Mann of the Hour July 9, 2008Posted by clydefro in : Classic Films, 1950s , trackback
Even several years into the DVD format, it’s still a pleasant surprise when one particular filmmaker has multiple, unrelated releases hit shelves around the same time. Now, over 40 years since his untimely death, 2008 seems to have accidentally turned into the year of Anthony Mann in R1. His two epics, El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire, were released in late January and April, respectively, under the Weinstein Company’s Miriam Collection tag. Likely by pure coincidence, the director’s clamored-for Man of the West was finally put out by MGM in May. Like its R2 counterpart released a few years ago, the disc is free of extra features, but its status as a much in-demand title makes MGM look good just for finally going to the trouble to press the discs.
Only a week after Man of the West escaped from the vault, Universal did their part by re-issuing the three James Stewart westerns made for the studio. Packaged quietly in the James Stewart: The Western Collection set, Winchester ‘73 got an image upgrade, Bend of the River remained in its already quite good transfer, and The Far Country was presented in anamorphic widescreen for the first time in R1. The latter still looks rough in its somewhat soft video, but I can’t speak highly enough of how Winchester ‘73 shines. Three other Stewart westerns are found in that set as well, with Night Passage being the most interesting to Mann admirers because he was scheduled to direct it, but backed out to make The Tin Star (the R1 of which has inexplicably gone out of print from Paramount) instead. The film suffers from mediocrity as a result, and the two men never worked together again, ending a string of eight films together in just five years. Along with their other two westerns, The Naked Spur and The Man from Laramie, these are my favorite Mann films. His film noir output, made the decade before, is frequently exceptional, but I have the highest regard for those five.
Prior to working with Stewart, Anthony Mann already had two westerns under his belt in 1950. His first was Devil’s Doorway, which isn’t yet on DVD, but more on that in a second. He then immediately stepped into The Furies, with Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Huston and now available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. My review of that release can be found at DVD Times so there’s no need to repeat in full here how exciting the entire package is for fans of the director. In some odd way, the attention by Criterion seems to further legitimize how accomplished Mann’s direction was and does a good deal to combat his being somewhat ignored on the DVD’s of his other films. Even Warner Bros.’ contentious release of The Naked Spur was atypically lacking any kind of appreciation as to the quality of the film. So despite being wrapped in with what’s likely to be, at best, Mann’s seventh finest western of the fifties, those still too brief supplements from Criterion are entirely precious.
Back to reality again from the WB, who get in on the Mann festivities next month by releasing his Cimarron remake, but with only an apparent trailer as bonus material. That puts the count on new R1 editions of Mann films at seven this year alone, not counting the duplicated Bend of the River. Pretty good, even if The Tin Star getting discontinued feels like a small step backward.
The other notable bit of information in store for fans of the director is his frequent presence on the Turner Classic Movies channel. When I started doing “The TCM Ten” picks every week last fall, I noticed a programming trend of repeatedly scheduling Mann films usually relegated to public domain hell. I’m not sure what happened (maybe they ran out of fresh titles), but his lesser-known movies disappeared from future schedules. Thankfully, the cycle seems to have started again and the next few months bring several prime selections. All of these will be mentioned again in my weekly picks, but Mann aficionados can look forward to his French Revolution noir The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror) next week, on July 14. A few of the more readily available titles are peppered into the schedule in the days and weeks after that, until, late night on September 22, we’re treated to Devil’s Doorway and the Abraham Lincoln-themed The Tall Target. I’m hoping for another airing of Desperate at some point, as well, since my recorder seems to favor Mann less than I do, having failed me when the film aired last November.