Fritz, That’s It

ministry of fear six sheet small

In keeping with my monomaniacal commitment to review every single Fritz Lang film that appears on home video, here’s an account of Criterion’s very nice new release of Lang’s 1944 quasi-propaganda film, “Ministry of Fear.” It may fade out into conventionality toward the end (though doubtless there are those of you who disgaree), but the first couple of reels are gangbusters — possibly Lang’s most spectacular return to Weimar stylistics, apart from “Secret Beyond the Door.”

Also, a few words about Clive Brook’s “On Approval,” another 1944 release that acknowledges the war only enough to indicate that it is deliberately avoiding the subject. An adaptation of a stage farce by Frederick Lonsdale, it’s Brook’s only job of direction, and a surprisingly free-form one, full of baring-the-device moments that Frank Tashlin might have dreamed up (though Tashlin’s would probably have been funnier). The great attraction of the film is the presence of Beatrice Lillie, the brilliant Canadian farceur whose one appearance as a silent clown, in Sam Taylor’s 1926 “Exit Smiling,” suggest that the movies lost out on a very big talent.

203 comments to Fritz, That’s It

  • Blake Lucas

    Fredrik, just to reply briefly, I reread what I wrote earlier on Lang and don’t think I actually said anything that refutes your statement that “there’s a lot of excellence in Lang’s early years in Hollywood.” I used the word “choppy” (relative to other periods of Lang) and not going film by film that may have sounded more negative than I intended. But I wanted to make a point that Lang’s career as a whole is unusually coherent, interesting all the way through, the films all gaining in context, and will add I don’t think there’s even one, even if it is some way dissatisfying or seems to miss completely, that is not in some way engaging/absorbing/creatively approached.

    I’ve had some ups and downs with a few of these films. I do rate “Fury” very high in his work and have commonly felt it was one of his best, even with an ending that doesn’t quite align with the power of so much of it (I think your description of it “very good up to a point” is right) but my last viewing of it wasn’t quite as good. The same thing happened with “Scarlet Street” but I haven’t quite accounted for this–your description of it would have seemed like the one I’d want to make before this last time–and this too was one I had rated among the best. “The Woman in the Window” knocked me out the first time but I have come to be ambivalent about the dream ending Lang himself imposed, even though the tension of most of the film is wonderfully sustained. I haven’t seen “You Only Live Once” for years. I’m looking forward to getting back to all of these watching chronologically, and may come to a better appreciation of all of them.

    My favorite movie of earlier American Lang is “Man Hunt” and that has always held up–a completely satisfying Lang movie and for me one of his very best. This maybe makes the point I hoped to make because in that quartet of 40s spy/anti-Nazi movies, all of which have a lot going for them and they are excellent and imposing as a group, the other three for me all seem flawed one way or another by comparison. Dave’s piece and the comments on some others here on “The Ministry of Fear” (noting that others in this group do feel it’s one of Lang’s
    best) expressed what I feel pretty well about this.

    In any event, I appreciated the comments you made and find discussion of Lang is always consistently interesting here. I try to learn from it to know him better.

  • Blake you’re right, I was reading in too much in your comment about the three stages. I’m sorry about that, but you do seem to find this second phase the lesser one, and for me they’re all equal. Like you I’ve always felt that the ending of Woman in the Window is a let-down, but You Only Live Once and Scarlet Street are two of my three favourites from Lang’s Hollywood years, the third being The Big Heat.

    At the same time it feels somewhat wrong discussing them separately because it’s particularly as a whole that they become essential. Although none of Lang’s films are among my absolute favourites, as a complete body of work they coalesce and turn into something that is bigger then the individual pieces.
    An oeuvre that captures the anxieties of modern living in the first half of the 20th century.

    Speaking of Phil Karlson, the two John Payne-films Kansas City Confidential and 99 River Street are great, and I probably like 99 River Street more than any single film by Lang. But Karlson’s oeuvre and artistic achievements are not exactly in the same league.

    Also, it’s always an inspiration to read your posts. Individually and as a whole. I think you should collect all your comments here on davekehr.com, edited them so that all comments that are related merge into essays, and then publish them in a book. I know I’d buy a copy.

