Anthony Mann is a director primarily remembered today for his remarkable series of Westerns (Winchester ’73 and Man of the West among them) filmed in the 1950’s. But Mann’s oeuvre wasn’t limited to horse operas. He was a talented journeyman who defied categorization, even venturing into epic (El Cid) and sword-and-sandal territory (The Fall of the Roman Empire) towards the end of his career. His film noirs of the 1940’s are some of the finest ever made in that genre.
T-Men and Raw Deal are Mann at his best, restored and artfully packaged by Kino Video of New York.
Both of these films were made for “poverty-row” studio Eagle-Lion, and both were shot in black-and-white by legendary cinematographer John Alton. Alton disliked overhead fills, resulting in long jagged shadows and areas of total darkness inking the mis-en-scene. The Alton-Mann collaborations are claustrophobic, otherworldly and strangely beautiful. The characters of these films move through Mann’s dark, troubling dreamscape with a resigned fatalistic grace.
In T-Men, a documentary-style crime film in the manner of Henry Hathaway’s Calling Northside 777 and Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, a team of Treasury agents go undercover to break up a ring of counterfeiters. Dennis O’Keefe, a one-note actor whose bland, tight-lipped persona made him a perfect lead in low-budget noirs, heads the cast. This film begins with a sleep-inducing prologue featuring the head of the Treasury Department, but from there on in it’s anything but dull. T-Men includes scenes of torture, several brutal beatings, a steam bath murder and a taut climax aboard a ship, all inventively shot and cut.
Raw Deal, released a year later, concerns a convict (O’Keefe again) who busts out of the slammer to exact vengeance on the mob kingpin who set him up. He’s aided by the dual female pillars of noir, the Good Girl (Marsha Hunt) and the Slut (Claire Trevor). Raymond Burr, shot in low angle throughout to accentuate his ample girth, plays the pyromaniac boss who gets his fiery, Biblical comeuppance. (Viewers who only know Burr as the kindly Perry Mason will be surprised to see him playing a psychotic heavy—in fact, he made a career of it early on, replacing Laird Cregar on screen as the King of Grotesque after Cregar’s suicide.) Here, Alton and Mann have created a stylized world whose inhabitants live without a shred of hope. Characters seem to appear like apparitions out of an ever-present fog, sleepwalking, neither dead nor alive, adrift in Hell’s waiting room. Watching Raw Deal is like looking in the mirror after a two-day drunk. An unsettling experience, and a noir classic.
Courtesy of Jim Saah and Uno Mas.