Anthony Mann | Visual Style | Subjects
Films: Two O'Clock Courage | Desperate | Railroaded! | T-Men | Raw Deal | He Walked By Night | Border Incident | Side Street | Crime Does Not Pay | Devil's Doorway | Winchester 73 | The Glenn Miller Story | Strategic Air Command | The Man from Laramie | The Fall of the Roman Empire | The Heroes of Telemark | A Dandy in Aspic
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The Crime Films of Anthony Mann (2014) by Max Alvarez is an important book on Mann, and his work on film noir crime movies. It has:
In his filmed BBC interview with Paul Mayersberg, Mann talks about the stage directors he worked for as stage manager, and how much he learned: Jed Harris, Rouben Mamoulian, Chester Erskine. When asked which film directors influenced him, Mann enthusiastically mentions Murnau.
Also, his amnesia seems to make him take on a new identity of sorts. The real hero is a bewildered man with amnesia, trying to find out his name. He keeps pretending to be a functioning human being, sometimes with various aliases and professions. This has a similar feel to the new identity taken on by the heroes of T-Men and A Dandy in Aspic. Like them, the hero keeps shifting back and forth between his real self and his pretend persona. These new persona help the hero do his detective work in the bewildering world in which he finds himself, just like the new persona aided the sleuthing of the hero of T-Men.
As in later Mann films, other characters keep becoming suspicious that the hero is not who he says he is. Here, this is largely played for laughs, with most of the suspicion coming from a comedy relief reporter. However, the reporter keeps on passing his suspicions to the police, so there is an edge of menace, and always some suspense. In later Mann films, such suspicions give rise to intense suspense and nightmarish horror.
The hero is hunted by the police. This relates the film to both Desperate and Side Street.
The hero shares most of his adventures with the heroine of the film. This also resembles Desperate and Side Street. In all of these films, the heroine's sharing of the hero's experiences is a voluntary choice on her part, something she does out of loyalty, love and generosity. In all of these films, the hero is the one in trouble. The heroine is not. She could have chosen to remain in the "normal" world. Instead, she follows the hero on his journey into exile and alienation. It is as if Eurydice followed Orpheus into the underworld.
Class lines are strangely marked in Two O'Clock Courage. The heroine, the reporter and the police are all working class. So are most of the non-suspects in the film, like the tailor shop workers and the landladies. By contrast, the hero, the murder victim and the suspects are all upper crust sophisticates, with ties to the theater world. This is somewhat atypical of Mann's noirs of the late 1940's and Jimmy Stewart Westerns of the 1950's, where the heroes tend to be working class. It does anticipate A Dandy in Aspic (1968), in which the hero and the British agents tend to be upper crust, with an intellectual background, and the Russians tend to be working class in feel. The collision of two social classes gives a surrealistic feel to these films. One also thinks of the scientists in The Heroes of Telemark, and the military types with whom they work.
The upper crust characters in Two O'Clock Courage are all full of hidden secrets, including the amnesiac hero who does not know who he is. But the working class characters are all honest, and are exactly who they seem to be. The hero and the upper crust Brits in A Dandy in Aspic also seem far more duplicitous than the Russians.
For example, when the hero finally remembers the events of the murder, the flashback shot includes a track in to the second room he enters. It is very forceful. It makes the flashback seem even more dream like and hallucinatory. It occurs after the double doors of the room have been opened, and tracks partly through the doors. It conveys an effect of journeying into a visionary realm, one that was only exposed to view after the doors were flung open.
The track in's tend to be into whole rooms, or large exterior vistas. They are not the Hitchcock device of tracking into a close-up of an actor.
Much of the film takes place at cheap rooming houses. These are more respectable than the cheap hotel in T-Men, but have something of the same architectural feel.
Other parts of this picture take place at a fancy nightclub and mansion, and these scenes are closer in feel to 1930's whodunits, than to film noir.
There is a welcome vein of unforced humor flowing through the movie, that makes it a lot easier to take. I especially loved the scene with the bus driver, when the wife is going to have the baby.
By contrast, the villain lives in an all male world. His henchmen are all men, and their vivid character portraits add much to the film's color. The villain is obsessively attached to his young brother, and his devotion to this worthless punk is the main driving force of the tragedy in the film.
This is one of two Raymond Burr portraits in Mann film noirs, the other being in Raw Deal. In both films, he plays a frighteningly intense mobster who frames and torments the hero. In both works, the hero is defined by a complex series of relationships to women. Both films have the hero and his women on the run, often through the countryside, before the final urban shoot outs.
There is a long, sustained shot towards the beginning of the film, an experiment with long takes. The hero comes home bearing roses for his wife. The shot moves into a close-up of their kiss, with him holding the roses behind her head. Then it shows them moving around in the apartment, and finally leaving it when the phone rings. The shot only comes to an end when they move out into the hall. The sustained excitement of the long take matches the sustained romantic mood of the two young lovers. There is a good deal of camera movement in this shot, mainly small reframings and motions around the apartment.
A more linear camera movement occurs in the wedding scene. There is a very dramatic sweep down the entire ceremony, at first showing the couple from behind, then gradually pulling around to the front of them. This is followed by a dramatic cut that shows them symmetrically facing the congregation.
The farm house kitchen set has an exterior region visible through the windows, where people can pull up cars and come into the house. First the hero does this, then later on the villains. This allows the shooting through windows that is so popular in Fritz Lang and the noir style. Mann combines this window shooting with camera movement. Typically, we see someone arrive through a window or door, then enter, then the camera moves back to show them walking around inside the kitchen. Mann combines these backward camera movements with pans, showing people moving inside.
In general, pans are fairly common in Desperate. They are used in a way that was common in such late 1940's directors as Cukor or Fleischer: they show people moving around within a set. Unlike these directors, Mann will sometimes pan back and forth, say from right to left, then back again from left to right.
Mann tends to construct his camera movement scenes out of short segments: there might be a pan, then a stable shot set-up, a track, then a short pan again. Each segment will have its own mood, pace and dialogue. There usually is an abrupt change of mood between these segments. Each one contributes in its own way to the progress of the story. There is a sense of instability: we are never set up in a fixed, predictable, stable world. There is always some unpredictable, abrupt change coming over us.