  • Barry Lane

    Blake:

    I had forgotten Serenade which is surely a compelling novel of sensual obsession, and other things not at all covered in the film. In fact there is something so wrong about the adaptation you might easily wonder why anyone bothered.

  • Alex

    Curtiz’s MILDRED PIERCE radically transforms Cain’s attempt at a California-Depression naturalistic melodrama –half Dreiser half Fanny Hurst- by framing it within a noirish crime tale, but the framing devise does leave a lot of the Cain –e..g, the tale of the struggling divorcé– intact. Moreover, the material did double duty a few years ago in Tod Haynes’ richly rewarding adaptation of the social-realist original. The are extent of blatant Mexphobia and arguable homophobia in SERENADE make practically impossible material for filming, much unlike the perfect film material provided by DOUBLE INDEMNITY and POSTMAN (despite gay under current brough close to the surface in in the Nef-Keyes relationof the former and brouht out into the open in the Visconti’S OSESSIONE.) So Cain filmable early fictions have grounded five terrific-to-magnificent films (including Tay Garnett’s luminous, if noirish, POSTMAN).

  • Blake Lucas

    Thanks for the kind words, Fredrik. I’m glad just to contribute. One of my editors at Salem Press/Magill’s (I wrote over 100 pieces there) said I should collect my pieces for them into a book. Honestly, I didn’t feel I had come up to where I wanted to be then (by the way, I did do “Man Hunt” for them in one of the Annuals/retrospective section). I do have time now to work on the couple of film books on specific subjects and hope you’d want to buy a copy of those.

    Your second paragraph at 4:14 says it perfectly about Lang, much better than I did. That is how I feel about him too. It is in the complete body of work that he becomes most impressive and one of the greatest of filmmakers, more than in any one film. I divided into periods kind of for convenience in talking about him, but I do agree that in most ways it’s an evolution not so readily divided and all of a piece.

  • Alex

    Fredrik Gustafsson,

    Lang and Karlson share great boardwalk scenes — Lang’s in they THEY CLASH BY NIGHT and Karlson’s in 99 RIVER STREET.

    Mike Grost,

    Thanks for the best succinct Dwan primer imaginable (your dislike of SANDS OF IWO JIMA disegarded).

  • Robert Garrick

    Actually John Alton’s last credit was the 1966 TV pilot for “Mission: Impossible,” which I haven’t seen. He also worked for about two weeks on John Frankenheimer’s “Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962), before being fired and replaced with Burnett Guffey. That prompted him to retire from film work and devote his time to painting and other things, though he lived another 34 years, until 1996.

    The American Museum of the Moving Image (as it was then called) in Queens honored Alton back in summer 1994, and I took the train up from Washington, D.C. three straight weekends to see the films (almost all beautiful 35mm copies) and to meet him and hear him talk. Alton was then 92 years old, and was a little hard of hearing, but he was still all there mentally. He didn’t want to hear anything about film theory and he didn’t want to hear any high-minded academic talk about his films. Someone asked him about “film noir” and Alton made it clear he didn’t care about “film noir,” whatever that was. He just wanted to talk about how much he liked (or didn’t like) various directors and actors, and he wanted to talk about photography, which still turned him on like nothing else. And when it came to photography, there was no question that Alton, like John Ford, thought that black-and-white photography was vastly more interesting than color.

    Blake, though, is certainly correct to point out that Alton did some great work in color, though it’s only a small piece of his overall career. “An American in Paris” was his first technicolor credit, and after that Alton did a number of color films for Minnelli, Dwan, and Richard Brooks. He also continued to do some black-and-white work, most notably “The Big Combo” (1955) and “I, The Jury” (1953).

    Alton’s work was always competent, but when he was paired with an indifferent director, his work suffered. A late example would be “Lonelyhearts” (1958), directed by Vincent J. Donehue, which is about as photographically undistinguished a film as you will ever see. Ditto the last hour of “Mystery Street” (1950), directed by John Sturges. “Mystery Street” is fascinating because the first fifteen or twenty minutes rock along like a great sleazy noir, with Jan Sterling flaunting her looks, flirting with married men, and picking up drunks at a bar. This part of the film looks terrific, and I’m sure Alton was enjoying himself. But then Sterling is murdered, and the film turns into (essentially) an episode of “Dragnet,” with the look of a TV show. Alton did work with Sturges again, though.

