Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: The Crime Films of Anthony Mann

One of the best viewing experiences I've had this year was the Anthony Mann Festival at UCLA. I had initially just planned to attend a handful of screenings but found myself loving the movies so much that I continued making regular drives to Westwood, seeing an amazing 16 movies spread over eight evenings in a two-month period.

The festival screened a mixture of director Mann's Westerns and crime films. Mann's crime films are documented in great detail in THE CRIME FILMS OF ANTHONY MANN by Max Alvarez, a fine book recently published by the University Press of Mississippi. I was fortunate to have a copy of the book to refer to during the second half of the festival, which enriched my viewing experience considerably. Thanks in large part to the festival, I'm happy to say I've now seen 12 out of the 14 films discussed in the book.

In mid-March Mr. Alvarez came to UCLA to introduce two of Mann's films, RAW DEAL (1948) and SIDE STREET (1950), sharing interesting insights which I described in my reviews.

The book opens with introductory chapters on Mann's early years. Alvarez then covers each of Mann's black and white crime films individually, from his feature film debut, the "B" movie DR. BROADWAY (1942), up through his Civil War "train noir," THE TALL TARGET (1951). There's also an interesting final chapter titled "The Lost Noir of Anthony Mann," describing abandoned projects including an episode in MGM's IT'S A BIG COUNTRY (1951).

Each chapter describes how the film originated, shares anecdotes about filming, and analyzes Mann's stylistic choices and the role the film played in the "big picture" of the director's career. Each chapter concludes with a section on the "selling" of the film, with information such as the release history, critical reception, and box office take. The chapters run anywhere from six to 20 or so pages, with the longer films of the late '40s having correspondingly longer chapters.

I found information on conflicts with the Breen office during both the script and editing stages of particular interest. The author's detailed research on this aspect of filmmaking is fascinating.

As one would expect, there's also plenty of information on Mann's collaboration with cinematographer John Alton. Many of the book's 152 photographs are screen shots which illustrate the two men's collaborative choices shooting their films.

It should be noted the photos are printed on the pages, rather than glossy paper, and are for the most part screen captures rather than stills. I think a good description would be that this isn't a book to buy for high-quality photo reproductions, but the pictures selected do a good job of illustrating the author's points regarding Mann's shooting style.

The book includes a filmography with credits for each of the films discussed, very extensive footnotes, and a biliography.

I had previously read the updated edition of Jeanine Basinger's excellent book on Mann, but the crime films are one lengthy chapter in a consideration of Mann's entire career. Alvarez goes into greater detail on this aspect of Mann's career, as well as bringing his own critical perspectives to the films. Those interested in Mann will definitely want to own Alvarez's book in addition to the Basinger book.

Those who aren't fortunate enough to see Mann's films on the big screen might want to consider creating their own Anthony Mann festival at home, as many of his films are available on DVD, and use this book as a guide to numerous titles from the first half of the director's career. It will provide any classic film fan a rewarding reading and viewing experience.

For an additional informative review of this book, please visit KC's post at Classic Movies.

THE CRIME FILMS OF ANTHONY MANN was published by the University Press of Mississippi. It's 272 pages including the index. I read a hardcover edition; it is also available for the Kindle.

Thanks to the University Press of Mississippi for providing a review copy of this book.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Laura! How cool that you are writing about this book -- this month's Dark Pages is spotlighting Anthony Mann and Robert Siodmak, and I refer to this book a couple of times. It really sounds like a good one -- I'm putting it on my list of books to read in this summer's challenge! (I just decided! LOL) I so envy you getting the chance to take in the Mann festival AND hear Max Alvarez in person. Lucky! (Did I put enough exclamation points in this?)

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds a must read. Thanks for the review.

11:45 PM  

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