Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Heroes of Telemark

Anthony Mann: The Heroes of Telemark (1965) avec Kirk Douglas (Rolf).

Les Héros de Télémark / Telemarkin sankarit / Hjältarna från Telemark.
    Anthony Mann
États-Unis / 1964 / 130 min / Numérique / VOSTF
D'après le roman Skis Against the Atom de Knut Haukelid et But for These Men de John Drummond.
Avec Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris, Ulla Jacobsson.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann
    Sous-titres français: P. P. Anmassa.
    Viewed at La Cinémathèque française, Salle Henri Langlois, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6, 31 March 2024

La Cinémathèque française : "Tourné sur les monts enneigés du Grand Nord, un haut fait de la résistance norvégienne qui empêcha les troupes allemandes de produire un composant de la bombe atomique. L'une des dernières œuvres du maître, grand paysagiste de l'écran large. "

AA: A war film, a resistance drama, an anti-Nazi film, a guerrilla film, a sabotage film, a commando (special forces) film, a winter war film, a mountain film, a ski adventure, a Nuclear Age film.

A good and thrilling war film, Anthony Mann's only WWII and anti-Nazi film. Bamboo Blonde takes place during wartime and the male protagonist of Strangers in the Night is a war invalid, but neither is a war film. There is a sense of urgency in The Heroes of Telemark, a feeling of special personal commitment by Anthony Mann and Kirk Douglas.

20 years after the war the period was ending for war films with a sense of immediate experience and lived reality. Most war films by now had a feeling of pastiche, routine, metacinema and war as adventure spectacle entertainment (for instance Alistair MacLean film adaptations), in parallel with Westerns being replaced by pastiches. The Heroes of Telemark is still the real deal.

One last time, Anthony Mann excels in his sense of landscape, catching breathtaking views in Panavision in Telemark, around the facilities of Norsk Hydro. This film could also be called a Northern, just like The Far Country, which was set in Alaska. Negotiating sublime landscapes like the chevaliers of Mann's Wild West, Roman Empire and Reconquista Spain are now Norwegian ski champions and downhill racers with incredible derring-do.

Like Oppenheimer, The Heroes of Telemark belongs to the films about the WWII nuclear arms race (Einstein and Oppenheimer are cited in the dialogue). The Germans are producing heavy water at the Hydro, necessary for nuclear weapons. The mission of the resistance and the British commandos is to destroy the Nazi plan, and after thrilling turns, dangerous ski chases and thwarted Quisling infiltrations, they succeed. The last thrill is to rescue Norwegian children from the boat that must explode.

This true story was first filmed right after the war as a Norwegian-French production, Kampen om tungtvannet / La Bataille de l'eau lourde / The Fight for the Atom Bomb (NO/FR 1948, D: Titus Vibe-Müller & Jean Dréville). That original film is of special value also because in it some heroes of Telemark play themselves.

The digital transfer has been performed well, but in some process shots artifice becomes glaringly obvious by the mercilessness of the digital precision. 


El Cid

Anthony Mann: El Cid (US/IT 1960). Sophia Loren as Doña Jimena.

Le Cid / El Cid - kuninkaan soturi / El Cid [Sweden].
    Anthony Mann
États-Unis-Italie / 1960 / 180 min / 35 mm / VOSTF / Copie unique
Avec Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Raf Vallone.
Finnish premiere: 31 Aug 1962, at 5120 m / 187 min.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann
    Projection avec entracte.
    Viewed at La Cinémathèque française, Salle Henri Langlois, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6, 31 March 2024

La Cinémathèque française: " Entre l'histoire et la légende, la vie de Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar, chevalier espagnol du XIe siècle, en lutte contre les envahisseurs maures. C'est le film de la revanche pour Anthony Mann, débarqué du tournage de Spartacus un an plus tôt. Projet pharaonique produit par Samuel Bronston, Le Cid s'inscrit dans la lignée des superproductions des années 60 et répond à tous les canons du genre. Foules innombrables, batailles, duels, tournois et cavalcades fantastiques rythment ce péplum de luxe, inondé de fracas d'armes, de cris et de bannières qui claquent au vent, sur fond de terre brûlée espagnole et de châteaux castillans. Chimène a la beauté de Sophia Loren, Rodrigue, le cœur de Charlton Heston. Emportés par la musique élégiaque de Miklós Rózsa, ils brillent de mille feux dans l'un des plus grands films épiques jamais tournés. "

Dialogue avec Jean-François Rauger - 60 min : " Le Cid incarne exemplairement la stratégie de délocalisation (le film est tourné en Espagne) et de monumentalisation (il a coûté plus de sept millions de dollars) d'une industrie sur le déclin. C'est aussi l'un des grands titres de la fin de la carrière d'Anthony Mann qui, avec L'Homme de la plaine en 1955, était passé au Cinémascope, inaugurant ainsi formellement une troisième période après celle du noir et blanc, puis celle du passage à la couleur. Il fallait donc ce gigantisme du cadre et de l'image pour conjuguer les fracas de la guerre et de la politique avec la douceur cruelle et muette de sentiments inconciliables. L'ultime héros mannien est, une fois de plus, sommé de choisir. Alors, Le Cid, avatar d'un système hollywoodien en pleine décadence ou continuation du western par d'autres moyens ? " - Jean-François Rauger est directeur de la programmation à la Cinémathèque française.

AA: Anthony Mann directed 11 Westerns between 1950 and 1960, and for André Bazin he was the greatest Western director of his time. His last Western, Cimarron, Mann left halfway through filming due to disagreements with producer Edmund Grainger. Mann wanted to film entirely on location, but Grainger wanted a majority of scenes instead to be filmed in studio. (I copy passages from Wikipedia here).

Like Jean-François Rauger states above, Mann's epics with Samuel Bronston were "a continuation of the Western with other means", first and foremost in their sense of wide open spaces as organic milieux for the action.

In his Westerns, Mann since Devil's Doorway and The Furies caught the spirit of epic poetry, and it is fascinating how well he connects here with a much older form, the Spanish cantar de gesta, covering huge events 800-900 years earlier during the long reconquista, the Christian re-conquering of al-Andalus from Muslim rule.

The weakness here, like in The Fall of the Roman Empire, is that much of the dialogue sounds like wooden recitation. I am reminded of Howard Hawks's complaint in The Land of the Pharaohs: "I didn't know how Pharaohs talk".

In both El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire, Sophia Loren is magnificent but statuesque, a royal presence of great dignity.

The structure in both films is powerful. There is a feeling of lived authenticity in the physical production. The battle sequences are stupefying.

Mann with his team of screenwriters in both movies pursues a world view of reconciliation. Despite the reconquista theme, El Cid is not an anti-Muslim film, instead celebrating a vision of a coexistence of Christians and Muslims.

Like Marcus Aurelius and Lucius, El Cid is a great unifier and creator of alliances. In The Fall of the Roman Empire the great adversary was Emperor Commodus, and here it is King Alfonso. Alfonso banishes El Cid, confiscates his property and separates him from his wife Chimene and their twin daughters.

Like Commodus, Alfonso is a walking disaster. Alfonso is defeated by the Moors at the Battle of Sagrajas. In the battle of Valencia, El Cid returns to lead Spain to victory. He dies in the middle, but honouring his final wish, his dead body is propped by an iron frame to continue the fight as the leading figure until Ben Yusuf's invasion army is defeated.

The theme of the invincible spirit is moving. Charlton Heston rises to the occasion as the epic hero. We believe in his mere presence, even in death, capable to instil an invincible fighting spirit.

On display was a 35 mm print. [To be confirmed: this was the 1993 restoration, longer than the original release print, an Institut Lumière print]. The colour is vivid, glowing and jubilant. Particularly the reds are warm and radiant. This show was a feast to the eyes.

The scores of the Samuel Bronston epics are the greatest among Anthony Mann's films: Miklós Rózsa here, Dimitri Tiomkin in The Fall of the Roman Empire. There is a powerful union of landscape, vision and music.

There was an inspired hour-long dialogue moderated by Jean-François Rauger. Before the screening, he recited by heart a passage from Corneille's Le Cid. The eternal conflict of love and duty is central in Mann's film, as well.


Saturday, March 30, 2024

A Dandy in Aspic

Anthony Mann: A Dandy in Aspic (GB 1968) with Mia Farrow (Caroline) and Laurence Harvey (Eberlin).

Maldonne pour un espion / Vakoilija jota kukaan ei halunnut / Spionen som ingen ville ha.
    Anthony Mann
Grande-Bretagne / 1968 / 110 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
D'après le roman A Dandy in Aspic de Derek Marlowe.
Avec Laurence Harvey, Tom Courtenay, Mia Farrow.
    Finnish premiere: 3 May 1968.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann
    Copie rare Technicolor Scope
    Sous-titres français: Jean Sendy
    Viewed at La Cinémathèque française, Salle Georges Franju, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6, 30 March 2024.