    Alton is, I think, one of the unique geniuses in the history of the movies. Nobody else worked like him (so quickly, with so little equipment) or shot films that had his look. I think he taught Anthony Mann a great deal. Mann’s films before “T-Men” (1947) did not have his signature noir look (single source shafts of light; lots of shots from floor level, etc.) But after “T-Men,” all of Mann’s noirs looked like that, whether they were photographed by Alton or not. “Desperate” (1947) was shot by George Diskant, but it still had the Alton look. So did “Railroaded” (1947), shot by Guy Roe.

    My own pick for Alton’s best-looking film, by the way, would be “The Spiritualist” (1948), also known as “The Amazing Mr. X.” Bernard Vorhaus–one of Dave’s “further research” subjects–directed. I saw an absolutely glistening print at the AMMI Alton tribute–it sure looked like a 35mm copy. My jaw is still scraping the ground over that one.

    The other Alton film that some have singled out for special praise is “I, The Jury” (1953, directed by Harry Essex), which he shot in 3-D. I have seen the film, but not in 3-D. Good prints do exist and that’s a film I want to see (correctly) before I die.

  • Blake Lucas

    I’d gladly take up for Tony Randall (especially in ROCK HUNTER but more generally too–in a dramatic role his “desperation” scene with Sheree North in NO DOWN PAYMENT might well be the best single scene in any Martin Ritt movie, as it’s also Ritt’s best movie overall) and Red Buttons (the last time I saw “Hatari” I found his engaging, funny performance one of the great virtues of the movie, and Elsa Martinelli’s as well).

    But I cannot get behind Todd Haynes’ MILDRED PIERCE at all, found it a chore to get through it, and found myself in disbelief over all the acclaim that it got. I say this as someone who thought MILDRED PIERCE was Cain’s best work and I know that superficially, Haynes was much more faithful to it than the Curtiz version. But this was superficial–it was really mostly an unreflective refraction through Haynes’ own very contemporary point of view and the look of the film visually, its seeming scrupulous detail, almost never gave it the same impression of reality than the more artificial Warner Bros. movie actually did have. Also, the casting seemed so bad in almost every role, except for the girl playing Veda as a young girl. Whereas the actors in the Curtiz movie, no matter what changes were made in the relationship, seemed made for those characters–as one example, it actually became interesting for Mildred not to sleep with Wally, unlike in the book, because Jack Carson was light years more charming than the Wally of Haynes’ movie, in which, true to the book, Mildred did sleep with him but one wondered why.

    The biggest problem in this supposedly feminist opus is that unlike Joan Crawford’s Mildred, Kate Winslet’s Mildred seemed like a stupid woman. Mildred is supposed to have a streak about her no-good daughter but is at least smart enough to understand she does, but Haynes’ Mildred went through most of the film clueless which just made no sense. This was a woman smart enough to open three restaurants–people can have chinks in their emotional makeup even if they are smart in other ways, but no one is going to be so successful if they are simply dumb as this character is here. Is it really so enlightened to see women the way Haynes does (the main character in FAR FROM HEAVEN was very much like this) in order to make the social points he wants to make? I find it very patronizing to see people this way, and not only women, and I believe that no Douglas Sirk female (or Fannie Hurst for that matter) has so little real dimension, no matter how melodramatically constructed. So between these charmless characters and Haynes’ projection of ideas on to the story rather than the kind of real engagement with it that Curtiz and his writers could claim, the Haynes MILDRED PIERCE was close to stillborn for me from the beginning and I wonder why I watched it all.

    One reason perhaps–Haynes shows glimmers he does have some talent. There was a scene from outside a restaurant early on of a despondent Mildred inside at a table that was very visually appealing and effectively sustained, and one other between Mildred and young Veda well-staged and also well composed and at least close to convincing. The whole thing wasn’t quite as deplorable as FAR FROM HEAVEN. Still…

    There have been good Cain adaptations. I really wish someone had done PAST ALL DISHONOR, though can’t say I hope for this with any contemporary filmmakers.