Mann often uses pans to convey a sense of motion and excitement. They tend to fairly fast, compared to those of other directors, and to convey a "whiplash" feel.
There are tracking shots as well, in the scene where the hero moves down the street after selling his truck near the end of the film. Next we cut to the bad guys' car, and we see a moving shot from the car itself. These two tracking shots are impressively stylized. Both move from right to left, an approach that is often thought to convey a sense of difficulty or effort to a traveling shot.
Mann sometimes closes in on a character at the end of a shot, tracking in on them to emphasize some strong emotion they are experiencing. This is an approach associated with Alfred Hitchcock.
Later, Burr will be shown injured and in bed. A city light will be going on and off outside his window, in a way that has been much caricatured in recreations of the noir look. Despite this, it is a striking shot. It reminds us that his character is associated with unstable lighting. Such blinking external lights had already been used by cinematographer Tony Gaudio in the gangster film Little Caesar (1930), long before the invention of noir around 1941. So they are hardly an innovation of film noir. There will later be a blinking stop sign in Mann's Side Street.
Both of these kinds of light also appear in T-Men, but in less intense form. The photographer has a hanging lamp in his darkroom, which swings a bit at the end of the scene. Immediately following, we segue to a scene at the cheap hotel, where there is a blinking outdoor sign that sheds alternating light and dark over the hotel room scene that follows.
The hotel in Raw Deal has a blinking sign. But we only see it from outdoors, never shining on and off inside a room. And in the ship cabin, we sometimes see the room with the lights on, sometimes with them off. It looks startlingly different in the two views.
The signal to the hold-up men at the start of Railroaded!, involves opening and closing a door, which emits and cuts off light.
There are many mirrors in Desperate. These mirrors tend to be architectural: they are used to extend and reveal the architecture of a room. They have clearly been planned out by the art director and Mann. Their position is linked to the camera set-up, the two working in tandem to reveal exactly what the film wants to show us about a particular room. The mirrors tend to be bureau top mirrors, like the one in T-Men. This is linked to the low socio-economic status of the characters: just about everybody is in some cheap room, where the bureau has a mirror on its top. This contrasts with Fritz Lang films, which often show chic apartments where the mirrors are built-in around the fireplaces.
Newspapers are used throughout the film, to tell the story of the crime. There is also a police radio in the sheriff's car. This interest in mass media is in the Lang tradition. Both the police use of radio, and newspapers employed in narrating the crime, will recur in Mann's Side Street.
The finale also shows a sustained burst of style. First there is a scene combining intense close-ups with the ticking of a clock; such scenes of clock watching are common in Fritz Lang and other noir. The close-ups get more and more extreme; finally they just show the characters' eyes.
Next, there is a big shoot out on a staircase. The director pulls out all the noir stops, shooting from dramatic angles both high and low. These are also in the Lang tradition of complex staircases. This is a whole montage sequence, showing every possible baroque angle on the staircase. The photography/lighting helps as well, with shadows of the banisters falling over the characters, when we are not seeing actual shots of the staircase. This is one of the great staircase scenes in a noir film.
The scene is linked to shots of the outdoor staircase in front of the building. These urban scenes are full of lettered signs and bill boards, an urban noir tradition.
There is also a striking newspaper shot showing the hero in World War II soldier gear.
Both men "rush" the heroine Rosie: Ireland insists on dancing with her at the nightclub. Beaumont's first police visit to the house is at first mistaken for a social call, from a guy in the neighborhood. And his searching her house can be seen as an invasive approach to her personally.
The front door and foyer are seen from an arched entryway in the living room. This entryway is also angled.
The night club office has a look-through window, which allows Ireland to see the main floor of the club. The view of the club shows the patrons and chairs. It is one of Mann's "crowd shots filmed from a slightly overhead angle". Like such shots in later Mann films, it is elaborately and beautifully composed.
The phone booth in the drug store has glass walls; in turn, it can be seen through the store's plate glass window. This is a striking image. The booth is seen through a middle panel of the window, nicely lined up. These shots also emphasize a contrast between light and shadow.
Clara's mirror and clock are complexly curved. By contrast, John Ireland is associated with a rectangular door, with straight edges. The imagery suggests a contrast between men and women, with straight lines standing for male phallic symbols, and curves and circles linked to women and their round symbols.
A main use of media in Railroaded! is John Ireland's criminal record. It is detailed, and seen in a close-up, so we can read much of his sinister history.
We hear information going out over police radio. This is also transmitted through loudspeakers at police headquarters, an interesting touch.
Late in the film, we get a view through one of these windows, serving as a circular "mask" around the image. Such circular masked images show up in later Mann films.
Then a second long take starts: a closer shot of the couple dancing. This too shows Ireland as dynamic in motion, as he turns the heroine around with him while dancing. Occasionally, another dancing couple moves in front of them.
Still, policeman hero Hugh Beaumont is always perfectly groomed, in suit, tie and hat. If his dark suit is not as elegant as the villain's pinstripe, it looks authoritative. At the film's end he at last wears a lighter colored suit, suggesting that he is at last showing a civilian non-policeman side: he is now romancing the heroine.
When the policeman investigates Clara's murder, he talks to witnesses who are all in bath robes and pajamas. He is in his perfect looking suit. This contrast will be extended in later Mann. It takes place outdoors in He Walked By Night, making the men in robes look even more out of place and underdressed, and with the cops in even dressier clothes.
The kid brother is in a leather jacket: a "young man's costume" in this era, as well as suggesting his working class job. Grown men like the policeman and gangster are in suits.
Much is made of the murdered policeman's fancy cap. It is in close-up, and handled on the policeman's desk.
