Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Directors, Essays

Anthony Mann: No longer neglected, a terrific director gets his day

Thursday, June 30, is the birthday of Emil Anton Bundsmann, who entered the world in 1906 at San Diego, California, and departed it April 29, 1967, in Berlin, Germany. In between he had streamlined his name to Anthony Mann, become a movie director, and acquired a passionate cult among connoisseurs of film style for having made some of the most lucidly and powerfully visualized films in American cinema. Few filmmakers have equaled his genius for fusing landscape and dramatic action, and his heroes—in the films noir of the late Forties and his majestic Westerns of the Fifties—are a compellingly conflicted lot.

He worked off-Broadway from 1925 and entered film in 1938 as director of screen tests for producer David O. Selznick (most famously, on Gone With the Wind). After serving as assistant director on Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels, among others, he started directing in 1942 and languished for several years in B-movie assignments at mostly B-movie studios. But one of these was Eagle-Lion, an interesting operation under the enlightened executive producer Walter Wanger, and there Mann’s talent began to shine. Working with the brilliant, Hungarian-born cinematographer John Alton, he scored a personal triumph with T-Men (1947), a police-procedural thriller in the then-fashionable semidocumentary mode, but shot through with bold angles, stark contrasts, and dynamic deep-focus compositions. The team followed up with the pungent Raw Deal, He Walked by Night (credited to Alfred Werker, who had fallen ill), and The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror). Their remarkable inventiveness on limited budgets won them entree at Hollywood’s most prestigious studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Read More “Anthony Mann: No longer neglected, a terrific director gets his day”

Posted in: DVD

Ten DVD Releases That Made 2009 Great

I’ve done my “Best of 2009 on DVD and Blu-ray” list for MSN, which features the usual mix of films old and new and packages creative, lavish and otherwise really, really cool. Here I’d like to do something a little different. This isn’t about the greatest transfers, the most splendiferous supplements, the coolest commentaries, the biggest box sets or the latest, most lavish edition of some perennial collectible (be it The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind or The Seventh Seal, all of which were rereleased on DVD in impressive new editions in conjunction with their stunning Blu-ray debuts). This is all about the movies themselves, those long awaited releases of classics, landmarks, auteur oddities and cult favorites. And yes, quality is an issue, but not the issue.

I’ll be tackling box sets, cult oddities and silent releases in separate features but I begin with ten films that made their DVD debut this year. Not necessarily the most important or the greatest, but those unheralded releases that make my job such a joy. In no particular order, I count them down starting with my own modest contribution to the year in DVD…

The Exiles

10. The Exiles (Milestone/Oscilloscope) – In the interests of full disclosure, I was involved in the DVD release of this amazing American indie, almost forgotten until Thom Anderson featured it in his documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself. I play moderator on the commentary track with author/filmmaker Sherman Alexie and I interview Alexie for a separate audio-only interview on the second disc of the collection. That said, this is arguably the great archival release of the year. Kent Mackenzie’s independently produced 1961 drama (when independent cinema was the realm of mavericks and dreamers working in the margins, rather than studio subsidiaries and major actors looking for a challenge) chronicled the lives of urban American Indians (all of them non-actors drawing from their own lives) on the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles over one long, alcohol-lubricated night.

Read More “Ten DVD Releases That Made 2009 Great”