  • I’d want to Blake, you can count on that.

    Alex, boardwalks and cinema is an underappreciated line of enquiry. Even though they’ve got an empire now.

    An Alton film that should be mentioned is Hollow Triumph, aka The Scar. It’s excellent!

  • Blake Lucas

    Thanks for correcting, Robert. I was aware of Alton’s work on “Birdman of Alcatraz” but knew he had been replaced early on–I wasn’t aware of the “Mission: Impossible” episode.

    On the other hand, while I don’t disagree he had some influence of Anthony Mann (I think it’s accurate to say they were good for each other), “Desperate” and “Railroaded” both preceded “T-Men” the first (and for me still most dazzling) Mann/Alton collaboration. They all came out the same year, but all sources I’ve seen confirm this was the order they were made.

    I too find John Alton unusually gifted and treasure his contributions to cinema. You are fortunate to have made that opportunity for yourself to see and hear him in person.

  • Robert Garrick

    Blake, you are correct about the order of Mann’s 1947 films, and for me that’s a major piece of information. I’m now thinking that perhaps Mann taught Alton a thing or two, because “Desperate” and “Railroaded” are both larded with shots and sequences that we now think of as classic Alton. But perhaps they’re actually classic Mann, and Alton was simply the cameraman who was best able to realize Mann’s vision, starting with his next film, “T-Men.”

    Mann obviously knew what he wanted, and as he gained a tiny bit more freedom he was able to find better projects, and the perfect cameraman for them. (Though I am fond of 1945’s “Sing Your Way Home,” one of the songs from which plays in the background as Dick Powell walks into a nightclub in “Cornered,” from the same year.)

  • This is fascinating information about John Alton. He is such a mysterious figure. Thanks to Robert Garrick for the Film Culture information; I’ll have to look for that issue.

  • Joe Dante

    “Where’s Joe Dante when you need him?”–

    I’m right here, Robert, lurking as ever but unable to keep up in a timely fashion with such a wide-ranging and ever-evolving thread (one of the best in quite awhile).

    Tony Randall-wise, in 1989 I spent a glorious afternoon in a NYC sound studio recording his voice for The Brain Gremlin in Gremlins 2. Need I mention what a thrill it was to work with him?

    And I provided a heartfelt introduction for John Alton when he was given a lifetime achievement award by the LA Film Critics.

    Let me add another recommendation for Losey’s version of M, which I’m afraid will be peering out at us from the murky depths of bootleg dvds for some time to come.

  • Barry Putterman

    Certainly it was fortunate that Anthony Mann met up with John Alton. But John Alton met up with many people in his career, and the results were of more benefit to Anthony Mann because with DR. BROADWAY and THE GREAT FLAMARION (as well as DESPERATE and RAILROADED!) he had already indicated where he wanted to go.

    As I said once in an earlier discussion, it was fortunate for Stan Laurel and Charley Chase that they met up with Leo Mccarey, but it was also fortunate for Leo McCarey that he met up with Stan Laurel and Charley Chase.

  • I finally watched Joseph Losey’s M yesterday, after seeing the Lang version again. The film makes terrific use of the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles, plus a destructive take on the Bradbury Building. I don’t recall this film being incorporated into Thomas Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, and if it isn’t, it sure should be.

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry, I first saw “Dr. Broadway” (1942) at the CineClub circa 1976, and you might have been in the room with me. It’s the noir genre, and it’s got some low-key lighting, but overall the film looks nothing like those three 1947 films, and neither does “The Great Flamarion” (1945). The shoot-out at the end of “Railroaded,” in particular, screams Alton, but I guess he had nothing to do with it.

    “Dr. Broadway” and “The Great Flamarion” are interesting early films, but their style is quite different from what Mann started doing starting with “Desperate” and “Railroaded.” Alton’s pre-1947 films (one of them is “The Lady and the Monster,” directed by George Sherman) don’t quite have that look either, though there are many of them that I haven’t seen. They’re well-photographed, but without the dramatic angles and natural light sources that are characteristic of the Mann films.