There is a lot of similarity in the criminal organizations both film's heroes track down. Both are ruthless high powered conspiracies; both epitomize ultimate evil. In House's case, this is a bit more natural - the bad guys are Nazi spies. Their complex organization, with hidden identities, elaborate schemes of communication, and murderous efficiency at eliminating threats, seem like a natural extension of the spy tradition. In T-Men, this is a bit more of a stretch: the villains are a counterfeiting gang. Even the film notes that their methods are unusual for such a gang. We are used to seeing underworld gangs depicted a bit more romantically on screen, with energetic men having glamorous "careers" as gangsters, and complex codes of loyalty and "honor". By contrast in T-Men, the gangsters are constantly ready to murder anyone who seems like the slightest threat to them. They seem ruthless, overwhelmingly sinister, and without the slightest sense of loyalty among thieves - or even fun. The menace they present seems frighteningly convincing - most viewers realize that the romanticized portrayal of gangsters in other films is highly fictionalized, and the ruthlessness and lack of loyalty of the current bunch seems far more like most people's suspicions of how a gang really operates. However, it does make the movie a lot more grim than many gangster films.
Mann's noir films seem influenced by Hathaway's in other ways, too. Hathaway's films, like Mann's, tend to have sadistic villains. One thinks especially of Richard Widmark's character pushing the little old lady down the stairs in Hathaway's Kiss of Death. One also notes the mobster played by Raymond Burr in Mann's Raw Deal, and his flaming violence anticipating Fritz Lang's in The Big Heat (1953). The mob's hit man in T-Men is Moxie (played by Charles McGraw). He is dressed to the teeth in elaborate suits. He has four chilling threat scenes with Harrigan.
Mann pans over from here to a face-on photograph of a wall. This shot allows him to make rectilinear images that recall Mondrian. There are no angles in this shot; it is like a two dimensional image containing straight horizontal and vertical lines. In one corner of the screen is the only circle in the image, a lamp shining the light. This combination of rectilinear patterns and a small circle is an irresistible visual combination. One finds similar image in Ozu's Floating Weeds (1957), in which a red circle near the bottom center of the screen contrasts with many vertical gray lines of the architecture.
Mann will also include a closer, equally flat shot of the wall, that treats it as a nested series of L shapes.
Later, Mann includes perspective shots along this wall. These are in his full perspectival mode. In addition, there is a straight shadow on the ground directly perpendicular to it, reaching across the image; it anticipates a shot early in He Walked By Night, which contains the shadow of a lamp post across the image in a similar fashion. Both shadows are narrow, both are straight, and of constant thickness. Both seem to stretch from right to left across the screen. Both are directly perpendicular, which makes them nearly horizontal lines on screen. Mann loves such purely geometric constructs. Some of these angle shots also include the circular lamp post, once again the only circle in many straight line segments.
The early segments also include a series of shots introducing Charles McGraw. These show his head emerging from the darkness, then rotating around. He seems like a powerful mechanical object, such as a lighthouse or piston. This image creates a sense of machine-like implacability to him, as if he were larger than life. He anticipates the robotic killers of James Cameron's later Terminator films, with a similar kind of all powerful machine-like presence here.
The way the heroine impersonates a taxicab driver recalls the female cabby in Two O'Clock Courage.
Radio is once again the police's main technological weapon against crime. Here, however, the criminal protagonist listens in to police radio, using this to evade the dragnet.
The shot in the hotel room, with the phone call about Ann, is also a deep focus shot, that unites a number of Mann visual traditions:
The motorcycle police uniforms are exceptionally dressy, with the white shirts and tie, patch pockets and Sam Browne belts of a dress uniform, combined with flared trousers and huge shiny motorcycle boots.
The alley has a high left wall, that is often shown in perspective shots. This Mann tradition is combined with the unusual, fog and mist photography.
When the heroine is staring at the clock, she slowly rotates her head. This recalls Moxie's revolving head at the start of T-Men. Both images are dramatic.
There are dresser top mirrors throughout, a Mann favorite. The opening shot of the ship cabin at the end is especially ingenious. It opens with a view in the mirror, of both the door and circular lights. Then lights come on, and we realize we are looking at the door through the mirror, a complex construction.
There are also many purely geometric objects that are integrated with the compositions - an octagonal clock, or a round mirror. There is usually only one such object in the shot at any one time. It is prominently displayed, and its round or rounded contour forms a complex balance with all of the rectangle based trapezoids that form most of the composition. The object tends to be the focus of the shot. One feels that the large trapezoids are converging on one point or region, as at a focus, and the rounded object is at the center of that focus, and gives a point to the rest of the composition.
Mann and Alton have a different visual style for each of these series. There is not one uniform "visual style" spread out over all the shots in the movie. Rather each series has its own distinctive approach. These series do have common elements - they are full of elaborate, often off center, highly geometric compositions in the Fritz Lang / film noir tradition, with elaborate light effects. Still, in many ways, each series of shots forms its own separate world.
It is unclear how these series should be considered. Do they constitute a "formal system" of film making? The answer has to be yes: these possibilities are pursued in a systematic way. Within each series, are the similarities/differences between shots meant to be considered as formal variations of each other? Or should the individual shots be considered simply as "opportunities" created by the paradigm of the overall series: a skeleton approach that helps Mann and Alton develop individual shots? This is a tougher question.
The Post Office shot - a Variation. One scene in the Post Office is especially Mizoguchi like. The lower part of the shot contains the uniformed postmen, the upper, the ceiling, including many light fixtures and some posts. The upper part is especially beautiful. It is there purely to create such a gorgeous spectacle, one of the most beautiful things in the movie. The posts form part of an interesting geometrical pattern. This Post Office shot is the least typical of all the "crowd shots" of the film. It is both similar to the other crowd shots, and yet distinctly different. It constitutes a real variation within the formal system of Mann and Alton's film making. Some of the differences: it is more purely frontal than the other crowd shots, with less of an overhead angle. The bodies are all clustered into one rectangular region at the base of the shot, instead of being scattered throughout the frame. The ceiling is seen from a frontal, rectangular composition, instead of being spread out diagonally across the frame, as well. The characters are peaceful looking post men, instead of glaringly macho cops.