La Cinémathèque française: " Ingénieuse histoire d'agent double qui reçoit comme mission de s'exécuter lui-même, le dernier film d'Anthony Mann, mort avant la fin du tournage, garde l'empreinte de son savoir-faire, d'une atmosphère de suspicion et de guerre froide plus que réussie. "

 AA: An espionage thriller, a Cold War thriller, a double agent thriller.

The mood of the movie is completely different from what Anthony Mann had done before, but because he died during the filming, it is hard to tell to what extent the ambience reflects him. After Mann's death, the direction of the principal photography was brought to a finish by Laurence Harvey.

The film starts in Swinging London, co-starring Mia Farrow in full Blow-Up mode. The score is by Quincy Jones and the costumes are by Pierre Cardin. The uncanny opening and closing credits imagery is that of a puppet on a string. Danse macabre of the Pop Age.

The movie continues in dreary divided Berlin, familiar from Torn Curtain - and that is how it still looked in the 1980s when I was a student at the Freie Universität. (See list of filming locations quoted below).

A Dandy in Aspic belongs to the contemporary cycle of realistic Cold War espionage thrillers, including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Torn Curtain, Topaz and The Kremlin Letter. They share a sour taste, a malaise about the poisonous spirit of the Cold War. Collectively, they grow into an expression of bad faith (mauvaise foi). The leading inspiration in this trend was John Le Carré. The artists were committed to the cause of the Free World but struggled with disgust of a Free World also embracing regimes of Greece, Spain, Portugal, South Africa and South Korea, the war in Vietnam and brutal coups and repressions against democratic leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Indonesia and Chile. Ian Fleming's James Bond stories were pop parodies of the Cold War. In dialogue with Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming said that James Bond is not a hero like Philip Marlowe (BBC 1958, often included in James Bond dvd / bluray box sets). *

A Russian double agent who has managed to function as a British spy for 18 years, would like to step out, but his superiors refuse permission. To complicate his job, the British secret service gives him the mission to terminate a compatriot... himself.

It is in the nature of secret agents and double agents to hide their true self. Alexander Eberlin (Laurence Harvey) and Paul Gatiss (Tom Courtenay) are immaculate and effective, but they remain opaque to such a degree that they fail to move. It is a part of their profession that they are expendable, but it is a problem for the movie that we, the audience, do not care about them either.

"Copie rare Technicolor Scope" was announced. It was a privilege to savour the juicy vintage Technicolor of this 35 mm print.

WEST BERLIN LOCATIONS identified in German Wikipedia:
Flughafen Tempelhof, Europa-Center, Funkturm, S-Bahnhof Tiergarten, U-Bahnhof Gleisdreieck [als Ersatz für den S-Bahnhof Friedrichstraße, als Grenzübergangsstelle zu Ost-Berlin], Springer-Hochhaus, AVUS-Rennstrecke, Stuttgarter Platz.
* Ian Fleming to Raymond Chandler (BBC interview in 1958): " Your hero, Philip Marlowe, is a real hero. He behaves in a heroic fashion. I never intended my leading character, James Bond, to be a hero. I intended him to be a sort of blunt instrument wielded by a government department who would get into bizarre and fantastic situations and more or less shoot his way out of them, or get out of them one way or another. But of course he’s always referred to as my hero. I don’t see him as a hero myself. On the whole I think he’s a rather unattractive man ... " (Five Dials, Number Seven, pp. 30-33).

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) the roadshow version

Anthony Mann: The Fall of the Roman Empire (US 1963). James Mason as Timonides.

La Chute de l'Empire romain / Rooman valtakunnan tuho / Romerska rikets fall.
    Anthony Mann
États-Unis / 1963 / 185 min / Numérique / VOSTF
Avec Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, James Mason.
    Finnish premiere: 6 Nov 1964.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann
    Sous-titres français: Laura Cynober.
    Viewed at La Cinémathèque française, Salle Henri Langlois, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6, 30 March 2024.

La Cinémathèque française : " Dans une gigantesque réplique du Forum romain, un chapelet de stars s'affrontent autour de la succession impériale. Trois ans après la version spectaculaire du Cid, Anthony Mann prend les commandes d'un péplum aux milliers de figurants et aux courses de chars mémorables. "

AA: When we screened The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) on 15 May 2000 at Cinema Orion in our tribute to Italian female stars, on display was the Finnish 1973 re-release print in 35 mm of the 153 minutes general release version. I now see for the first time the roadshow version in 185 minutes.

Also in May 2000 took place the Finnish release of Ridley Scott's remake Gladiator (US 2000), and seen back to back, Anthony Mann's superiority was unquestionable. Back then, the transition to digital was still new. Mann's physical effects were infinitely more powerful than Scott's digital ones. Mann's Roman Forum still "holds the record for the largest outdoor film set" and "the set was not extended through the use of matte paintings" (Wikipedia).

In the 185 minutes roadshow version, instead of choppy transitions, there is a smooth flow, often surprisingly meditative and elegiac. There is a lot of action, including some of the greatest action sequences ever filmed, such as the chariot race on narrow mountain roads, but there is also room for contemplation.

On display today was a digital presentation, and it would be interesting to know the source (the 2011 transfer for blu-ray?). The digital copy is integral, stable, clean and complete. The compositions are formidable and the close-ups look good, but in epic spectacular scenes the transfer fails to do justice to the Ultra Panavision 70 original. The fine soft detail is missing. Sophia Loren fails to radiate in digital, there is no warmth, no flesh impact. Maybe this is an old digital transfer, or maybe there are overwhelming difficulties with the original master.

In my mind I combine the digital version's narrative integrity with the film version's photochemical glory.

The winter camp on the Danube, the battle of the four armies, the funeral of Marcus Aurelius, the battle against the Germans, the revolt of the Eastern provinces, the war against Persia, the gladiator fight between Livius and Commodus and the mass burning at the stake belong to the magnificent setpieces.

They are more than that, because the movie is based on an idea of world history, visualized in the world map on Marcus Aurelius's wall and in his floor mosaic. Factually inaccurate, the movie is rewarding in the big outline. This is the epic tragedy of Pax Romana. The grand vision of Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness) of uniting provinces of Rome on the basis of citizenship instead of slavery is discarded by his son Commodus (Christopher Plummer). The Marcus Aurelius legacy lives on in his daughter Lucilla (Sophia Loren) and loyal successor Livius (Stephen Boyd).

The Fall of the Roman Empire is a tragedy of succession. Commodus is the legal heir, but in his heart an impostor, unworthy of his position, the weak and incompetent son doomed to eternal inferiority in the shadow of a great and revered father. To bolster his status, Commodus instigates a reign of terror and proclaims himself God. Yet he feels like an eternal stranger in his own empire. Plummer's interpretation radiates a sense of a "false self", a great role overwhelming the little man. His folie des grandeurs is also psychologically destructive. The crown too heavy finally crushes him. Before that, he commits double parricide: first symbolically by destroying his father's legacy and then literally by killing his biological father, the gladiator Verulus (Anthony Quayle) - Commodus is the offspring of an extramarital affair of his mother.

Like in Ben Hur, and probably inspired by it, the most powerful emotional bond emerges between two men, Livius and Commodus. They love to hate each other.

"The fall of the Roman Empire" in Edward Gibbon's book and Anthony Mann's movie means the end of the vision of the peace and prosperity of Pax Romana, which had started with the rise to power of the first emperor Augustus and ended with the death of Marcus Aurelius. The Western Roman Empire still lasted for 200 years and the Eastern Roman Empire 1200 years. But the spirit of the Roman Empire died in the year 175 in the vision of Edward Gibbon, Will Durant and Anthony Mann.

P.S. Among the rewards of following a retrospective are discoveries of continuities, among them the recurrence of actors in different periods. John Ireland, who stood out in intense performances in Mann's early crime films Railroaded and Raw Deal, returns once more as Ballomar, the formidable leader of the Germanic Marcomanni (Markomannen) people, swearing in the name of Wotan.

On display in the film is what was called at the time the Roman salute (also known as the Fascist salute). There is no evidence that it was in use in the Roman Empire. Inspired by Jacques-Louis David's painting The Oath of the Horatii (1784), it was adopted into popular culture, such as the movie Quo vadis? (FR 1901), also by the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, in the movie Cabiria (IT 1914) and in d'Annunzio's occupation of Fiume.

On a provincial note I detect among the cast the Finn Lena von Martens (1940-2015) as Helva, the daughter of Ballomar and the love companion of Timonides.

Also shot in Spain (in 1964-1965) was Chimes at Midnight (Falstaff) by Orson Welles. There is an affinity between Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius and John Gielgud as Henry IV.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Border Incident

Anthony Mann: Border Incident (US 1949). James Mitchell (Juan García) and Ricardo Montalban (Pablo Rodriguez). Cinematography: John Alton.

