Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Anthony Mann Double Feature:
The Man From Laramie (1955)
& Man of the West (1958)

Man of the West is #571 and The Man From Laramie is #572 in  

Screened 07/03/10 on 35mm at Film Forum in NYC 
as part of Film Forum's Anthony Mann Retrospective

Man of the West is Ranked #612 on TSPDT
The Man From Laramie is Ranked #730 on TSPDT 

*this is part of a series of catch-up reviews in my aforementioned quest (which should explain the rather old screening date above). 

So it was my 43rd birthday and I decided to give myself the gift of an Anthony Mann double feature in that city that never sleeps - so up to NYC we went.  Amy (that would be the little missus for those who are new to this whole thing) was to meet a few friends while I took in the aforementioned double feature that was just one tiny part of Film Forum's expansive Anthony Mann Retrospective.  

Now I must confess to a rather glaring gap in my film knowledge at this point in our story.  That enormous hole rearing its all-too-ugly head being that before this trip to Film Forum I had only seen one (yeah, I said one) Anthony Mann film (that film being The Furies, starring the spectacular Stanwyck).  Well, it was about time to (at least in a small part) remedy such an ugly admission, so into Film Forum I went and I took my seat, second row center, and waited for the lights to go down and the celluloid to begin to flicker.  First up (in non-chronological order) was Mann's 1958 film, Man of the West.
Considered Mann's masterpiece by many (out of the five Mann films on TSPDT's 1000 Greatest List, it is ranked the highest) and one of star Gary Cooper's best performances, Man of the West is both typical of the psychologically dark kind of western the director is known and remembered for, and, in being the auteur's final film in the genre, a sort of be-all-end-all culmination of that very same Freudian oeuvre - much in the same way Eastwood's supremely dark Unforgiven was the capper to his own sordid western past. 

Man of the West is the story of a former outlaw, now trying to do good in the world, who gets ensnared back with his old bloodthirsty gang and the psychotic leader who was at one time a father figure to this now reformed aging outlaw.  Much like Eastwood's film later on (and there is no doubt Eastwood was deeply influenced by this film) Mann's final western is a somber affair, full of anger and bitterness and false hope (though, in the end, a real hope does exist).
Claustrophobic in many ways when compared to other films of the genre, Man of the West shows the cold hard facts of life in a cold hard way - including allusions to the brutality of man through the obvious, yet unspoken (the Hays Code was still hanging on in 1958) rape of its leading lady.  Yet, as claustrophobic as Mann's Man may seem, more figuratively than literally, we still get the wide-open spaces so associated with the genre.  Mann once said, "When you're filming a western, people don't want to see the inside of a cabin." and he is certainly right about that.  Dark or light,

Second (again, not chronologically), came Mann's 1955 film, The Man From Laramie, the last of five westerns Mann did with actor James Stewart.  These were a series of films that helped to take the genre into a whole other direction - a psychologically dark and winding direction that even John Ford would succumb to (and make some of his best films within) and would eventually lead to the revisionist westerns of the sixties and seventies.  
Stewart plays a tortured soul (as was his forte in the Mann films) in search of the man who was responsible for killing his brother and nobody does tortured better than Jimmy Stewart - just ask Hitchcock.  An archetype story (a subplot in the 1936 Cecil B. DeMille film The Plainsman, has Gary Cooper obsessing about much the same thing Stewart's character is obsessed about here) The Man From Laramie may not be as dark as Man of the West, but it's psychologically obsessive narrative is just as powerful a treatise on that old chestnut of man's inhumanity to man that Robbie Burns first spoke of lo those many years ago.

Much of what Mann was doing at this time was pretty much ignored in the US (his films w/ Stewart were hits, but non critically well-received for the most part) but thanks to the good folks across the pond at Cahiers du Cinema (you know, Godard, Truffaut, Bazin, Rivette et al) and their brilliant Auteur Theory (I myself am I diehard Auteurist - sorry Pauline, I still love your prose) Mann has become the rousing success he was always meant to be. 
So I would say my birthday went rather well.  After my Anthony Mann double bill at Film Forum I walked uptown to meet my lovely wife and our friends to have dinner at an Indian restaurant somewhere around Herald Sq. (don't remember the name of the place, sorry).  Now I suppose it is time to delve deeper into the Anthony Mann woods - and not just his westerns, but his early noir works too (ed. note: I have since had the opportunity to see The Great Flamarion, Mann's 1945 film featuring Erich von Stroheim and have several others queued up to watch).

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