The Post Office seems to have the same kind of lighting fixtures as the police station. These fixtures are of a complex geometric shape, that plays a major role in the composition of all the interior crowd scenes in Night. One can see similarly shaped light fixtures in the prison visiting room near the opening of Raw Deal. This means that they were presumably provided consciously by the art director of both films: perhaps with the collaboration of Mann and Alton. It also suggests that the police rooms and post offices in Night are studio sets, not real life locations used for the filming - although Mann and Alton could have brought in their own fixtures to real life locations, however.
Postures. Mann often has his characters in elaborate body postures. Each actor in a large scene will have a different, quite expressive posture, which they tend to hold fixed. They move this posture only to get up and walk away; such an exit is sometimes used as an "epilogue" to a shot. The actors are often facing another person. the gestures often convey an attitude to this person, and show a little mini-drama of human interaction between them. These small dramas can relate to police routine, such as questioning a witness or grilling a suspect. These sorts of body postures are most conspicuous in the overhead crowd shots, but they also occur in the low angle series as well.
The Police Station shot - another Variation. A shot in the police station is striking. Many of the suited police have removed their jackets, and are in shirt sleeves. Their white shirts are in bright light, and form a center of attention in the composition. They also form a contrast to the black police uniforms, the other most conspicuous kind of clothes in the shot. These men are the only shirt sleeved men in the film: at other times, the police tend to be fully dressed in jacket and hat. The shirt sleeves tend to give the officers the look of businessmen. All the shirt sleeved men are in fact sitting behind desks. Their postures tend to suggest that they are in charge. The uniformed cops tend to be standing ramrod straight up, while the men in suits tend to be in various bending postures in the shot. The suits tend to be fairly brownish looking, and not as conspicuous as either the men in white shirts or the black police uniforms.
A recurring structure in Mann compositions: a strong vertical line near the center of the frame. These include the pillar marking the lobby corner of the police station in He Walked By Night, and a lamp post a man clings to in Side Street.
Examples in other Mann films. These overhead crowd shots occur in other Mann films, such as Border Incident. One scene in Railroaded! shows may people at different tables in a night club. Each person has their own unique body posture, focused on the other people at the same table with him. One can also see the use of numerous cars to make up a composition in other Mann films, such as Side Street, and in similar scenes using wagon trains at the beginning of Bend of the River.
These shots tend to indoors, shot from a very low angle. They show rectangular objects from an angle, making pronounced trapezoids on the screen. Diagonal lines tend to cross the screen in sweeping lines. Ceilings often appear in these shots, as well; the ceiling lines too make up part of the composition. These shots are also extremely geometric; they show great creativity and personal style. They are very different in effect from the "overhead crowd" shots. They tend to show only a few people and objects, and these in relative close up. Above all, their plastic qualities are impressive. The compositions are of considerable visual beauty.
These scenes at the beginning focus on a different character from those introduced later, patrolman Rawlins. Unlike the later cops, he is in the black uniform of the police, not a civilian suit and tie. They are exterior shots at night.
What is most noticeable about them right away is the extraordinary use of light. Light streams out of the street lamps' globes, bathing the entire scene in an unearthly illumination, like the glow of an alien craft in a science fiction film. It is most extraordinary. These effects are only found in Alton's films, as far as I know.
Along with this light, comes two other common features. One is back lit shots of trees, which form misty outlines in front of the image. The trees can also show similarly detailed shadows on buildings.
The other feature is the shadow of street signs, telegraph poles, and the like. These form long straight lines on the ground, and are important element in the composition of the images.
Another important element of these opening scenes: the buildings portrayed in them. These building exteriors tend to be seen either frontally, or along one side of the shot. When shown along the side, they tend to make elongated, trapezoidal figures, stretching diagonally along the screen. These trapezoids recall those of the "low angle interior" shots (Series #2) of the film. These buildings also include fences, which form similar patterns. The buildings are carefully modeled with different kinds of light. There are illuminated windows, corners shown up in blazes of light, and regions of deep darkness. These building shots are almost "still lifes", showing the geometric patterns that can be formed by different kinds of rectangles and trapezoids, each with its own kind of lighting effect.
A Pan. One shot in the beginning includes one of Mann and Alton's rare pans. This pan is designed more to reveal the geometry of the situation to the viewer, then to exploit the visual properties of panning as a mise-en-scène device. Mann is trying to emphasize that two events are going on in regions that are at 90 degree angles to each other; he uses a pan to link up the two points of view. This underlines to the viewer the spatial relationship between the two regions.
Later on in the film, there will be a series of day time shots. These show the exteriors of police headquarters and other buildings around L.A., while the hero of the film does a lot of leg work trying to track down clues about the bad guy. Many of these shots are also elaborately composed "still lifes" of the buildings. They are somewhat similar in their pictorial splendor to the night time building still lifes of the opening, although their lighting is very different.
Just as the opening of the film has its own visually distinctive kind of style, so do the closing scenes take us into a new world visually. These are the famous scenes underground, in the storm drain system below L.A. This use of special opening and closing Acts to the film makes for a satisfying dramatic arc to the story. It separates out these important transition zones, that of the entrance in and exit out from the picture. They have the same function as the overture and finale of an opera or musical. These segments also have less focus on what are the central characters of the rest of the film. The main police characters do not appear yet in the opening, and in the finale, they tend to fall back into the police as a group.
The underground storm drains are introduced in the middle of the movie. These scenes do not linger; they are much simpler and briefer than the climax of the film. They do help establish the drains are part of the film's "reality". When the viewer sees them again at the end of the film, they are already a familiar, established part of the world of the film. There is no sudden need on the viewer's part to adjust to them as some sudden, jarring new reality. These middle film scenes also give us a simple taste of the elaborate lighting effects of the end of the film. They show us what an underground light can look like, while it illuminates part of the drains by a walking or running man. This, too, helps the viewer understand the images being portrayed. This middle scenes are fairly analytical and contemplative. The viewer is encouraged to sit back and absorb exposition on the underground drainage system, while the narrator explains facts about the system. These facts include the astonishing one that there are 700 miles of tunnels beneath L.A. These scenes echo the credit sequence of the film, which shows a map of Los Angeles. In both cases, the viewer is encouraged to think of L.A. as a huge grid.