Book cover photo from the finale of Border Incident at the Canon de la Muerte : the march of the expendable illegal immigrants - in the valley of the shadow of death - towards the quicksands. Cinematography: John Alton. Natacha Pfeiffer & Laurent Van Eynde : Anthony Mann : Arpenter l'image, Lille: Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2019. 209 p. ISBN-13 978-2-7574-2452-0

Incident de frontière / Kuoleman raja / Dödsgränsen.
    Anthony Mann
États-Unis / 1949 / 96 min / 35 mm Copie unique / VOSTF
d'après John C. Higgins, George Zuckerman
Avec Ricardo Montalbán, Howard Da Silva, George Murphy.
    Loc: Border region between Mexico and California. Mexicali (Mexico), Calehico and El Centro (California).
    Finnish premiere: 23 Feb 1951.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann
    Sous-titres français: Titra Film.
    Viewed at La Cinémathèque française, Salle Henri Langlois, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6, 27 March 2024.

La Cinémathèque française : " Souvent classé parmi les westerns de Mann, Incident de frontière n'a de commun avec le genre que le lieu de son action. Dans une vallée de l'Ouest, l'exploitation de la main-d'œuvre mexicaine est au cœur d'une intrigue policière. Inspiré d'authentiques faits divers, le film contient des séquences particulièrement cruelles. "

AA: A crime drama, a social exposé, a police procedural, an undercover cop thriller, an immigration tragedy, a gangster film, an anti-racist and pro-Mexican film, a film noir.

Anthony Mann's penultimate film noir is also his work of transition from crime thrillers to Westerns. Shot on the California-Mexico border, this is Mann's first film to reveal the magnificence of the landscape.

Border Incident is a tragedy of immigration, legal and illegal. It is a thriller about the exploitation of poor and helpless immigrant workers by criminal networks and big landowners.

The voice-of-authority narration introduces the official viewpoint of immigration professionals and border patrols. The film depicts Mexicans and Americans as equals. The governments of Mexico and the US agree on cooperation to expose illegal routes and methods of criminals. To achieve that, they engage two undercover agents, a Mexican, Pablo Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban) and an American, Jack Bearnes (George Murphy). Their story is thrilling, because the criminals are clever and instantly expose Pablo by his soft hands, unsuitable for a bracero. The women especially seem to instantly seem clairvoyant. In fact nobody believes that Pablo is a bracero, so he has to invent another cover story: he is a criminal on the run.

The story / screenplay by John C. Higgins and George Zuckerman is thrilling, and the casting is impressive. Ricardo Montalban expands his scope from Latin lovers to contemporary drama. Similarly, George Murphy diversifies his talent: known for romantic comedies, he now excels in the most horribly tragic performance of the picture. 

Anthony Mann seems to subscribe to Hitchcock's credo: "the better the villain, the better the picture". Howard Da Silva as the suave big landowner Owen Parkson is like Adolphe Menjou in The Tall Target: not a cardboard figure and all the more frightening for that. The whole cast, including Charles McGraw, Sig Ruman, Teresa Celli, Lita Baron and Arthur Hunnicutt, is interesting. There are no indifferent performances. The score, one of the earliest by André Previn, is original and engaging.

In his fourth collaboration with Mann, the cinematographer John Alton again works miracles on a budget, with expressive compositions in depth, daring lighting in the dark, revealing mirror shots, dynamic camera angles, intense close-ups, profile shots and two shots (see above). The aerial shots of irrigation canals and huge farms are epic. The crowd scenes of the immigrants are full of life and despair. The keyword about Alton: illumination.

When both double agents are exposed, they are punished in scenes of extremely brutal violence. Jack Bearnes is beaten to pulp and ripped to shreds on a caterpillar with giant blades. The power balance in the criminal network shifts, and the top boss is the first to be disposed in the bottomless pit of the quicksands (in the kind of twist later inevitable for James Bond villains). Pablo follows the expendable immigrants to the ravine of death. They walk apathetically to the terminus like lambs to the slaughter. The death march evokes the Holocaust. Pablo incites the Mexicans to fight, is himself drowned but gets a last minute rescue. Mann and Alton convey the horror in cold fury.

There was heartfelt laughter in the audience when the voice-of-authority declares a happy end to the border unrest, thanks to God Almighty.

A "35 mm Copie unique" was announced, and obviously the print has been struck from a good source. It is clean, stable and complete. At 55 minutes the definition of light is good. Otherwise the visual quality is variable, usually in low contrast, without adjustment to changing requirements of definition between shots. The print does not do justice to John Alton. The art of the cinematography could be deduced but not experienced.

Men in War

Anthony Mann: Men in War (US 1956) avec Robert Ryan (Lt. Benson).

Cote 465 / Miehet sodassa / Män i krig.
Anthony Mann
États-Unis / 1956 / 104 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
D'après le roman Day Without End de Van Van Praag.
Avec Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Robert Keith.
    Finnish premiere: 17 May 1957.
Rétrospective Anthony Mann
Viewed at La Cinémathèque française, Salle Henri Langlois, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6, 29 March 2024

La Cinémathèque française : " Guerre de Corée, 1950. Une patrouille tente de rejoindre les lignes américaines basées sur la cote 465. Harcelés par un ennemi invisible, les soldats rencontrent le belliqueux sergent Montana et son colonel frappé de catatonie. À travers le portrait d'un groupe d' « hommes en guerre » – de ceux qui affrontent la jungle et les cadavres, mais aussi de simples soldats qui retiennent leur souffle et essuient la sueur de leur front –, Anthony Mann explore la souffrance, les peurs enfouies et la mort latente, avec la même dynamique scénaristique qu'un Walsh en Birmanie. D'une violence sans fard, porté par de grands acteurs aux antagonismes fascinants, un chef-d'œuvre de film de guerre, qui anticipe de vingt ans le Voyage au bout de l'enfer de Michael Cimino. "

AA: Sometimes called Anthony Mann's sole war film, this is one of the two films made by his own production company Security Pictures, one of the all time best war movies. (But The Heroes of Telemark is also a war film, covering the anti-Nazi resistance. Of the Westerns, The Last Frontier focuses on the Indian wars. And there are the historical war films, El Cid about the Reconquista and The Fall of the Roman Empire about the wars in the Eastern provinces.).

Samuel Fuller directed the first films on the Korean War (The Steel Helmet and Fixed Bayonets) and Men in War is the same kind of combat film, following a platoon on a desperate mission. In this case the goal is to reach the elusive Hill 465.

Mann was at the height of his esteem thanks to the grandeur of his epic Westerns shot in colour and CinemaScope. Man and landscape were one in his sublime visions, the colour approach of which André Bazin compared with Cézanne. But here Mann uses his freedom to shoot a grim death march in black and white.

The result is something completely different, blessed by outstanding contributions. The excellent screenplay credited to Philip Yordan, the front for the blacklisted Ben Maddow. The arid cinematography by Ernest Haller: like in Fuller's war films, the camera remains on the eye level. The unusual lyrical score by Elmer Bernstein, his own favourite. The authenticity of the performances, avoiding heroism but acknowledging true courage and grit, honest about the psychological toll under relentless pressure. Robert Ryan is the responsible leader who sees the big picture and Aldo Ray the maverick with the perfect warrior instinct. Robert Keith is the shell-shocked colonel. All are individuals. The atmosphere of fear and danger is ubiquitous. The Koreans are in their element on the ground, in the treetops, on the hills and even in the air where they control the communications. The Americans are outsiders. This war theatre has aspects of the theatre of the absurd. And existential solitude. This is not an action extravaganza: there is a lot of anticipation and then short and upsetting instances of warfare. Philip Kemp has remarked that there is less violence in this war film than in Mann's westerns. The men are not brutalized, and they keep their team spirit.

I last saw this print in our 70th anniversary tribute to the Cinémathèque francaise in 2007. I was puzzled about the print that is clean and complete but without full sharpness and in low contrast like a dupe from a television print.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024


Anthony Mann: Railroaded (US 1947). John Ireland (Duke Martin) and Hugh Beaumont (Police Sgt. Mickey Ferguson).

L'Engrenage fatal
    Anthony Mann
États-Unis / 1947 / 73 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
d'après une histoire de Gertrude Walker
Avec John Ireland, Sheila Ryan, Hugh Beaumont.
Not released in Finland or Sweden.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann
    Viewed at La Cinémathèque française, Salle Georges Franju, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6, 27 March 2024

La Cinémathèque française: " Sur une trame classique – un innocent est accusé de meurtre –, le cinéaste confirme son goût pour le noir et met ses talents de metteur en scène au service d'une chasse à l'homme trépidante. Style nerveux et violence inattendue, la « patte » Anthony Mann est déjà là. "

AA: A minor Anthony Mann film, a crime story, a gangster film, a story of a frame-up.

Railroaded has sometimes been called a film noir, but I am not convinced that it is different from regular crime films made in the previous decades.