    Something pretty important happened when Mann and Alton got together, I think.

  • Ah, the shoot-out in the dark bar in Railroaded! is extraordinary!

  • Alex,

    Thank you very much for your kind comments on the Dwan article!
    It will be expanded as more Dwan films become available.

    Dwan is a mysterious director. So little has actually been written in detail about most of his films.
    Reading everyone’s comments here has been very interesting and enlightening.
    And I’m really looking forward to Dave Kehr’s article.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, I would say that you better captured it at 6:27 than you did at 6:58. Saying that DR. BROADWAY looks nothing like RAILROADED! is sort of like saying that STRAIGHT SHOOTING looks nothing like THREE BAD MEN. Which is to say that everybody starts out with tendencies and ambitions and hopefully, with luck and skill, winds up fulfilling them. Mann learned a lot between DR. BROADWAY and RAILROADED!. And he learned even more from working with Alton.

  • Robert Garrick

    D.K. Holm: I notice that the Fall 1965 issue of “Film Culture” (Issue No. 38) is available at eBay right now, for a reasonable price. That’s the one with Sarris’s large piece on actors. Just don’t search for “Sarris” because the seller spells it incorrectly in his heading.

  • Daniel F.

    Yes, I too was thinking it may be appropriate to say that Mann was able to more fully realize his own capacities and preoccupations by collaborating with the singular talent and ingenuity of Alton. And it also lead to one of my favorite genre mash-up periods in (my admittedly truncated) history of the medium: Mann’s delectable transitional features, including REIGN OF TERROR, THE TALL TARGET, THE FURIES, THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY, etc. I do not recall offhand which of those features Alton shot, but I personally feel that by this point, the resonance between the two had flourished, and informed Mann’s compositions.

    I’d also like to praise MAN HUNT as one of the most distilled and outstanding of Lang’s Hollywood features, though I have yet to see THE TIGER FROM ESCHNAPUR, and a couple of others. This thread has proven wonderful, and I’m especially grateful for the suggestion that Lang’s ouevre ought to be considered collectively (I believe by Blake Lucas, and others here). This I find particularly liberating in the case of Lang, whose preoccupations and through-lines likely become more evident and nuanced. Limitations of resources or working conditions too may have detracted more egregiously from individual works, in that Lang was so exacting and architectural in his metier, and perhaps not the most flexible of characters. Considering Lang as a whole seems a terribly formidable and rewarding enterprise, in the best sense of the word.

    Thanks also to those who sang in their screenwriter-street answers. Maybe I’ll have to make a trip to San Francisco one day soon.

  • Blake Lucas

    Nice comments, Daniel. Re Lang’s two Indian films (actually one film in two parts–TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR/INDIAN TOMB), there may have been something in the way I discussed the last decade of Lang that gave the impression this was a Hollywood film. Lang’s last two films, this and 1000 EYES OF DR. MABUSE are German films, bringing him back full circle to his early work, the Indian films based on an old script he had written and wanted to direct among his early silents but didn’t get the opportunity then–that early version was directed by Joe May. It’s interesting to think about the ways it would have been different if Lang had directed it then and watching the realized 1959 version it seems like he was glad to have a chance to finally to do it.

    Of Mann movies you mentioned above, Alton shot REIGN OF TERROR and DEVIL’S DOORWAY and you might also have mentioned BORDER INCIDENT, the first film they both worked on at Metro. By 1952 and Mann’s first color film BEND OF THE RIVER, the last noirish inflections in Mann’s visual style seem to be gone, though he remains as strong a stylist as ever moving into this phase of his career and certainly didn’t lack for more great collaborators among his cinematographers for the 1950s, such William Daniels, et al.

  • Robert Garrick: those are fascinating remarks about John Alton. I treasure the memory of the Telluride tribute to him in 1993 where “the prince of darkness” was introduced by Bertrand Tavernier and the clip selection included stunning 3D footage of I, THE JURY. Alton’s comment on why he quit and vanished so totally that not even his address could be found: “I had had enough”. He seemed very serene. His advice for happiness in life: “be nice to them”. Afterwards I read his book PAINTING WITH LIGHT (1949). It is a classic.

