Anthony Mann – Genre Fanatic Renaissance Man

It appears Anthony Mann can do anything. His mature approach towards the western genre could hold the attention of even a contemporary viewer due to the seemingly limitless amount of potential and versatility he possesses as a film director.
While Ford defined and refined the American western, Mann redefined it. His tales appear more mature and emotionally complex, their societal nature substantial only due to being tied together to a deeply conflicting psychological aspect of his characters and their situations.
In one of many of Mann’s collaborations with Jimmy Stewart in ‘the naked spur’ Mann mixes electrifying camera movements that would only become a traditional aspect of the genre’s incarnation decades later.
His production design contained restraint and yet substantial effect. Stewart, while not looking drastically different himself, could be told apart in each one of his collaborations with Mann by his clothes Alone.

The Naked Spur (1953)
Wayne and Ford: He was a Drifter. Doomed to wander between the winds.

“Lina: Used to think of going to California.

Howard: Why California?

Lina: Someplace New. Nobody caring who you are or where you’re from. A place you could belong to. A house, even neighbors”

The third of a long director/actor collaboration represented the definitive turning in point Stewart was looking for. His comforting nature while providing success, gave also limitation in the eyes of the American public. Stewart wanted a change, and while not as dark, obsessive, and all encompassing as the Western’s poster child John Wayne, Stewart played characters of corrupted grace with aspirations of beauty. It’s as if while Stewart wanted to challenge himself, during his making of Naked Spur, Winchester ‘73, and most of all The Man From Laramie, he wanted to show a darker side of himself, his talent and capability for corruption, but his message was never one of nihilism, but of salvation.

Speaking from a personal front, I see Stewart’s approach as the quintessential story of the relationship between actors and the western genre worldwide. Not only was his strategy the blueprint for every other American actor on earth to make a buck while also making a career change (be it successful or not) but his message of salvation too related to the figure of John Wayne. The western’s poster child.
A man who not only today but even back in the late 60s and 70s is and was so publicly denied of his respect regardless of his contribution towards history and has his dark aspects so wildly known, was not as blind sighted as he first appeared when he made Ford’s 1956 staple ‘The Searchers’. While he made it, Ford clearly had gone through his own complex relationship with the United States, and while Ford didn’t see himself as an auteur enough to get over his anger of reporters asking for clarification on the subtexts of the picture, for anyone who watches it, it is clear the figure of Wayne is one of a tragic tale.
Sadly for Wayne, he wasn’t Jimmy Stewart. While he could save his niece, he could never save himself and his soul the way Stewart managed to. His soul would forever be compromised to the west, to the moment in time in which he related to it, and while his sense of rightful anger is one of revenge exactly like Mann and Stewart’s collaboration, Ford provides a response to it. As Wayne walks into the distance alone, to the only place where he belongs, Ford too contemplated on the figure of John Wayne the human, beyond John Wayne the actor.
Years later Wayne would die of cancer, with his last production reportedly being one in which he was acting entirely different. He was kinder, more understanding, softer, changed. While the quality and text of 1976’s “The Shootist” is a theme of its own (with Pauline Kael famously shaming the picture and expressing her disdain for Wayne) it appears only in his last moments was Wayne capable of achieving some sense of redemption. It may have been as death approached and during a time where his glory days were past him and darkness had taken over the west, but even in the darkest moment of his genre, he was able to find reflection. I like to think that even while brief, Ford would have liked to see his long time collaborator reach the point of realization his contemporary Anthony Mann was so fond of.

Mann And Stewart – Partners in Crime, Redemption and Life

As previously mentioned, the progress of Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart’s collaboration was a setting stone in the industry and one that would forever change the course of cinema history. Stewart today may be mostly known like he was as before he made westerns, however, while he was making them, and for about twenty years after that, his impact was so tangent and well known, that actors like Anthony Perkins, Henry Fonda, Josephn Cotten, Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef and many others followed it. Expending towards sub-sequential decades, Stewart and Mann’s partnership shaped American and foreign cinema as we know it in what is likely the most important director/actor pairing to ever exist. Wayne and Ford were important, but Wayne, in a strangely similar fashion to Eastwood considering Wayne’s hatred for him and his “false Italian westerns” had his entire persona form alongside the genre. The fact that Stewart had a previous reputation as an embracing figure of romanticism and comedy, made his dark turns even if not as dark, appear darker in the contrast to his brighter past.
The western career turn was not always successful. Perkins for example, while starring in westerns with the illustrious Paul Newman, also had to make tv movies in order to land a western picture. “The Fool Killer” which is a part of the psycho ripoff genre, did Perkins the biggest disservice of his career by creating such a lost and limited by its father “Psycho” picture.
It didn’t always work immediately, but it was, for most of the time, at least attempted by most.