To me, the most interesting aspect of Railroaded is why it is not a film noir. 

The story would give possibilities to a film noir approach. Especially the theme of being "railroaded", that is, being convicted on the basis of false evidence. The gangster Duke Martin has planned his robbery well and manages to incriminate the completely innocent Steve Ryan. In effect, Steve Ryan is doubly railroaded. A police officer has been killed. In America, judges are elected, and it is important in a police murder case for the judge to have a conviction quickly and efficiently. "Only the gas chamber will satisfy". Chillingly, reasonable doubt seems not to matter enough in such a political consideration.

The other source for a film noir approach would be the character of Duke Martin, callous and sadistic, unscrupulously sacrificing his accomplices, betraying, misleading and murdering them in cold blood. Everybody is fair game.

Yet Railroaded does not achieve or even attempt the oneiric nightmare quality essential in film noir. The cinematography lacks the sense of "streets dark with something more than night". Of the performances, only John Ireland's Duke Martin would qualify for film noir. There is no sense of cosmic agony or existential dread. Railroaded is an ordinary crime story.


The Tall Target

Anthony Mann: The Tall Target (US 1951). The Club Car of the Night Flyer express train from New York to Washington D.C. through Baltimore. Slaveholder Ginny Beaufort (Paula Raymond), Rachel, her slave maid (Ruby Dee), Colonel Caleb Jeffers, a Northern Zoaves militia officer in charge of his troops on their way to the Presidential procession (Adolphe Menjou), Mrs. Charlotte Alsop, an abolitionist novelist interviewing Rachel about slavery (Florence Bates) and Beamish, a passenger (Percy Helton). Please do click on the photo to enlarge it.

Le Grand Attentat / Panik på nattexpressen.
    Anthony Mann
États-Unis / 1951 / 78 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
Avec Dick Powell, Paula Raymond, Adolphe Menjou.
    Not released in Finland.
    La copie 35 mm projetée est un tirage de la Warner Bros. offert à la Cinémathèque française.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann
    Viewed at La Cinémathèque française, Salle Georges Franju, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6, 27 March 2024

La Cinémathèque française : " À la veille de la guerre de Sécession, un détective tente d'empêcher l'assassinat du président fraîchement élu, Abraham Lincoln, à bord d'un train reliant New York à Washington. Réalisé à peu de frais en plein maccarthysme, Le Grand Attentat se révèle haletant du début jusqu'à la fin. Entravée par l'incrédulité générale, l'enquête devient une palpitante course pour le droit à la liberté, un huis clos ferroviaire qui renferme toutes les tensions d'un contexte social et politique explosif. Double jeu, paranoïa, rebondissements, duels... À la croisée du polar et du western, l'intrigue non dénuée d'humour, rythmée par le roulis et les sifflements du train, est admirablement servie par ses interprètes. En tête, Adolphe Menjou, Ruby Dee et un superbe Dick Powell en flic sauveur de président, et incidemment nommé John Kennedy. "

AA: In March 1861, the Night Flyer train rolls from New York to Washington, D.C., where the inauguration of the President elect Abraham Lincoln is about to take place. Aboard is a man with an assassination plan, equipped with a rifle with a telescope. The New York police officer John Kennedy (Dick Powell) is wise about the plan and determined to prevent it, but denied authorization from his superiors just before the train leaves, he proceeds anyway as a maverick, having now to dodge both sides of the law - the police and the assassination conspirators - putting his life repeatedly in danger during the journey. 

Lincoln's original plan is to give a speech in Baltimore from his own train, but Kennedy's report reaches him on time, and Lincoln changes his travel plan. During the night, the assassination plot is thwarted and in the finale we glimpse Lincoln at dawn in his isolated compartment of the Night Flyer where he has travelled incognito, observing through the train window the construction site of the partially complete Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C.

Seen in 2024, Anthony Mann's political thriller is charged with alarmingly topical political relevance. The atmosphere in the screening was electrifying. Abraham Lincoln was the great unifier. This year his party, the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party, and its Presidential candidate have become great dividers. The Capitol now carries sinister associations because of the violent insurgent 6 January 2021 attack against democracy, compared widely with Mussolini's March on Rome coup d'état.

The Tall Target is an excellent political thriller. I was thinking about Matti Salo, the greatest Finnish expert on American cinema, and his affection for this movie, discussed in his final book Viitta ja tikari [Cloak and Dagger] about the political thriller. In Finland The Tall Target was never released, and I am grateful for this opportunity to finally see it in a perhaps rare print (" la copie 35 mm projetée est un tirage de la Warner Bros. offert à la Cinémathèque française "). The print was good to look at, but the film is so engrossing that I failed to pay attention to the visual quality with the attention it deserves.

The superb screenplay with perfectly sustained suspense and thrilling turns of peripeteia and anagnorisis was co-written by Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes) best known for Build My Gallows High aka Out of the Past, the film noir masterpiece. The Tall Target is not a film noir, although in many ways it comes close, and the cinematographer Paul Vogel had one major film noir, Lady in the Lake, under his belt. The ambience of danger and violence is conveyed via expressionistic lighting, bold camera angles and sharp montages. As a detective story and an action thriller The Tall Target does not disappoint.

Setting a movie in the claustrophobic space of a train is a challenge for the cinematographer, a curse which Vogel turns into a blessing. The same praise is due for Anthony Mann who gives us a display of his mise-en-scène genius in the narrow space as convincingly as he accomplishes it in the wide open spaces of his CinemaScope Westerns.

The train ride is an inherently cinematic subject since the Lumière Brothers, not forgetting Gance (La Roue), Keaton (The General), Renoir (La Bête humaine) or Lang (Human Desire), nor Hitchcock (A Lady Vanishes), Fleischer (The Narrow Margin), Kawalerowicz (The Night Train) or Kurosawa (High and Low). The tracking shot is an invention from the railway world: before special camera tracks started to be built, the cinema's first tracking shots were taken on actual railway tracks and moving boats, phantom rides included. In The Tall Target, affectionate views of the train depot and the cab of the steam locomotive remind us of The General, set in the same period. In Anthony Mann's direction, The Tall Target ranks among the best train movies. 

One visual element, the mirror writing "The man is on the train" on the frosty train window, feels like an homage both to Lang (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse) and Hitchcock (The Lady Vanishes).

The film is full of life, thanks to the casting and Mann's wise direction of actors. The villains are never caricatured. The smooth galanterie of Adolphe Menjou as Colonel Caleb Jeffers keeps us guessing to the end. Of the Georgia slaveholder siblings, Lance Beaufort (Marshall Thompson) is a perfect Southern gentleman and a Devil in disguise. 

His sister Ginny Beaufort (Paula Raymond) trusts her brother unconditionally until his plan is exposed. It seems to be the rule with Anthony Mann that women have agency and pass the Bechdel test. Most importantly, Ruby Dee (1922-2014) as the slave girl Rachel, in an early distinguished appearance of the major performer and civil rights activist, speaking out about freedom in a proud performance that does not disappoint even in today's Black Lives Matter era.

From Wikipedia: Unknown author - Library of Congress call number: LOT 12251, v. 2 [P&P] Inauguration of President Lincoln. U.S. Capitol dome under construction in background. Print on salted paper. Public Domain. File: LincolnInauguration1861a.jpg. Created: 4 March 1861.


Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Furies

Anthony Mann: The Furies (US 1949) avec Judith Anderson (Flo Burnett) et Barbara Stanwyck (Vance Jeffords). Photo: La Cinémathèque française.

Les Furies / Raivotar / Våldets lag.
    Anthony Mann / États-Unis / 1949 / 109 min / 16 mm / VOSTF
    D'après le roman The Furies de Niven Busch.
    Cinematographer: Victor Milner
    Avec Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Walter Huston.
    Filming locations from IMDb:
Empire Ranch, Sonoita, Arizona, USA
San Pedro River, Arizona, USA
Sonoita, Arizona, USA
Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, USA
Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, Arizona, USA
    Filming dates: 9 Nov - 23 Dec 1949
    US premiere: 21 July 1950 (Tucson, Arizona premiere), 16 Aug 1950 (New York City). The Furies was Anthony Mann's first released Western, but Devil's Doorway was filmed first. Its premiere was postponed by MGM because of the subject.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann.
    La Cinémathèque française, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris. M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6 ; Salle Henri Langlois, le 24 mars 2024.

La Cinémathèque française : " Avec l'adaptation du roman de Niven Busch, qui emprunte autant au drame œdipien qu'à la tragédie shakespearienne, Anthony Mann signe un western hybride, dans lequel il utilise habilement les ingrédients du film noir pour brosser la relation complexe d'un père et de sa fille, deux riches propriétaires d'un ranch à la fin du XIXe siècle. Si Walter Huston (dans son dernier rôle) offre une performance épatante en patriarche tyrannique, l'interprétation de Barbara Stanwyck embrase l'action d'un récit aussi féroce que subtil. Un drame familial d'une saisissante sécheresse, qui invoque implacablement les déesses de la vengeance, tout droit sorties d'une épopée grecque. "

AA: There is instantly an irresistibly powerful epic drive in The Furies. The dialogue is razor sharp, the exposition is rapid in the extreme.