    Talking about Dwan: what is presently the most reliable count of the films he made? In Peter Bogdanovich’s book Dwan says he made 1400 movies. IMDb identifies 405. According to Philip Kemp Dwan made 250 one- or half-reelers in 1911-1913.

    MILDRED PIERCE is based on a true-life model, James M. Cain’s mother-in-law at the time of writing the novel. In the 1930s Cain was married to the Finn Elina Sjöstedt, who brought with her to America her children and her mother Sofia Sjöstedt, who had run a top boarding-house in Munkkiniemi in 1918-1923, popular with refugees from Red Russia. The impressive building was designed by Eliel Saarinen and has had a distinguished history, serving as the West Point of Finland, the headquarters of the Finnish Air Force, and now as the Institute of Public Management.

  • Alex

    A discerning “mixed” review of Haynes’ MILDRED PIERCE can be found in the 2011-03-23 number of the Village Voice; more positive, representative reviews were written by Alexandra Stanley and Emily Nussbaum in March 2011 isues of the NYT and the New York magazine, respectively;a Gomnzo rave was penned by Matt Zoller Seitz for Salon — a good example of negatively leaning reviews of the piece by Stephen King for Newsweek.

  • Alex Hicks

    In the Dwan interview in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with …” Dwan statess his favorite film directors and five favorite Dwan films.

    In his “Who the Devil”‘s interview, Lang voices his disappointment with Regrave’s performance in “SECRET BEYOND, particularly with regard to the protagonist’s disquitition on “rooms”(plus much more).

  • Robert Garrick

    Alex Hicks: I’m curious to know which five films Dwan picked as his favorites.

    I have that book–signed to me personally by Bogdanovich. My memory of him that day is that he was wearing a water bottle on his belt, like a gunslinger would wear a holster and a six-shooter. But the book, alas, is in storage.

    This massive thread, which grew gradually over two weeks like a snowball slowly rolling downhill, dealt at various times with Dwan, John Alton, Andrew Sarris, and the film “Slightly Scarlet.” I found a Sarris quote that ties them all together. He called “Slightly Scarlet” “one of the most eye-boggling American movies ever made.”

  • alex

    Dwan ‘s favorite Dwans:

    ROBIN HOOD, MANHANDLED, SUEZ, SANDS OF IWO JIMA, and BIG BROTHER. (a “lost film “).

    Favorite Directors :

    Hitchcock, Ford, Vidor, Capra., Borzage, Walsh and — a bit more equivvocally –McCarey, Hawks and Preminger. Not so much Sarris’Pantheon as whst I intuit to be our host ‘s!

  • alex

    I don ‘t mean to suggest that Dave K ”s. Pantheon — unlike, it seems, Dwan ‘s– is all USA.

  • alex

    D. K. Holmes,

    Did you perhaps gain access to Losey’s M in a way that others might readily imitate?

  • I rented from a local famous video store called Movie Madness, which traffics in gray market VHS along with thousands of DVDs.

  • Peter Henne

    As others and myself have said on previous posts about Anthony Mann, one of the big questions to answer for his career is how to link his style in noir to the Westerns. I think DEVIL’S DOORWAY provides the best key, because it is shot by Alton, is in black-and-white, and has some of the creased shadowing over faces that is more sinister and expressionist like noir than motivated from the natural world like his Westerns and the genre in general. Let me also add that the chronology in Jeannine Basinger’s revised edition of her book on Mann agrees with Blake’s.

    Robert’s first post on SLIGHTLY SCARLET was so interesting to me that it got me to order it, sight unseen, and it should arrive soon. I recently re-saw SILVER LODE and was more impressed than ever by it, a classic. It would be wonderful to see that whole string of Dwan films shot by Alton discussed here. CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA is available on dvd, as is SILVER LODE, but I don’t know about the others.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Peter, I think you can find all of the Dwan films shot by Alton in the French dvd box that I linked to earlier in the thread. But the thread is now so long that the most timesaving thing to do is probably to just post the link again:

    http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film2/DVDReviews48/allan_dwan_boxset.htm

  • Barry Putterman

    Peter, go back a page and click on the Dwan box set the Johan links us to which is available from Amazon France. It isn’t the entire run of Dwan-Alton films, but it is a pretty good chunk of them.