The Future’s Second Name Is Mann

John Ford once famously said “My Name is John and I make westerns”. That phrase represented Ford’s outlook towards genre directors. Besides of their intent in the subtextual front and even with their representation of America, directors that lived strictly as western hires, if held to the same stands Ford held himself to, were not to be seen as auteurs. You see the primary difference in production between the 50s and the 60s, was that during the 50s being the type of director in which you could display some level of financial versatility with the return your pictures made was quite difficult. Directors such as William A. Wellman, John Sturges, did many studio pieces in different genres, aged into the 60s with a lot more ease for the industry format that was arriving was one more demanding of a variety of pictures under one’s belt. Fred Zinnemann knew this, so he grew to resent his wildly successful and influential western “high noon”. He didn’t want to be a “western director” because he saw them exactly as Ford saw them, exactly as university professors saw westerns at the time, as a lesser form of art, as a form of pandering entertainment for the masses that were phony compared to the pictures coming from Europe. Martin Scorsese famously recounted being shamed by his university professor after showing interest in writing a paper on Ford or even Orson Welles. The difference between Ford and Zinnemann, was that Ford didn’t care to be seen as an auteur, not even by himself.

How does Mann situate himself in all this? Well you see, not even college professors could deny him of his recognition. Mann’s career before his biggest westerns and contributions towards cinema such as the “T Man”, “The Fall Of The Roman Empire” (Mann’s best picture) and many more, displayed undeniable versatility towards making the most assertive auteur pieces within a wide range of different genres. Be it a Roman epic, a noir or a western, Mann’s pictures contained a different amounts of poetry, moral standards, and emotional beats. His humor and character psychology on westerns alone would go on to be the defining factor of what tells 60s westerns apart from 50s ones.

Mann was a genre filmmaker but most of all he was an artist, an auteur, in many ways bigger than Ford and Zinnemann themselves, for his struggle with the western genre was neither one of removing himself from the competition as it pertains to artistry like Ford, neither was it resentment and fear like for Zinnemann, for Mann, it was as change.
Anthony Mann’s heroes were obsessed, and their obsession would be the primary factor of tension within the pictures. The tension comes more from their possible corruption more than it does from an actual physical conflict. His brooding heroes were human and served as a cautionary tale for the corruption of America and its idealistic figures. An obsession with money, land, that corrupts, yet man always provided salvation.

Budd Boeticher is an extremely captivating figure in the American western landscape. His characters today represent a pendulum of the entire genre. 
Boeticher refused absolute character archetypes and favours truly multi dimensional characters and morality tales in a more strict way to Mann. 
The “villain” of the picture is shown to have quite a humanity as the film goes on through smaller acts and attitudes of honour in the favour of greed. These characters are human and the character work is so emotionally potent that it ends up creating a new way of looking at the older American westerns and the way their heroes and villains were adapted. For Budd Boeticher, villains and heroes and just titles to be given, positions to be spoken of yet that never define anything. My favourite part of the picture and one that I believe encapsulates such very well is when the husband is brutally shot dead behind his back. Frank Usher speaks to Pat with confidence and proclaims that the husband never loved. Although he wasn’t a man of crime, he wasn’t a man of honour either. A liar who gave away his wife without any courage. 
When Frank’s partner becomes restless of his whereabouts it creates an interesting dichotomy between character and audience member for as bad as Frank is, he is still an honourable man, and he still returns like he said he would. Budd Boeticher presents character presents characters with their own set of moral standings, independent to that of societal law. Here many may say, starts the American westerns’ unverbalised mistrust with American society as a whole. I personally don’t believe the film represents that much and that other westerns can fill that spot for the multi faceted characters of Boeticher seem to come only from his artistic prowess within the genre itself.

It’s important to note the versatility within Mann. The dialogue quoted at the start speaks to the versatility of Western directors like him. It’s a scene that relies on Stewart’s romanticism and transitions back and forth to the dark capabilities of Stewart as an actor and Howard as a human. The standoff that follows is tension filled and bathed in darkness. The lack of a score makes it as disturbing of a dynamic as it gets.

Anthony Mann was a chameleon, he never needed to use the famous “one for them
one for me” strategy with studios. All he needed was a film camera and the right actor and for that, Stewart’s cry at the end of the naked spur echoes through history just as much as him saying the money is all that he cares about right before it. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful to watch uhis soul at last, free itself from the obsessions that would so often taint American society.

Related Posts