We are in New Mexico of the 1870s, on a ranch called The Furies. This is a tragedy of succession and a saga of original accumulation: the cattle empire of T. C. Jeffords, compared with a feudal lord, can only expand via violent eviction of the previous inhabitants, the Mexicans.

The leading actors are Walter Huston as the brutal patriarch T. C. Jeffords and Barbara Stanwyck as his daughter Vance, both at their best in this film. The saga is extremely dark, starting from the foreboding night sky during the opening credits, but Anthony Mann lets Huston and Stanwyck display their talent in humour and comedy, broadening and complicating their register. These are characters we love to hate.

T. C. Jeffords is a figure bigger than life. In the beginning he is not above saving with his bare hands a calf drowning in the mud, risking his life. In the finale he breaks a wild bull (the same individual now grown up?), again with his bare hands. This was Walter Huston's final role, and he is still formidable as the archetypical strongman who is already turning mythological in his lifetime, and even more: there are depths of the tyrannical Urvater or Father Karamazov in his performance, like in William Wyler's A House Divided. T. C. has also created a financial empire of his own based on "T. C." currency = his personal IOUs printed in a banknote printing press. T. C.'s may be worth nothing, evoking today's cryptocurrency fashion. A theme song is being composed about T. C., heard again during the closing credits. His last line: "There will never be another one like me".

In the middle of the movie, the widower T. C. introduces a new lady to the house, Flo Burnett (Judith Anderson), whom he intends to marry, without having bothered to inform his daughter Vance in advance. Flo wastes no time taking over the ranch's financial planning and starting to refurnish the deceased mother's room. But when Flo, without consulting Vance, informs that she is hiring a manager to evict the Herreras, Vance hurls a pair of scissors at Flo's face. Horribly disfigured, Flo starts to fortify herself increasingly with her favourite drink of cognac and orange juice.

Barbara Stanwyck was already a veteran of Westerns, but The Furies launched for her a series of strong performances in Golden Age Westerns of the 1950s (Blowing Wild, Cattle Queen of Montana, The Violent Men, The Maverick Queen, Trooper Hook, Forty Guns). The father-daughter relationship is exceptionally volatile, electrifying and unpredictable, and we can never tell what the next turn might be. They love each other and try to destroy each other. Besides her father, Vance has two loves: the gambler Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey) and Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland), her childhood pal and only true blue friend. T. C. bribes Rip to leave Vance and orders the execution of Juan, the leader of the Mexicans. That is the last draw for Vance who declares than she now knows what hate is. Observing her, Rip states that "your new love is hate". In full Monte Cristo mode she embarks on a journey of revenge to demolish T. C.'s financial empire and rip him from his ranch. She manages that, but as the night falls, Mama Herrera, the best sharpshooter of them all, gets T. C. in her sight.

In their mating scenes, Barbara Stanwyck and Wendell Corey display chemistry and exchange innuendos such as "Rip - like a blade cutting right through" and "I like to take the reins".

Barbara Stanwyck cuts a fine figure as a Western action heroine, dashing on horseback and performing her stunts herself. She is in her element.

Victor Milner, the great Paramount cinematographer of Lubitsch, Sturges and De Mille, excels also in epic mode, celebrating the sublime grandeur of the Arizona landscapes.

André Bazin in his essay "Le western ou le cinéma américain par excellence" (1953) may have been the first film critic / historian to say that Westerns are the Iliad and Odyssey of today. "The Civil War is part of nineteenth century history, the Western has turned it into the Trojan War of the most modern of epics. The march to the West is our Odyssey". Niven Busch and Anthony Mann had no need to study Bazin to conceive The Furies on those very terms. Writing about Busch and Mann in the context of The Furies, Bazin called Mann "le meilleur réalisateur actuel de westerns" (France Observateur n° 375, le 18 juillet 1957).

The print was announced as 16 mm, but it looked like 35 mm, and a good one at that, the best of the five I have seen so far in the Anthony Mann retrospective.

Une famille / A Family

Christine Angot : Une famille / A Family (FR 2024). Christine Angot with her daughter Léonore.

FR 2024
Réalisé  Christine Angot
Produit par Bertrand Faivre, Alice Girard
Dir. de la photographie  Caroline Champetier
Montage  Pauline Gaillard
Son  Emmanuel Croset, Caroline Reynaud, Charly Clovis
Directrice de post-production  Aude Cathelin
Assistante de production  Ines Adjami
Chargées de production  Lilah Girardot, Ambre Guillou
Société de production Le Bureau
En coproduction avec Rectangle Productions, France 2 Cinéma
Avec la participation de Canal+, Ciné+, France Télévisions, Le Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée
En association avec Cofiloisirs
Avec le soutien de La Fondation Kering, La Région Île-De-France
Genre   Documentaire
Durée 81 Min
Support DCP 2K
Langue  Français
Format de projection 1.85:1
Son 5.1
Visa 157.406
    Festival premiere: 18 Feb 2024 Berlin.
    French premiere: 20 March 2024.
    Viewed at MK2 Bastille côté Faubourg Saint Antoine, 5 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine, 75011 Paris, métro Bastille, 24 March 2024

" L’écrivaine Christine Angot est invitée pour des raisons professionnelles à Strasbourg, où son père a vécu jusqu’à sa mort en 1999. C’est la ville où elle l’a rencontré pour la première fois à treize ans, et où il a commencé à la violer. Sa femme et ses enfants y vivent toujours. Angot prend une caméra, et frappe aux portes de la famille. "

" Christine Angot a écrit une vingtaine de romans, dont Léonore, toujours (1994), L’Inceste (1999), Un amour impossible (prix Décembre 2015), Le Voyage dans l’Est (prix Médicis 2021), ainsi que des pièces de théâtre et des scenarios. En 2004 son roman Pourquoi le Brésil (2002) est adapté au cinéma avec Pourquoi (pas) le Brésil par Laetitia Masson. En 2018, Catherine Corsini adapte Un amour impossible au cinéma. Christine Angot a travaillé avec Claire Denis pour le scénario d’Un beau soleil intérieur, adapté notamment de ses livres Rendez-vous (2006) et Le marché des amants (2008), et pour celui de Avec Amour et acharnement, adapté de son roman Un tournant de la vie (2018). Nous la découvrons en tant que réalisatrice avec son tout premier film, Une famille. "

AA: Christine Angot is a major cultural figure in France, a member of the Goncourt Academy, officier des Arts et Lettres, active since 35 years as a writer of novels and stories, equally prominent in the theatre. She has been working with the cinema, too, including as co-screenwriter for Claire Denis in Un beau soleil intérieur.

Une famille is Angot's first film as a director. It is an autobiographical quest about incest, a theme she has discussed for 30 years in her books, including L'Inceste (1999). The whole family was aware, but there was a wall of silence and an attempt to ignore and forget.

Christine's father Pierre Angot abandoned his family before Christine's birth. When he returned, Christine was 13, and she became his target in sexual abuse for years, causing a severe trauma.

With her camerapeople, led by the venerable Caroline Champetier, Christine Angot starts in Strasbourg, the scene of the crime, by interviewing her stepmother, whom she has never met before. The stepmother has read Angot's books and says that she has not been sure whether they are fiction or non-fiction.

Christine's mother Rachel Schwartz tells about the wall that separates her from what happened, but it is clear that she knew. Claude, the father of Christine's daughter Léonore, wants to keep a distance, but breaks down in tears in sympathy for the pain he knew.

The movie, as the title declares, is a family story. The father Pierre, long since dead, is the one who is guilty of the sexual violence, but the damage concerns everyone, and the wall of silence made it possible and will keep making such acts possible. Which is why the wall must be broken, and even rude and irreverent means taken.

Interspersed with the interviews / conversations are samples from home videos with Claude and Léonore and photographs from family albums. 

The most devastating passage is an excerpt from the television talk show Tout le monde en parle, moderated by Thierry Ardisson, in which Angot is a guest to discuss L'Inceste. Mind-bogglingly, incest turns into a topic of fun, and everyone is laughing. Except Angot who gets up and calmly leaves the show.

The talk show dramatizes painfully the atmosphere of derision 25 years ago and helps understand how hard it was then to raise a topic like this.

The premiere of Christine Angot's movie takes place during the second wave of the Me Too revolution in France. Angot's work is about more than "a family". It is about the society and its patriarchal framework of sexual violence to women.

The movie has inspired a lot of comment. A fascinating dossier has been published in MK2:s magazine Troiscouleurs (n° 205, mars-avril 2024), with Christine Angot as the cover story: "Pour une fois, la porte s'ouvre". "En plein MeToo du cinéma francais, elle signe, avec Une famille, un film majeur qui nous invite à penser l'inceste comme une question politique".