The shots at the end are terrific. They are among the most purely geometric of any shots in a fiction feature film. The tunnels are full of circles, trapezoids, and other pure geometric shapes. The lighting effects are also remarkable. Mann and Alton show a series of shots, exploring many different effects that can be produced by flashlights moving along walls, often held by men who are themselves running or walking. These climax in a tracking shot, one of the few in the entire film. This shot combines the motion of the light and the men with the motion of the camera. This tracking shot is very different in effect from most tracking shots in most films. The tracking is not part of a "camera eye", a visual point of view that is moving through a scene, exploring it in detail, and creating awesome visual patterns as it goes: this is the typical tracking shot of the great directors. Instead, the tracking here is closely integrated with the other visual effects of the scene. It is part of one, integrated visual pattern being created in the shot. This unified effect is built up out of all components, in which tracking, lighting and geometry of the sets all play an equal role.
These shots tend to be taken from a slightly overhead angle. This takes in a good deal of the background environment. It also tends to show the police, suspects and witnesses full figure. The slightly elevated angle also tends to add a tone of comedy to the proceedings. It suggests that the suspect is to be taken less seriously than the police. The effect is of slightly looking down in derision on these people. It also emphasizes all the formal polish of the police.
Still, the film's idealism on Civil Rights issues should be applauded. Films exist not only to depict the real world around us, but to help us visualize a new, better future world. Images like these helped people imagine a new era, when all minorities would be treated with respect. He Walked By Night shows a world where minorities have the same job opportunities and social acceptance as every one else, where they are fully integrated into social institutions. Such films pave the way towards an idealistic future.
The police heroes of scriptwriter John C. Higgins' The Public Pays (1936) also go undercover as milkmen, giving up their navy blue police uniforms for the white uniforms of milk cart drivers. This seems to be a personal Higgins tradition, repeated by him when he worked on the script of He Walked By Night.
The women beauty shop employees in Railroaded! also wear white uniforms.
Border Incident differs from T-Men in that only one of the agents goes undercover as a crook: the American agent, played by George Murphy. By contrast, the Mexican agent played by Ricardo Montalban is undercover as a laborer. It is a whole new persona for him, and one that involves intense danger from the bad guys. But it is not a criminal role. In this it differs from not just T-Men, but from most of the undercover semi-docs of the era.
Both Montalban and Murphy play highly sympathetic characters. The audience, then and now, is probably used to thinking of both men in lighter roles. Both were mainly familiar as song-and-dance men during the 1940's, famous for their charm and good nature. This film offers them a complete change of pace.
Border Incident has many shots which involve large groups of men standing around. These recall shots in He Walked By Night. In both films, we see men, most often in exteriors, from slightly elevated angles. The men are scattered through a large open space. Each man in the crowd is an individual. Yet the men also form elaborate geometric groups and patterns on screen. The men tend to be fairly formally dressed, in clothes that proclaim their work roles.
There are many shots of the Mexican laborers here; all have their hats on, and are dressed for work. These shots rarely include women. They seem like a formal portrait of men in groups. The men are usually sympathetic: we see Mexican workers in Border Incident, the police in He Walked By Night. The villains in the films do not get this treatment. The shots emphasize the men's machismo. They communicate work roles and an idealized image of the men performing their jobs. The sense of male bonding in groups is strong.
At the post office, when the clerk has finished his walk to the foreground of the deep perspective view of the aisle, the camera pans to the left, and starts a new shot. This second shot is very different: it is one of Mann's groups of men on the job. Here we see the immigration chief (John Ridgely), a uniformed cop, and a Post Office official. These men have their hats on, in the Mann tradition of such men in groups shots - they are fully, formally dressed for their jobs. Such hats also serve as phallic symbols. The shot is remarkably composed: the lower background is full of countless rectangular mail boxes that form a brilliant geometric pattern, the upper background shows geometric constructions near the ceiling of the Post Office Building. But it is not especially deep focus, nor is it perspective oriented. Soon the men all stand up. They now form a second geometric grouping, different from the first, but equally geometric. Mann has staged them both sitting and standing, to form interesting geometric patterns.
At night, outside the cantina, we see shadowy shots down the street. These recall the street shots during the policeman's murder in He Walked By Night.
There are also trapezoidal compositions here, recalling T-Men. As in that film, the trapezoids are caused by angled doors and windows, projected on the flat plane of the screen. Some of these shots involve deep focus, such as an interior where we see through two separate doorways, each making a differently angled trapezoid on screen.
Other interior shots tend to be architectural. They tend to include slashing diagonal lines from the architecture, prominently featured. These include interior roofs, often with strange architectural features, or the covered entryways of buildings. The diagonals allow unusual, highly creative compositions.
Many exterior scenes in Border Incident can be called architectural:
By the way, I am unable to fully rationalize the architecture of the water tower here. When Montalban first sees the water tower, he seems to be 180 degrees around the tower from the guard. The guard in turn is 90 degrees away from George Murphy's room. Montalban then moves apparently 90 degrees to the right, and starts climbing a ladder, which should bring him directly up the tower on the same side as Murphy. Instead, he seems to wind up 90 degrees from Murphy, when he reaches Murphy's level on the tower. The photography showing Montalban climbing is very dark, and perhaps I am imagining or not noticing a 90 degree turn somewhere. Or perhaps the filmmakers are using composites of various buildings, to make better images, and the composites do not exactly align. This does not really matter.
Moving Front and Back. Deep focus shots often show a person moving from the foreground of the shot, all the way to the back, or vice versa. Mann will hold the shot precisely as long as it takes the person to move between the extremes. When Jeff the motorcyclist enters the post office, we see him move from the door in the deep focus rear, all the way up to the clerk's window in the foreground. At the end of the scene, we will watch a reverse of this progress, from window to door. Similarly, the clerk will move down the aisle behind the windows, then back up again, in a similar pair of shots. Vehicles often show a similar progress. The motorcycle moving through the field of lettuce will travel from the rear of the shot to the foreground. The forward propulsion from rear to front is an important part of the rhythm and style of the film.
