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.

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