I am not an expert in psychoanalysis, but I have had the privilege to work with psychoanalysts for 35 years in organizing film symposiums and editing books. Realizing the full gravity of sexual violence to minors, including incest, belongs to the genesis of psychoanalysis. Since the beginning, psychoanalysts took it extremely seriously. I am puzzled that in France, where psychoanalysis is revered, an atmosphere of frivolity and derision around incest and sexual violence to minors has been possible.

A personal comment about sexual harassment and incest. It is possible to be ignorant even if that happens next door. The wall of silence can be that absolute. Most victims never tell. We must be grateful for those who do.


Saturday, March 23, 2024

The Last Frontier (1955)

Anthony Mann: The Last Frontier (US 1955) avec James Whitmore (Gus), Victor Mature (Jed Cooper) et Pat Hogan (Mungo). Photo: La Cinémathèque française.

La Charge des tuniques bleues / Viimeinen etuvartio / Utpost i vildmarken.
    Anthony Mann / États-Unis / 1955 / 98 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
    D'après le roman The Gilded Rooster de Richard Emery Roberts.
    Avec Victor Mature, Guy Madison, Robert Preston.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann.
    La Cinémathèque française, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris. M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6 ; Salle Henri Langlois, le 23 mars 2024.

La Cinémathèque française : " Guerre de Sécession. Détroussés par les Sioux, des trappeurs trouvent refuge au sein d'un fort de cavalerie. Avec une noirceur lyrique spectaculaire, le cinéaste exploite au maximum le potentiel du Cinémascope pour traiter des lois de la civilisation à travers le regard d'un héros rustre et sauvage. "

AA: Seen back to back after Devil's Doorway, The Last Frontier forms a pro-Indian double bill in the Anthony Mann retrospective.

Shot in CinemaScope and Technicolor in Mexico, The Last Frontier is a tale of epic grandeur about the Indian wars during the fourth year of the Civil War. Colonel Frank Marston (Robert Preston) has been assigned to a distant Cavalry outpost after his disastrous record in the battle of Shiloh where Marston sent 1500 men to their deaths. He is now eager to reclaim hero status for fighting the Sioux in the territory of Chief Red Cloud (Manuel Donde).

There is an affinity with Fort Apache, with Marston in a role like Lieutenant Colonel Thursday (Henry Fonda). Instead of a Captain York (John Wayne), there is a maverick trio of seasoned trappers, consisting of Jed Cooper (Victor Mature), Gus (James Whitmore) and Mungo (Pat Hogan).

The trio has known the Sioux for years, and now they sense a change. Because of the behaviour of the US Cavalry ("they talk with forked tongues"), the trappers are no longer welcome, either, and they have to part with their horses and weapons. They march to the outpost and get new jobs as Cavalry scouts. They do their best to prevent catastrophe but fail to do so, and in a tragic massacre Marston, among others, perishes. 

The trio talks explicitly about the divide of "civilization" and being "savage", and the more they learn about the US Cavalry, the less able they are to tell which is which.

There is a strong element of comedy and farce in the tragic war tale. It can work if you know how to do it, and John Ford arguably knew. Anthony Mann was not a great humorist or comedy director, but he did well if he had luck with the cast, as he did with James Stewart and Barbara Stanwyck. Victor Mature does his best in his role as the maverick buffoon Jed Cooper who is also the best fighter. (A Finnish parallel comes to mind: Rokka in The Unknown Soldier).

It is a time-honoured convention in lumberjack and soldier lore that the greatest rascal may get lucky with the repressed martinet commander's love-thirsty wife. Anthony Mann rises above the cliche by casting Anne Bancroft as Corinna Marston. I had not registered this before this retrospective, but Mann seems to have a good record in his female cast, pursuing interesting performances in interesting roles.

The cinematographer is William C. Mellor, who had already shot The Naked Spur for Mann. The landscapes reveal their full magnificence in majestic rising crane shots in CinemaScope. 

The print looks like Technicolor, but not a good one. Instead, it looks like a print in which the three separations fail to match. We can feel the impact of the composition but not the full colour.

Devil's Doorway

Anthony Mann: Devil's Doorway (US 1949) avec Paula Raymond (Orrie Masters) et Robert Taylor (Lance Poole).

La Porte du diable / Paholaisen portti / Röd mans land.
    Anthony Mann / États-Unis / 1949 / 84 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
    Avec Robert Taylor, Paula Raymond, Louis Calhern.
    Filming dates: 15 Aug - mid-October 1949. Wikipedia: MGM withheld the film because of its subject but released the film after the successful release of Broken Arrow.
    US premiere: 9 Sep 1950 (Grand Junction, Colorado), 15 Sep 1950 (wide).
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann.
    La Cinémathèque française, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris. M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6 ; Salle Henri Langlois, le 23 mars 2024.

La Cinémathèque française : " Le retour au pays d'un sergent-major de l'armée nordiste, d'origine indienne. Pour son premier western, à l'éclatante palette de tons noirs et blancs, Anthony Mann s'attaque aux sources du racisme dans un plaidoyer humaniste admirable, qui prend ouvertement cause pour le peuple indien. "

AA: An epic Western, a tragic tale of Indian wars, a film relevant to new colonial history and new racial history.

Anthony Mann tells the story with vigour and panache. Shot in Colorado, the magnificent landscapes are not mere backgrounds but of the essence to the drama, in which the Shoshone prefer to die fighting rather than part from their land to which they belong with ties stronger than blood. The cinematographer is John Alton in his only Western for Anthony Mann.

The Shoshone warrior Lance Poole (Robert Taylor) returns from the Civil War with a Congressional Medal of Honor, but has to struggle to get a doctor to his father's deathbed, is refused a drink at the bar, and it turns out that he can be evicted from his land because under the law he is not a US citizen but a ward of the government. His enemies are led by a dishonest lawyer, Verne Coolan (Louis Calhern) who is not above lying and cheating.

Lance Poole hires a lawyer, too, Orrie Masters (Paula Raymond), and there is an element of surprise and drama, comparable with the situation in Strangers in the Night, that the highly competent professional is a woman. There is also an affinity with Raw Deal, where the social worker trying to help the male protagonist, a San Quentin convict, is also a woman. In all three films the female protagonist is the voice of reason in a tale of violent males.

The war sequences are brutal and heart-wrenching. Helped with the US Cavalry, the white homesteaders crush the Shoshone. We are left outraged with feelings of profound injustice by the homesteaders and respect for the dignity of the Shoshone.

The film ends in an image of a gorgeous mountain landscape.

The low contrast print (black levels missing) failed to do justice to the art of John Alton.

Strangers in the Night (1944)

Anthony Mann: Strangers in the Night (US 1944). Avec Virginia Grey (Dr. Leslie Ross), William Terry (Sgt. Johnny Meadows) and Helene Thimig (Mrs. Hilda Blake). Photo: La Cinémathèque française. 

L'Esprit pervers
    Anthony Mann
    États-Unis / 1944 / 56 min / DCP / VOSTF
    d'après une histoire de Philip MacDonald
    Avec William Terry, Virginia Grey, Helene Thimig.
    Unreleased in Finland and Sweden.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann.
    La Cinémathèque française, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris. M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6 ; Salle Georges Franju, le 23 mars 2024.

La Cinémathèque française : " Un Marine blessé recherche la femme avec qui il a entretenu une relation épistolaire durant sa convalescence. Une production à petit budget, dont le canevas gothique multiplie les clins d'œil à Hitchcock, de Soupçons à Rebecca (pour lequel Mann avait supervisé le casting. "

AA: A piece of Female Gothic, a murder mystery, a WWII story, a tale of mental illness, a tale of a war invalid.

In an Anthony Mann retrospective, Strangers in the Night is a minor entry, but it has its rewards.

1. It is a story about the great importance of books. During wartime, the Red Cross received donations of books to send to American soldiers. Some donors understood to sign them with their names and addresses. This is the start of a romance and the genesis of this story.

2. It is a story about the great importance of letters, of correspondence. Rosemary and Johnny (William Terry) fall in love via correspondence only.

3. During wartime, many women rose to positions of greater responsibility and became authority figures. One of them is Dr. Leslie Ross (Virginia Grey), who must constantly face the surprise of patients when they realize that she is a woman. It is characteristic for Anthony Mann to highlight the drama and comedy of such situations with sympathy.

4. Strangers in the Night as a piece of Female Gothic has affinities with Suspicion and Rebecca as alerted in the La Cinémathèque française program note above. It has also affinities with Jane Eyre and I Walked with a Zombie, both of which also starred Edith Barrett.

