Saturday, March 6, 2010

1957: Men in War (Anthony Mann)

1957: Men in War (Anthony Mann)

I'm a fan of Anthony Mann.  Already at least four or five of his movies have shown up in this countdown.  He had an amazing eye for framing landscapes, and working by removal rather than addition, he was also one of cinema's ultimate simplifiers.  

However, this entry from Mann feels different from anything else I've ever seen from him.  Normally, Mann keeps you at a distance and his movies (at least his westerns from this period) move in a very beautiful but leisurely manner.  If I remember correctly though, this one immediately thrusts you into the action and feels among the most real and certainly one of the most visceral war movies ever.     

It has great characters and incredible tension, and if anyone wants to dispute Mann's raw talent as a director, this is the first one I'd send their way.

Other contenders for 1957: This must be the year when I have the most gaps of all.  These include: Budd Boetticher's Decision at Sundown, Delmer Daves' 3:10 to Yuma, Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows, Frank Tashlin's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Charlie Chaplin's A King in New York, Nicholas Ray's Bitter Victory, Douglas Sirk's The Tarnished Angels, Jean Rouch's Les maitres fous, Mikhail Kalatozov's The Cranes Are FlyingBilly Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution, Leo McCarey's An Affair to Remember, Samuel Fuller's Run of the Arrow, Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon, Michelangelo Antonioni's Il grido, Joseph Losey's Time Without Pity, Josef von Sternberg's Jet Pilot, George Cukor's Les Girls, Jack Arnold's The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's La casa del angel.  I really need to revisit Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success, Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, and David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai.  It's been too long since I saw any of them to know where they would place on this list.  I really like Francois Truffaut's Les Mistons, Raoul Walsh's ultra-bizarre Band of Angels, Hubert Cornfield's Plunder Roadand Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood.  I love Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.  And my closest runner-up is Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory.

2/28/11 I watched Josef von Sternberg's Jet Pilot.  I don't know much of the background on this one.  But what remains is a pretty big mess. It all feels purposefully jokey with a lack of any real ambition.  Leigh is sexy, but aside from that, I'm not sure of any redeeming qualities.  

3/7/11 I watched Delmer Daves' 3:10 to Yuma.  Duning's score is quite interesting.  Almost sounds like something Lee Hazlewood would put together.  And Heflin reminds how good he could be.  But once it starts moralizing and trying for any major tension, I think Daves shows some of his limitations.  

3/12/11 I watched Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows.  An interesting film in that it announces the perspective of some of the young generation of the French New Wave about to take over the film world.  But it's also lacking somewhat in verve and seems overworked and lacking the naturalism that made the early French New Wave films so powerful.  

3/13/11 I watched Frank Tashlin's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Tashlin is very creative and at times reminds us that the medium of film is still young and full of unexplored possibility.  But the characters in his work lack depth to me, and so I always find myself only half-involved.  

3/24/11 I watched Leo McCarey's An Affair to Remember.  McCarey's remake to me felt considerably weaker than Love Affair, partly because I already knew the story and partly because the chemistry didn't feel as palpable as it did between Boyer and Dunne.  Still, that final scene is almost enough to justify making two movies, and McCarey pulls it off masterfully.  

3/30/11 I watched Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon. Supernatuaral is really not my thing.  But Tourneur is having so much fun here.  He brings a naturalistic chic that really adds to his Lewton-like approach, of visceral thrills and economic power of suggestion.  

4/1/11 I watched Mikhail Kalatozov's The Cranes Are Flying.  With an incredibly mobile camera, Kalatozov gives us some moments of real immediacy and of unforgettable romantic strength.  At times, I wish his style was a little cleaner and more restrained, but he makes up for it with conviction and a strong humanistic approach throughout.  

4/6/11 I watched Michelangelo Antonioni's Il grido.  Feels like a master still searching for and refining his ultimate signature style.  Also feels like perhaps the number one influence on Five Easy Pieces.  An interesting blend of neorealism and something more stylized, a bit aimless to a fault, but certainly of strong historical import.  

10/29/11 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Twilight.  Some of the most devastating moments I've seen yet in Ozu's work, particularly one of the final moments at the train station.  Ozu teaches us how to feel and live. His body of work may very well end up in my book as the most important the cinema has ever had.  

2/8/12 I watched Nicholas Ray's Bitter Victory.  Abstract but also very personal and full of Ray's thematic concerns.  Features a wonderful Burton performance.  A very unusual film - but definitely of interest if you come in with the right frame of mind.

10/15/13 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Swollen Story: World Cinema Busting at the Seams.  Perhaps a little less engaging for me than some of the previous episodes, but I still greatly enjoyed being introduced to Peixoto, Guru Dutt, Xie Jin, and some of the Brazilian and Mexican cinema of the fifties.  Of particular interest to me was Cousins' handling of Kurosawa and then the correlation he makes between The Searchers, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, and Rio Bravo - all films that counterscript the prevailing idea of family life in the fifties.

1/5/14 I watched Phil Karlson's The Brothers Rico.  It is a great role for Conte, and Karlson makes great use of the location shooting in Florida and New York.  But it is one of these noirs that seems to have been made on the quick, and the shortened final moments do not do justice to what Karlson has built up to.  

10/25/14 I watched Charlie Chaplin's A King in New York.  What a wonderful oddity.  Although I know there are some fans - Jonathan Rosenbaum, the Nouvelle Vague crew, and others - I am not sure this period of Chaplin gets its full due.  I am thinking of Limelight, this film and probably the final one which I have yet to see.  Chaplin does Godard before Godard and delivers one of the most scathing films of America ever made.  His handling of the young boy is marvelous and once again Chaplin proves himself uncannily talented building scores for his heartfelt imagery.