Even short "walks" in the film are often straight towards the camera. When George Murphy is imprisoned in the water tower at night, he slowly walks towards the screen door of his room, and the camera, twice in the film. Both times, this involves him from being in the shadowy darkness in the back of his room, towards the bright light at its front. His appearances out of the darkness are classic examples of Alton's use of high contrast photography, from deep darkness to light.
The use of deep focus, the positioning on people within the shot, and their motion, backwards, forwards and sidewise, all can be considered as part of "staging". But staging also is closely tied with another task (and opportunity) of the director: composition. Composition can be defined as "the geometric patterns created on the screen, their visual beauty, and the emotional effects they arouse in the viewer". When Mann shoots down a street, the geometric arrangement of buildings, vehicles, telephone lines creates a visual pattern. This pattern is interesting and beautiful for its own sake.
Pans. Mann will sometimes join up shots with pans. When Montalban sticks his head outside the tent, the initial perspective shot is eventually joined by a pan to a second deep perspective shot, down an alley between buildings.
Half Perspective - Half Buildings Parallel to the Screen Frame. Sometimes Mann's camera will point straight down an open area. When the motorcyclist leaves the post office, the camera is pointed straight down a road. A building in the distance has its wall parallel to the plane of the shot. Along the left hand side, we see a steep perspective, formed first by a telephone pole and lines, then by a church. The shot mixes "perspective" in one region (the lines and church) and a head-on "parallel" shot in another (the building). This is a common staging approach in Border Incident.
Similarly, when we first see the guard at the water tower, the left side of the shot is taken up by the tower building, whose wall and staircase are perfectly aligned and parallel with the plane of the shot. On the right, we see a deep perspective down the alley between two buildings. There are structures deep in the alley that are also aligned with the plane of the shot. The mix of parallel and perspective creates visual variety in the shot. It also creates a sense of visual rhythm between the contrast of the two.
Other shots do not align so purely. The long shot of the train tracks during the motorcycle chase are slightly at an angle. Mann has set up the shot so that we see the train tracks "vanishing to a point" in the distance. The staging never uses this rear part of the tracks; the car and motorcycle stay within the front half of the shot. Still, the vanishing point is always visible. The deep perspective, apparently to infinity, underlines the sense of perspective in the shot.
The villains in this film are in Southwestern farm gear. These are not the fancy cowboy clothes of a thousand Westerns. Instead, they are grungy work clothes. These are some of the dingiest and least glamorous clothes in film history. They strongly convey a milieu - they are unquestionably Western ranch and farm gear. But otherwise they are strictly deglamorized. Only the immigration officials and police have sharp clothes in Border Incident. There are suggestions that the villains here belong to a "subculture". Their clothes suggest that they all belong to a ranching lifestyle, one based on exploitation of the Mexican laborers.
Side Street evokes earlier semi-doc films shot on location in New York City. This is new territory for Mann.
As in Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death (1947), the film opens with the hero committing a theft, one motivated by poverty and a desire to support his family, a theft that will go terribly wrong, and blow up in the hero's face. Henry Hathaway's films tend to focus on ordinary people who want a normal life, but who are instead tragically pulled into a world of crime. This describes Victor Mature in Kiss of Death, and to a lesser degree Mark Stevens and Lucille Ball in The Dark Corner. This is a persistent approach in Mann's film noirs, too: see Desperate, Raw Deal and Side Street. Both Hathaway's and Mann's films have an aching, brooding quality. An "if only we could lead a normal life" wistfulness.
The film is also close to another New York City set film, Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948). Both films have sympathetic members of the police, trying to solve the crimes. Both films open with an omniscient narrator, one that gives us a mini-documentary about life in New York City. Both film's narrators give us statistics about life in New York City, both show typical members of the city. The use of a third person narrator is somewhat unusual in film noir. It is a lot more common for noir films to be narrated in the first person, with the central character in the story narrating events shown in flashback. By contrast, The Naked City and Side Street have male, third person narrators who know everything about the events that are shown in the films. The narrator keeps nudging the audience, encouraging them to pay attention to some feature of the case. Both narrators have a sardonic tone. They are bemused observers of human nature in general, and of life in the big city. Neither films have flashbacks. However, the way that the narrator seems to know everything that is going to happen gives both films a slightly fatalistic edge, as in the flashback film noirs. Kiss of Death also has a third person narrator, who is a woman: even more unusual in film noir.
The film opens with a brief tribute to the New York police, and one suspects that one is going to see a semi-documentary about the police, in the tradition of earlier Hathaway and Mann films. However, while the police are continuing characters in the film, the semi-doc traditions are played down. There are no lab scenes, and little attempt is made to glamorize the cops.
We do see the Harbor Patrol briefly, as well as the regular Homicide Squad. The harbor police use radio; a cop calls from a car phone, and we see a central radio unit at police headquarters. The inspector's desk is full of communication equipment: phone, radio, intercom - much of which is strikingly circular, as is his lamp. The police try to trace a call. This high tech use of radio recalls Desperate, He Walked By Night and The Heroes of Telemark.
The main scientific detection involves following up the murder victim's last meal. It is eventually tracked to a Turkish restaurant. The forensic scientist is also a gourmet cook - shades of Lawrence Blochman's pathologist-sleuth Dr. Coffee, whose prose short stories were popular in Collier's magazine at this time.
Detection in Side Street also follows that pattern established in The Naked City:
A prominent cop is played by Charles McGraw. The film is part of his transition from the mob killers he played in the mid 1940's, to his early 1950's roles as a tough but good guy cop. The film has a classic comedy shot where this super tough officer has to hold a pampered Pekinese dog found at a crime scene. This incongruity is delightful. McGraw shows himself a good sport here. There are other factors at work than simple comedy, however. The fact that this tough man is nice to dogs suggests a fundamentally decent side to his character. Both in films, and in advertisements, dogs are frequently symbolic stand-ins for children. A man who is kind to dogs is a way of suggesting that a man will be kind to children, and protect them. So the film is suggesting that McGraw will be a good father. This is an important image, in a film that centers on its naive hero Farley Granger's attempt to grow up, and be a responsible father and husband.