5. The film does not belong to Anthony Mann's film noir cycle proper but is relevant to it. 1) The title resonates in film noir. 2) The film opens in the Pacific theatre of WWII. The paratrooper Johnny's back is severely injured, he experiences debilitating pain, is in medical care during the course of the film, and at times loses consciousness. 3) Hilda Blake is a seemingly harmless elderly, invalidized woman, but beneath the ordinary facade, an unscrupulous killer. 4) Like in Rebecca and Laura, a portrait of a woman dominates the house. Only the woman, Rosemary, is imaginary. 5) Hilda Blake is played by the great Helene Thimig, the widow of Max Reinhardt. The couple came to Hollywood exile after Hitler's rise to power.

6. Strangers in the Night has affinities with ghost stories and stories of love with a person who does not exist: Portrait of Jennie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Ugetsu monogatari, Vertigo.

7. The print is in low contrast in the beginning, then in high contrast, and finally in good contrast.

Averroès & Rosa Parks

Nicolas Philibert: Averroès & Rosa Parks (FR 2024).

French Wikipedia: Fiche technique
    Réalisation : Nicolas Philibert
Production : Miléna Poylo & Gilles Sacuto, Céline Loiseau
Photographie : Nicolas Philibert, assisté de Pauline Pénichou
Montage : Nicolas Philibert, assisté de Janusz Baranek
Son: Erik Ménard
Mixage: Emmanuel Croset
Musique: Sarah Murcia et Magic Malik d’après L’hymne à la joie (Ludwig van Beethoven)
Distribution : Les Films du Losange
Genre : Documentaire
Durée : 143 minutes
Festival premiere: 16 Feb 2024 Berlin
Date de sortie : 20 mars 2024
Viewed at MK2 Beaubourg, Salle 2, 23 March 2024

Averroès & Rosa Parks est un film documentaire français réalisé par Nicolas Philibert et sorti en 2024. C'est le deuxième volet d'un triptique consacré au monde psychiatrique, après le documentaire Sur l'Adamant sorti en 2023. Le film a été présenté hors compétition à la Berlinale 2024.


" Averroès et Rosa Parks sont deux unités de l’hôpital Esquirol, qui relèvent du Pôle psychiatrique Paris-Centre. L'hôpital était autrefois appelé « asile de Charenton ». D'entretiens individuels en activités de groupe, le film s'attache à décrire les relations entre les soignants et les patients, malgré le manque de moyens attribués à ce type de centre médical. "

AA: I saw last year Sur L'Adamant (FR 2022), Nicolas Philibert's previous movie, the winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival in 2023. He has a unique sensitivity and courage to approach people who are mentally ill. I have little to add to my blog notes about the director's previous film. I keep thinking about the question of authenticity in front of the camera. I am thinking about masks and chameleon metaphysics. Aren't we performing in a different way when a camera is on? Or has reality television and other modern media changed us so much that there is little difference anymore between being and appearing?


Chlopi / The Peasants

DK Welchman & Hugh Welchman: Chlopi / The Peasants (PL 2023). An oil-painted animation via rotoscope. The wedding dance: Kamila Urzedowska as Jagda.

La jeune fille et les paysans / The Peasants - talonpoikia / The Peasants (Swedish title)
    Poland, Serbia, Lithuania | 2023 | 114 min | Polish
Oil-painted animation
De DK Welchman, Hugh Welchman
Avec Kamila Urzedowska, Robert Gulaczyk, Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz
    UGC Synopsis: "Au XIXe siècle, dans un village polonais en ébullition, la jeune Jagna, promise à un riche propriétaire terrien, se révolte. Elle prend son destin en main, rejette les traditions et bouleverse l’ordre établi. Commencent alors les saisons de la colère…"
    Festival premiere  8 Sep 2023 Toronto
    Sortie le  20 mars 2024, Distr The Jokers
    Finnish premiere 30 Aug 2024, Future Film
    Viewed at UGC Ciné Cité Bercy, Salle 20, 2, cour Saint Emilion, 75012 Paris, Metro Saint Emilion, 23 March 2024.
    There are 18 screens in this multiplex. "Salle 20" is the first screen on the second floor.

Toronto 2023: "From the directors of Loving Vincent, The Peasants is a cinematic pageant about a 19th-century Polish village where a beautiful maiden marries a widowed landowner while nursing a burning love for his son. "

"Yearning for a world beyond the fertile yet arduous one known to her, a maiden resides with her mother in the picturesque Polish countryside of the 19th century, where the homespun traditions of peasantry date back to antiquity. Full of ornamental song and rapturous dance, and meticulously painted frame after frame, The Peasants, from DK and Hugh Welchman, is a comic, tragic, and reflective tableau resembling an ancient epic."

"Told through seasons that honour the cyclical rituals of ploughing, plantation, and harvest, this adaptation of Władysław Reymont’s Nobel Prize–winning novel of the same title (written in four volumes between 1904 and 1909 and translated into 27 languages) recounts the tale of a charming and voluptuous woman named Jagna (Kamila Urzedowska) hungering for love and lacking in cunning. Her home of Lipce, a God-fearing village, is full of characters, including a lecherous mayor, a snooty church organist, and a razor-tongued gossip, and hundreds of storks that, according to lore, foretell the arrival of new life. Here, Jagna creates havoc by marrying a wealthy widower named Boryna (Mirosław Baka), whose children and their families — including the apple of her eye, his brawny son, Antek (Robert Gulaczyk) — work the land and expect inheritance. Jagna’s fate is all but sealed when she breaks one of the few societal taboos. Naturalistic in the best of times and brutal in the worst, The Peasants is a love song to the memories of our ancestors and to timeless matters of the heart." DOROTA LECH

AA: I have not yet seen the acclaimed Loving Vincent (PL/GB 2017), the previous feature film of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, reportedly the first feature animation in which each frame (in this case, 65.000 of them) is an oil painting on canvas.

So I was thrilled to see The Peasants. I have seen oil painted animations before, but never in feature length. It is a fascinating experience, and a haunting one. I can not immediately make up my mind just what exactly I have seen.

Władysław Reymont is a well-known author also in my country, but I have not yet read his novels, although The Peasants has been published in Finnish in two editions (first in four volumes, then in a single edition), and also The Promised Land has been translated. The Promised Land I know in Andrzej Wajda's violent and furious film adaptation.

I'm impressed by the feeling for nature, the structure of the four seasons, the customs and festivities of the village life and the enchanting crane motif. Crane is a soul bird. I hear Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing "Zhuravli" ("The Cranes").

Kamela Urzedowska carries the film brilliantly as the irrepressible, life-affirming Jagna. She is forced into an arranged marriage, from which all hell breaks loose. 

There is much viciousness and brutality in the village, camouflaged in religious piety. I had a hard time relating to the rest of the cast.

I have a problem with rotoscoping. I love animation and its wild freedom. I have no problem with rotoscoped passages, but in a feature-length rotoscoped story the device feels like a special effect. To make up my mind I need to see Loving Vincent.


Thursday, March 21, 2024

Raw Deal (1948) followed by a dialogue with Serge Chauvin, moderated by Bernard Benoliel

Anthony Mann: Raw Deal (US 1948). Dennis O'Keefe (Joe Sullivan) and John Ireland (Fantail). Cinematography: John Alton. Photo: La Cinémathèque française.

Marché de brutes / Reptilen.
    Anthony Mann
    États-Unis / 1948 / 78 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
    d'après une histoire de Arnold B. Armstrong, Audrey Ashley
    Avec Dennis O'Keefe, Claire Trevor, John Ireland.
    Banned in Finland in 1949.
    Rétrospective Anthony Mann.
    La Cinémathèque française, Salle Henri Langlois, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris. M° Bercy, Lignes 14, 6 ; Salle Jean Epstein, le 21 mars 2024.

La Cinémathèque française : " Juste après La Brigade du suicide, Anthony Mann réalise l'un de ses films les plus sombres. Avec une tension en clair-obscur (génial John Alton), la cavale d'un truand évadé de prison est perturbée par le triangle amoureux formé par le fugitif et les deux femmes qui l'accompagnent. Apogée du style noir, où les personnages ne cessent d'entrer et de sortir de l'ombre, tiraillés entre romance et vengeance. De la perversité lascive de la femme jalouse (Claire Trevor) à la violence spectaculaire du chef de gang (Raymond Burr), tout n'est qu'obsession, acharnement et cruauté, d'un pessimisme à toute épreuve et visuellement éblouissant. "

Dialogue avec Serge Chauvin
Animé par Bernard Benoliel
60 min

" Anthony Mann s'affirme d'abord comme un maître du film noir, puisant dans les contraintes de la série B une exigence d'expressivité maximale dans la composition, les angles de caméra, la profondeur de champ. À la Eagle-Lion, sa rencontre avec le chef opérateur John Alton lui permet d'affiner un style plastique qui « peint en lumière » et sculpte les ténèbres, où chaque plan est porté à incandescence. Les extérieurs réels en sont dramatisés, les décors de studio lestés d'un poids concret. Avant d'être appliqué au film historique et au western, ce ténébrisme matérialise dans Marché de brutes une réflexion morale sur la violence, et transmue le fait divers en tragédie. "

" Professeur à l'université de Nanterre, ancien critique aux Inrockuptibles et à la NRF, Serge Chauvin est spécialiste de littérature et de cinéma américains. Il a publié Les Trois vies des « Tueurs » : Siodmak, Siegel et la fiction (Rouge Profond, 2010) et de nombreuses traductions de fictions anglophones contemporaines (Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Coe, Richard Powers, Cormac McCarthy...). "  " Bernard Benoliel est directeur de l'action culturelle et éducative à la Cinémathèque française. "

AA: Anthony Mann's approach on the gangster story is vigorous. Raw Deal is a tale of a prison break, a desperate journey, a settling of accounts and a double chase. Both the police and the gangsters are after Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe).