9/20/15 I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Tous les garcons s'appellent Patrick.  Up there with Les Mistons as a quintessential Nouvelle Vague short that sets the table for the brilliant films about to follow.  Rohmer pens the script, Brialy plays the lead, and Godard announces his unique mastery.

4/13/20 I watched Jacques Becker's Les Aventures d'Arsene Lupin.  Elegant as usual with Becker but a bit lighter than my favorite films of his that include Le Trou, Grisbi, Montparnasse 19 and Casque D'Or.  

4/19/20 I watched Sacha Guitry's Assassins et Voleurs.  It's easy to see Guitry's influence on the New Wave, particularly his lightness of touch and sense of playfulness.  But he also seemed to be one of the first ones of his generation to take to the streets and let actual locations be seen and felt.  

6/28/20 I watched Joseph Losey's Time Without Pity.  Everything and everyone seem keyed up to a point that I had trouble fully connecting.  Losey remains a mystery to me, capable of achieving the level of Monsieur Klein but then also being responsible for something like this.

12/30/21 I watched Vincente Minnelli's Designing Woman.  Peck and Bacall are both wonderful and the film has numerous things going for it.  But Minnelli's tone in this one is a bit hokey, particularly with the character of Maxie Stultz.  

10/1/23 I watched Allan Dwan's The River's Edge.  Dwan had a keen eye and ability to achieve heightened visual expression as we see at certain moments here, even if the story and characters are not always as engaging as we might desire.  


  1. My Own #1 Film of 1957:

    Wild Strawberries (Bergman; Sweden)


    Tokyo Twilight (Ozu; Japan)
    House of the Angel (Torre-Nilsson; Argentina)
    Night of the Demon (Tourneur; UK)
    What's Opera Doc? (Jones; USA)
    Twelve Angry Men (Lumet)
    The Seventh Seal (Bergman; Sweden)
    Paths of Glory (Kubrick)
    Throne of Blood (Kurosawa; Japan)
    The Tarnished Angels (Sirk; USA)
    The Cranes ar Flying (Kalatazov; Russia)
    Il Grido (Antonioni; Italy)
    Peyton Place (Robson; USA)
    The Three Faces of Eve (Johnnson; USA)
    Times of Joy and Sorrow (Kinoshita; Japan)
    Elevator to the Gallows (Malle)
    Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick)
    Black River (Kobayashi; Japan)
    Peyton Place (Robson)
    The Tall T (Boetticher)
    A Face in the Crowd (Kazan)

    WILD STRAWBERRIES is one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of world cinema, and one of its master's greatest works. But both Ozu's TOKYO TWILIGHT and Torre-Nillson's HOUSE OF THE ANGEL are also supreme masterpieces, and is what is perhaps the greatest cartoon feature ever made, Jones's WHAT'S OPERA DOC?. But several others here broach the masterpieces category.

    Your Mann choice here is bold and personal, and I applaud you though I haven't for some reason connected with this one. I do like several other Manns though exceedingly.

    Another great year, and hope you enjoy - if such a thing is possible- tomorrow's Academy Awards! Ha!

  2. Sam, thanks for the fantastic list and comments! I really need to see this Bergman film again, and plan to in the near future.

    I've never seen the Ozu film you mention and need to dedicate myself to catching up on his work at some point. I've never seen the cartoon feature you mention either.

    I like both TWELVE ANGRY MEN and A FACE IN THE CROWD although both a little less than the ones I mention above. THE CRANES ARE FLYING is one I should have mentioned in my post as a "need to see" so I'm adding it now.

    Sam, as you know by now, we are exactly on the same page when it comes to connecting on some that others don't and not connecting on some that are very important to others. I appreciate your kind words on my pick even though it's not a key film for you.

    I'm looking forward to tomorrow night. I find it always fun to see and hear some of the speeches.

    Thanks for all the great stuff here, Sam!

  3. I'm a pretty big Anthony Mann fan myself, but I have to admit that I haven't seen this one. Your entry here makes me really want to, so I'm going to have to bump it up the Netflix queue.

    My choice for this year is another easy one. Boasting possibly the best screenplay that I've ever come across, Alexander Mackendrick's SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS makes a strong bid to be my all-time favorite movie. It could very easily end up #1 in my noir countdown.

  4. Dave, thanks so much for your comments! I'd love to hear what you think of MEN IN WAR when you have a chance to see it.

    Always great to have you here!

  5. Jeffrey, Mann is the man, but Men in War is one of his that I've missed so far. So place a theoretical asterisk next to my choice of Paths of Glory as my favorite for 1957. My runners-up as of now are Decision at Sundown (the best of the Boetticher westerns in my opinion), Elevator to the Gallows, Sweet Smell of Success and 3:10 to Yuma.

  6. Samuel, if you like Mann, I think you'll really love this one. If you get a chance to take a look, I'd love to hear how you like it. But I love the Kubrick, too. In fact, I think it'd be interesting to watch PATHS OF GLORY and MEN IN WAR as a double feature and compare.

    Thanks, Samuel. Always great to hear from you!

  7. Great choice. This is a Mann film that all too often gets overlooked, probably because it's not part of either his Western cycle or his noir cycle. But of course, he brings the same aesthetic to the war film, and this is an especially dark and potent film, as gritty and ugly as war should be. Far from being a slick Hollywood war flick, it's a pretty tough-minded film.

  8. Thanks, Ed! So great to hear that someone else likes this one.

    I completely agree with your reasons that this one is somewhat overlooked. However, I would modify a little this statement, "he brings the same aesthetic to the war film..." It seems to me that Mann's approach here is more visceral, more intimate than his approach was in all the Stewart westerns.

    Always great to have your perspective. Thanks, Ed!