There are numerous policemen and reporters, crowded into the first murder victim's apartment building. These scenes resemble somewhat the crowd shots in other Mann films. Mann's camera angle is a bit less overhead here, however, and there are fewer men in total than some of Mann's other crowd shots.
There are elaborate camera movements, following the police inspector through the crowds. This is a bit like the track following the bus driver through the crowd in Desperate.
When the police interrogate the three witnesses, they once again surround the witnesses on both sides, as in He Walked By Night. It is intimidating looking, again. They also have the witnesses seated, while they remain standing.
The villain of Side Street (1950) anticipates that of 99 River Street (1953), directed by Phil Karlson. Both are partly characterized by their relationships to women. These bad guys are smooth, well dressed crooks, who romance naive women who will do anything for them. However, as soon as the women become the slightest bit inconvenient to them, as witnesses who could identify them, for instance, both men murder the women with complete casualness. Both film's villains kill women in the same way: they strangle them while they are kissing the women. Both men's instant transformation from smooth seducer to murderous killer is especially startling.
The villain is also skilled at threatening and dominating the mild-mannered hero. He reminds one of the equally well-dressed macho villain Moxie in T-Men, and his skilled threats against the hero. Like Moxie, he is seen shaving with an electric razor.
Unlike the young, working class hero, the villain in Side Street seems to be wealthy - although clearly too much of a crook to be genuinely upper class. He is dressed in one of the snazziest pinstriped suits of the film noir era, which helps underline his wealth and power. He definitely looks like the sort of business success that the hero wants to be but isn't. The villain's class status varies in a hallucinatory way throughout Side Street. At first he seems like the embodiment of wealth and power, seen in a dressy business suit in a lawyer's office. As the film goes on, this facade of a wealthy businessman is stripped away, however.
Side Street is notable for its overhead shots of Manhattan, with car chases taking place far below in narrow alleys between skyscrapers. These city shots remind one of the exterior landscapes to come in Mann's Westerns. The buildings here take on the same photogenic role the rocks and mountain will in Mann's The Naked Spur (1953), for instance.
During one of the narrow alley shots, we see an elevated train at the end of the alley. This is similar to The Glenn Miller Story, where we see the funicular down an alley.
The opening shot shows New York City from above. It gives one of Mann's map-like views of a landscape. It is dominated by a tall skyscraper, like the tower in Border Incident. The huge interior of the bank is also shown in some map-like overhead shots.
Mann has several shots of the hero (Farley Granger), mixed in with the opening montage. Some of these have visual forms that echo those in other Mann films.
In addition to the opening glimpse of the hero looking into a reflecting shop window, Side Street contains other mirror effects:
Dressing table mirrors appeared in T-Men, Raw Deal and Desperate.
Mann gets some other "superimposition" effects, a bit like store window reflections, when we see both the hero in close-up and a deep focus cityscape behind the glass door of the bar, which is etched with starburst patterns.
The pan over to the cheap hotel shows a number of vertical pillars, separating businesses on the street, and covered with writing.
There are some well-composed shots of the hero, through the bars of the playground. In both shots, the bars align with vertical lines in the giant building in the background of the shot, leading to some neat compositions. The first shot has more of the building showing between each two bars; the second shot exactly lines up each zig zag fold of the building with a bar.
The maternity ward is full of beds, each with its own curtains suspended from metal rails above. Mann gets compositional mileage out of the complicated patterns formed by the rails and curtains. These recall the curtains in Raymond Burr's hotel suite, at the end of Raw Deal.
The hero follows the teller home. We see a deep focus shot down an alley, in which the hero moves from back to front.
Here are some of the shared features, anticipating semi-documentary films:
In The Public Pays, both the gang and the police are operating undercover. The gang are impersonating legitimate businessmen at the beginning of the film. And their muscle division is impersonating a gym and its boxers. Much is made of this impersonation at the start of the movie. The gang wears good suits, rents office space in a snazzy building, has a pretentious business name, uses signed contracts, has a sales force that uses business language. It is very elaborate and developed.
Later on, the police do some impersonation of their own. At no time, however, do police go undercover as crooks, or try to infiltrate the gang, as they will later do in T-Men. Instead, they take on "legitimate" professions different from their police work. Such "new profession" undercover assignments are typical of comic book and comic strip detective characters of the 1930's who took on undercover roles, such as in the comic strip Radio Patrol, and the comic book heroes Slam Bradley, Spy and Speed Saunders.
For the Common Defense! does not have the location photography of the later semi-docs. Nor does it have the emphasis on high-tech lab work. However, much is made in the film of Chile's elaborate set of personal ID cards, including fingerprints and photographs; the American agent wishes we had a system like this in the United States! In this war time film, no one worries about civil liberties. For the Common Defense! is also more international than most semi-docs. It shows Good Neighbor cooperation between Chile, Columbia and the United States to defeat a ring of Nazi spies. Nor does the film have the elaborate visual style of the semi-docs and much other film noir.
The director of For the Common Defense! was Allan R. Kenward, an obscure Hollywood figure who had two writing credits and no other directorial assignments. You could not find a less well remembered figure; I bet his name would stump even the most omniscient experts on Hollywood film. His direction seems competent and pleasant, without showing much brilliance. The same can be said of Errol Taggart, the obscure director of The Public Pays.
I have always had an image of war time films as being filled with veteran actors who were too old to get drafted. This is not true of For the Common Defense! It is full of younger performers. Van Johnson is the noble American agent, Stephen McNally is his friendly contact on the Colombian police, and the film seems to be filled with dozens of young men all wearing the uniforms of the police of either Chile or Columbia. There is also a young man at the beginning who talks directly to the audience, and who identifies himself as the Crime Does Not Pay reporter. He is wearing the sort of sharp pinstriped suit that will be such a fixture of the noir era. Perhaps all of these young men made the film early in 1942, before they got drafted and went into the service. By contrast, most of the performers in The Public Pays seem a little bit older and more mature, than the juveniles in For the Common Defense!