Brilliance on a budget: Mann develops his visual approach in the crime genre together with maestro John Alton ("It's not what you light. It's what you don't light"). The mise-en-scène is charged, the composition in depth is eloquent, the frequent use of high angle shots is expressive of the "fatal journey". The trajectory: from San Quentin Prison to San Francisco harbour. Inspired by neorealism, Hollywood increased location shooting, and even here real locations provide a hold on reality in the dream play (see list of locations in the end). The Frisco fog is a meaningful visual element. The last showdown is a shadow play in the middle of a conflagration. There is a sense of a grand opera finale.

The storytelling is taut and elliptic. It moves forward briskly and energetically. The violence is brutal, and the opaque evil of the ganglord Rick (Raymond Burr) includes unspeakable sadism. A troublesome female is burned with a shot of flambé liquor. Rick also threatens to burn Ann beyond recognition.

Raw Deal is the saga of a trio on the run. Joe's girlfriend Pat is portrayed by Claire Trevor (1910-2000), always reliable in hard boiled roles. His assigned social worker Ann is played by Marsha Hunt (1917-2022), in her rare / only? visit to film noir land. Mann promotes female agency. Both Pat and Ann try to stop Joe's kamikaze rampage. Pat is heart-broken when she realizes Joe's affections for Ann. Joe then wants to do the right thing with Pat, but it is now too late for anything.

There is an offscreen narrator voice in Raw Deal, a female voice: that of Claire Trevor as Pat. The inner monologue adds a tender dimension of elegiac feeling to the brutal action adventure. And a haunting sense of an unfulfilled promise of an alternative life, full of love and longing instead of death.

The film is powered by a score by Paul Sawtell, enhancing suspense and action but also the dream mode by the use of the theremin, its eerie, indefinite modulations inviting us to oneiric dimensions of the unconscious.

A 35 mm print from the British Film Institute is a synonym for brilliant, but not this time. Low definition, low contrast, no black levels. It was possible to register John Alton's composition but not his "painting with light".

The after-film discussion with Serge Chauvin was excellent. One hour was announced, but it lasted 95 minutes, and we would have loved to stay for more.

I registered an actor resembling Jack Elam as an extra. He is not listed in IMDb or AFI Catalog online.

San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California, USA
(prison exteriors, opening scenes)
Union 76 - 21216 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California, USA
(gas station where Fantail spots Ann and follows her)
Paradise Cove - 28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California, USA
(beach scene, after Ann saves Joe)
Westward Beach - Westward Beach Road, Malibu, California, USA
(where Ann and Pat trade cars)
Newhall, California, USA
(gas station car theft scene)

Une nouvelle musique pour « Napoléon » d'Abel Gance (conférence Archi Vives de Simon Cloquet-Lafollye)

Ciné-Concert Événement les 4 & 5 Juillet. Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (FR 1927), enfin reconstruit et restauré par la Cinémathèque française. L’épopée napoléonienne d’Abel Gance sera enfin dévoilée, après 16 ans de travail, dans sa version inédite, intégrale et définitive de 7 heures, en 2 parties les 4 et 5 juillet prochains à la Seine Musicale. Pour cette première mondiale, les formations musicales de Radio France interpréteront la nouvelle partition du film créée, à cette occasion, à partir du répertoire classique. Un ciné-concert symphonique exceptionnel à la hauteur de ce monument du cinéma, sorti en 1927. Avec le soutien du CNC (Ministère de la Culture), sous la direction de Georges Mourier, avec le laboratoire Éclair Classics/L’Image Retrouvée Mis en musique par Simon Cloquet-Lafollye, interprété par l’Orchestre National de France, l’Orchestre Philharmonique et le Choeur de Radio France, sous la direction de Frank Strobel. Grands Mécènes Netflix, Michel Merkt, Golden Globe Foundation. Mécène de la musique Aline Foriel-Destezet. Mécènes Fondation Napoléon, Transperfect, Michèle Ray-Gavras. Partenaires Centre National de la Musique, Sacem, Radio France, France Télévisions. Book the tickets.

The "La Marseillaise" sequence in Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (FR 1927). The company you keep: Napoléon together with his best friends, the Fleuri family. Albert Dieudonné (Napoléon Bonaparte), Serge Freddy-Karl (le petit tambour Marcellin Fleuri), Annabella (Violine Fleuri), Nicolas Koline (Tristan Fleuri). Photo: La Cinémathèque française.

La Cinémathèque française : " Conçu en partenariat avec l'Université Paris Cité, le cycle Archi Vives, programmé chaque trimestre, valorise les archives de cinéma, leurs liens avec la création contemporaine, et met en avant la recherche, au cours d'une conférence accompagnée d'une projection."
    " Comment créer une partition originale à partir de musiques symphoniques préexistantes ? Tel était le défi proposé au compositeur Simon Cloquet-Lafollye par la Cinémathèque française pour accompagner les sept heures du monument d'Abel Gance. L'objectif premier était de réaliser une partition qui transcende les genres, les styles, les époques pour créer un univers original et singulier, une musique qui ne ressemble qu'au Napoléon d'Abel Gance. Simon Cloquet-Lafollye livre quelques clés pour comprendre le rôle capital de la musique dans ce film muet. "
    " Simon Cloquet-Lafollye est musicien et compositeur, notamment pour le cinéma et la télévision. "
    60 min
    La Cinémathèque française, 51 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris. M° Bercy Lignes 14, 6 ; Salle Jean Epstein, le 21 mars 2024.

AA: Moderated by Joëlle Daire, the composer-arranger Simon Cloquet introduced the new score for Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (FR 1927), the 2024 restoration of 7 hours.

Announced at 60 minutes, I left the event when it had already lasted 85 minutes, to catch in the nick of time my next screening, Raw Deal. This Archi Vives conference was also followed by a 19.30 show of Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (extraits) of 90 minutes of the new restoration, but I chose Anthony Mann tonight.

Simon Cloquet showed six excerpts.

1.  La Marseillaise. Rouget de Lisle (Harry Krimer), Napoléon Bonaparte (Albert Dieudonné), Danton (Alexandre Koubitzky), Robespierre (Edmond Van Daële). Music: the orchestral arrangement of "La Marseillaise" by Hector Berlioz.
2.  Siège de Toulon: l'attaque sous l'orage. Dugommier (Alexandre Philippe), Saliceti (Philippe Hériat), Samuel Hood (W. Percy Day). Music: P. I. Tchaikovsky: The Tempest (Буря).
3.  La Terreur: la mort de Jean-Paul Marat (Antonin Artaud). Charlotte Corday (Marguerite Gance). Music: Anton Webern.
4.  Mariage de Bonaparte. Joséphine de Beauharnais (Gina Manès). Music: Maurice Ravel.
5.  The double wedding night. Besides Napoléon and Joséphine, Violine Fleuri (Annabella) also  celebrates, fantasizing with Napoléon memorabilia. Music from Benjamin Godard's opera Jocelyn.
6.  The Italian campaign. Napoléon instils a victorious spirit into the Grande Armée, and the screen explodes into Polyvision. Music: Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations.

The 9 h 30 min Apollo version remains elusive, but the 2024 restoration seems longer than has been seen in my lifetime, although that depends also on decisions about projection speeds. The longest screening I have seen has been 6 h 15 min.

The choice of the six samples had been made in excellent taste. It is easy to imagine the Marseillaise sequence as sing-along. (In the Finnish premiere on 28 November, 1927, there was an opera singer to perform the song). The Siege of Toulon was a demonstration of the difference between silent screening and film with music. The Marat - Corday sequence remains startling in tragic eloquence. The marriage sequence is a comic masterpiece with the workaholic husband two hours late from his own wedding and a bride who is already having second thoughts. The double wedding night is hauntingly tender in two ways: the gentleness of the actual newly-wed and the heart-rending illusion of Violine in Annabella's bewitching interpretation. The Italian campaign is full of epic grandeur, justifying the astounding Polyvision.

I would book tickets to 4+5 July 2024, but it would be too soon after Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. And I prefer to stay out of the way of the upcoming Jeux Olympiques.