  • Peter Henne

    Johan and Barry, I saw that link before but didn’t investigate it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and sorry for my oversight. That set looks mighty tempting and filling in the Dwan run shot by Alton feels irresistible. The Carlotta box has the seven consecutive features.

  • Robert Garrick

    Steve Handzo, who used to teach at Columbia (it was in his class that I first saw “Gun Crazy,” maybe 37 years ago) wrote a nice piece on the early Anthony Mann westerns and in particular “Devil’s Doorway” (1950) for “Bright Lights,” which was a pretty good film magazine back in the 1970s. (It still exists online.) Handzo wrote the piece in 1976, but you can find it online here:

    http://brightlightsfilm.com/76/76mann_handzo.php

  • alex

    DEVIL ‘S DOORWAY sounds like a link between the nourish Mann and the Western Mann well worth scrutiny. Comparison of WINCHESTER ’73 and THE FURIES — Mann Westerns made contemporaneously with DOORWAY– might help illuminate study of the link.

  • Daniel F.

    “DEVIL ‘S DOORWAY sounds like a link between the nourish Mann and the Western Mann well worth scrutiny.”

    Yes, and yes. There is a shot toward the end, where Robert Taylor stands alone inside his destroyed, familial home and takes a penultimate moment of reflection. Noir-ish [I do understand Alton's professional disdain of the term, but I feel it still serves as a useful, post-hoc gloss], stark shafts of light penetrate the darkened, splintering room at at disorienting angles. When I first saw that particular set-up, bells just went off in my head: this is not a “Western” composition, or it is more than a “Western” composition, and it was such an exciting infusion to witness. As is Taylor’s very last line and gesture of the film, which I won’t spoil here if you haven’t yet seen it.

    Blake, thank you. And now that I think about BORDER INCIDENT, which has passages I absolutely love — who can forget that staggering thresher scene on the farm? — it probably does mark a jumping-off point for Mann, in that he admirably integrates several, disparate thematic strands along with the ingenuity and dynamic range of Alton. And now that I reflect further, the notion that BORDER INCIDENT concerns itself with borders is really quite lovely, isn’t it? It makes me think, as but one example, that Mann was an early proponent of consciously blurring doc/narrative territory in T-MEN and BORDER INCIDENT that figures like Peter Watkins would later follow to its logical conclusion.

    And though I did in fact know Lang’s TIGER FROM ESCHNAPUR and INDIAN TOMB were based on the early screenplays (and I still very much look forward to watching these), it was not for lack of clarity in your writing that I neglected Lang’s final films being shot outside of Hollywood. It was my own, fallible memory; also that I had not properly digested all of the posts in this voluminous thread. As I recollect my thoughts, Lang was not alone in his return to Germany. Adorno is the first prominent German exile who comes to my mind — and he held an almost absurd contempt for his time in Los Angeles. When I reflect on directors who were shooting in Europe in the ’60s after stints in Hollywood, Lang, Mann, Aldrich, Losey, Renoir, Kubrick, and Welles also come to mind (and surely, there are other transplants that I can’t place, but that in itself represents a pretty formidable grouping).

  • Alex

    Daniel F.,

    Maybe noir can only be isolated using narrative and thematic criteria as well as cinematogrphic ones as Krutick argues in his LONELY STREETS and Silver and Ward indicate. If so, maybe Alton thought “expressionism” was name enough for what he was shooting for Mann and others in the late 1940s. Maybe he (correctly) saw REIGN OF TERROR as SHOT in the same vein as his urban crime films but other then them,. i.e., not “noir.”

  • Robert Garrick

    Other directors who worked in Europe in the ’60s (and later) after stints in Hollywood: Jules Dassin, Alfred Hitchcock (1972, for “Frenzy”), Otto Preminger (1979, “The Human Factor”), Frank Tashlin (1965, “The Alphabet Murders,” with Tony Randall), and no doubt some more.

  • Daniel F.

