958) around 20% of films made were westerns -this was before the revisionist westerns of the 60s and onwards. Gary Cooper plays former outlaw Link Jones who has saved some money to help a schoolteacher, but the train he was on gets held up by outlaws. He is stuck with two others passengers and ends up finding his old uncle Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb), who he lost contact with after he attempted to go straight, and just happens to be leading the gang of outlaws who hold up the train.

Gary Cooper was as dignified an actor as you can get, he perfectly captures the conflict the role requires. Cooper also has the right level of darkness needed for the film’s sense of dread that runs through it, until the film’s final shootout, which is darker than almost any western of the classic era. Lee J. Cobb’s performance is the kind you sometimes find in westerns where you can almost just smell the liquor on them. The lounge singer Julie London also appears and for a kick check out her version of The Doors’ Light My Fire, you won’t be disappointed.

The late 50s were a period where studio films were becoming darker because of a more sophisticated audience and the initial advent of foreign language films. Man of the West came out in 1958 the same year as two of the darkest film noirs of the era, Vertigo and Touch of Evil. Film noir and the western are two of the most closely linked genres due to their similar themes of violence, masculinity etc. and that’s sometimes forgotten. Man of the West and the earlier Gary Cooper film High Noon are both films influenced by what was happening in film noir, so they have a darker bent to the proceedings. It’s also no surprise Mann, in between his famous westerns, also directed a handful of noirs as well.

Masters of Cinema's release includes a new HD transfer which looks gorgeous in all its Technicolour glory. The two features on the disc are a commentary by Glenn Kenny and Farran Nehme, and a video interview with Douglas Pye. This is finished with a booklet that includes writing by Jean-Luc Godard who was enamoured with the film saying “I have seen nothing so completely new since — why not? — Griffith… With Anthony Mann, one rediscovers the western, as one discovers arithmetic in an elementary maths class. Which is to say that Man of the West is the most intelligent of films, and at the same time the most simple.” Which is very high praise indeed.


★★★★
Ian Schultz

13 March 2015

DVD Review - He Walked By Night (1948)

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Genre:
Film Noir
Distributor:
Simply Home Entertainment
Rating: PG
Director:
Alfred L. Werker, Anthony Mann
Cast: Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell, Jack Webb
Release: 16th March 2015
Buy: He Walked By Night [DVD]

He Walked by Night is a fairly standard procedural noir fare but has enough style to move it up a level. It was directed by Alfred L. Werker even though Anthony Mann finished the film. It’s very loosely inspired by the real life Erwin "Machine-Gun" Walker who committed a similar strings of crimes as depicted in the finished film.

Richard Basehart plays the killer Roy Morgan, who in the beginning shoots and kills a police officer. This is after the police officer questions him because he is acting suspicious outside an electronics store. The rest of the film is basically the police trying to find this mystery man.

The film’s big set piece is it’s climax, in an L.A storm drainage system. It’s very similar to the climactic scene in Carol Reed’s masterpiece The Third Man and begs the question, did Graham Greene or Carol Reed see He Walked by Night? It’s very possible. The film’s director of photography was John Alton, who also shot one of the textbook examples of classic noir The Big Combo and numerous others; his use of light and shadow is partly what brings He Walked by Night up from being a fairly standard film to a solid one.

I would certainly not say He Walked by Night would be the best starting point for a budding fan of noir; there are dozens you should see before. Despite my reservations it has a strong lead performance by Basehart who plays a psychopathic killer very well. Overall, the film has a brutal nihilism that many of the best noirs do, but due to the standard of storytelling it misses it’s mark in becoming a classic.

★★★1/2

Ian Schultz