    I had also wanted to touch briefly on Blake’s BEND OF THE RIVER comments: I was deeply impressed by the way Mann filled up the frame in BOTR, and this was indeed no longer Alton, nor noir-inflected. The compositions integrate strongly with the continually shifting power balances. The Portland scenes, and some of the steamboat compositions come to mind; there’s a great sense of staggered space on display, and also an ability to shoot ensembles while retaining a sense of individualized agency and personality.

    And I’ve noticed these compositional developments carry through many of Mann’s great westerns. I am reminded of the interior scene in MAN OF THE WEST, where Link first encounters Dock Tobin in (again) the old familial house; there’s an intensive, constantly shifting power dynamic shifting spread among the five characters in a cramped, darkened space. In lesser hands, a basic ensemble/location like this may well have been rendered flat and uninspired.

  • Robert Garrick

    Also Billy Wilder, who made “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” (1970) in England, and “Fedora” (1978), which Dave and I are both quite fond of, in France and Germany. Wilder returned to America to make his last film, “Buddy Buddy” (1981), which I am not so crazy about.

  • Daniel F.

    Alex, that is a very nice distinction. I’m afraid I’m not a good candidate to discern how noir may be best distinguished categorically. But Alton’s description of his own work as “expressionism” — I was not aware of this — seems a propos for his work, and how he applied his range of skills to the situations that arose.

    Robert Garrick, I had a feeling more trans-Atlantic examples would come, so thank you. And they are really quite an impressive selection of films that were produced.

  • “As I recollect my thoughts, Lang was not alone in his return to Germany. Adorno is the first prominent German exile who comes to my mind — and he held an almost absurd contempt for his time in Los Angeles.”

    Adorno was preceded by Bertolt Brecht and Peter Lorre who made the only picture he directed (“Der Verlorene”, 1951)in the FDR. Brecht of course returned to the GDR and tried to persuade Lorre to join him.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, of course some of those mentioned here (Brecht, Losey, Dassin, Welles, Renoir, etc.) were, for one reason or another, more or less invited to leave Hollywood. So, possibly the contempt for Los Angeles wasn’t all that absurd.

    With others (Mann, Ray, Aldrich, Kubrick etc.) it had more to do with the crumbling of the studio system and the expanding avenues of other national cinemas and/or co-productions.

  • Daniel F.

    Points well-taken. I should mention in passing I was referencing an inaugural speech by Adorno upon his return to Germany, in which he voiced his disdain of the topography and atomization of LA, among other issues. As far as I know, both he and Brecht arrived back in Germany in 1949 (and Adorno just happened to come to my mind first), Brecht having spent the two years prior in Switzerland, and Lorre apparently having arrived in the FDR in 1950. More to the point I’d think, Brecht and Lorre made films; Adorno, to my knowledge, didn’t.

    Yes, I hadn’t really factored the contempt of the some, or the many directors then working in Europe toward Hollywood-related circumstances in my comments; suffice to say, there was probably more than enough to go around.

  • Steve elworth

    Barry, Renoir never left Los Angeles. He lived there but worked elsewhere which brings him closer to Aldrich decade earlier.

  • Barry Putterman

    That’s right Steve. Renoir never left Los Angeles. And Jean Gabin, for one, never forgave him for that. However, Los Angeles left him as far as filmmaking was concerned. And both he and we were most likely best served by that circumstance.

  • Steve elworth

    Absolutely, Barry. He we t to India, Italy and France to make the films that he could not make In Los Angeles and had a great filmic old age.

  • Brian Dauth

    Billy Wilder also went to Europe for AVANTI! (1972), and though he was in America for THE FRONT PAGE (1975), I find that film suffused with memories of the Berlin of his youth when he was a reporter.

  • M v. M Seeing the two Ms in quick succession highlighted significant elements of the two directors. Lang’s M is about processes, symmetries, anonymity. Losey, interestingly, seems to focus primarily on the relationship between the crime kingpin and his attorney. This alcoholic attorney ends up representing the child murderer in the final set piece. Up until then, their relationship comes across as a rough sketch for the one later found in The Servant. Losey’s less meticulous mise en scène unveils the creakiness of transporting the tale to modern Los Angeles.