Crime Does Not Pay usually opened with a young, good looking man, dolled up in a sharp suit, who identified himself as the MGM Crime Reporter. This guy seems to be different in almost every Crime Does Not Pay episode. His function seems to be to start the show off with a little movie star glamour.
The integrationist vision of the hero, is also directly relatable to the Civil Rights efforts of the 1950's. Martin Luther King and other 1950's Civil Rights leaders also had an integrationist vision for American society. And they too had to non-violently resist racist laws. So the film is immediately translatable into the contemporary politics of its era. The difficulties the hero has entering a bar directly invokes the Jim Crow segregation of lunch rooms in the 1950's, too. The fact that the hero has just returned from fighting in the Civil War also echoes the real life situation of black men at the time, many of whom were recently back from World War II.
Devil's Doorway is understandably grim. But it is also surprisingly good as a work of story telling, with a constant flow of interesting incident. It has plenty to say, but it is not a work of static preachment.
Other Mann films look at minority groups sympathetically. There are the Hispanics in Border Incident and He Walked by Night, and the wronged Native Americans in The Naked Spur and The Tin Star.
The hero resembles the hero of T-Men, in that he lives in two different worlds, with two different identities. He has his original Native American identity, as part of the Shoshone tribe. And he has a new life, in which he tries to operate within the white society of his time. At first this operation is successful; later it becomes tragic. Penetrating the hostile white society in Devil's Doorway is exactly analogous to the penetration of the criminal gang by the Treasury agent hero of T-Men. It is a powerful social commentary, that the white society of 19th Century Wyoming is just as hostile, sinister and vicious as the horrific criminal gang the hero infiltrates in T-Men. In fact, white Wyoming is even sicker, more horrifying, more criminal and more evil than the murderous counterfeiters in T-Men. Both white Wyoming and the criminal gang are highly organized criminal activities. They are consciously led by sinister men, who know just what they are doing. There is nothing accidental; they are whole large-scale organizations run on deliberately criminal lines.
The hero also anticipates the protagonist of A Dandy in Aspic, who is caught between British and Russian society. Just as the agent in Dandy has only one true British friend, the heroine of the movie (Mia Farrow), so does the hero in Devil's Doorway have just one lasting white friend, who is also the heroine here. Both of these women have little power or influence in their worlds. They are marginal figures in societies where all the power is concentrated in male authority figures. Devil's Doorway has interesting feminist themes, too.
Some of the buildings we enter in Dodge have large windows. And we see deep focus shots of the city though them, even while we are inside. Mann will repeat this technique with the Western town in The Tin Star. Both of these Westerns are shot in black-and-white. And black-and-white in that era was extremely well suited to deep focus photography, much more so than color.
A strange bit of dialogue occurs in the shooting contest. Wyatt Earp starts to say he would give his right arm for the prize gun, then changes his mind and says instead he would give his left. That's what the hero of The Spy Ring (Joseph H. Lewis, 1938) says about a string of horses he is offered. As far as I can tell, this is just one of those strange coincidences or minor echoes. It is hard to see much linkage between the two films otherwise.
Earp keeps the peace in Dodge, by requiring everyone in the city to give up their guns. A vivid scene soon shows hero and villain trying to have a gunfight in a saloon - only to discover that their hands are flapping at empty regions on their hips, where their guns used to be. The giving up of the guns has the visual effect of depriving the men of a phallic display. It is a "homosexualizing" of the town, in some ways: an enforced removal of heterosexual gender identity symbols. It saves the characters' lives - it is a genuinely good thing to happen. But one that could only take place through the intervention of a gay man in charge (Earp).
Some of Mann's noir films had powerful gay villains: Desperate, Railroaded!, T-Men. Here we have a powerful gay man again, but he's not a villain: he's a famous real life American hero.
In The Tin Star, Mann will once again have a gay icon playing a Sheriff: Anthony Perkins. Perkins' character is vastly younger and less experienced and established than Earp here. But once again, he will be in charge of trying to civilize a town. He will try to get rid of the violence perpetrated by a straight villain troublemaker (Neville Brand). It's the same challenge successfully met by Earp in Winchester 73.
In 1954, the scenes where Miller makes an admiring trip to a New York jazz club to hear Louis Armstrong, would be seen as support for Civil Rights.
All three of the new societies in T-Men, Border Incident and Devil's Doorway are places of organized evil. This is not true of the various societies that Glenn Miller has to join. But each society that Miller joins is a complex, formidable place, with its own rules and extreme difficulties in coming to terms with. The fact that Mann sees the business life of a musician in the same challenging terms as an undercover assignment, gives a perspective on how Mann views "normal life". It is clearly very tough, and a challenge to integrate with and survive. Conversely, it suggests that the undercover roles in films like T-Men are not just wild melodrama, but metaphors for how Mann sees the actual life of ordinary people.
The funicular seen at the start is apparently the real life Angel's Flight, a Los Angeles landmark. It makes a famous appearance in the film noir Criss Cross (Robert Siodmak, 1949). The funicular, and its surrounding streets and buildings, is an example of ultra-complex architecture, in the tradition of Border Incident:
Furthermore, his wife goes through considerable effort to remain with him, unlike the hero of T-Men who is virtually made into a newly single man. She is another of the loyal wives in Mann, like the wives in Desperate and Side Street who accompany their husbands on the run.
The security checks at the base, recall in a slightly comic, game-playing way, some of the suspenseful encounters between crooks, police and protagonist in Mann's noir films. Stewart in Strategic Air Command keeps trying to prove he is actually an officer, the way the undercover agents in the noir films tried to convince crooks of their new identities.
Later, Stewart's blue leather Air Force jacket, makes him one of many men in Mann in leather jackets.
Stewart is on a quest for a man, also a perennial Mann plot. However, Stewart doesn't know the man's identity, giving the film a mystery twist.
Both the ranch owner Kate and the storekeeper heroine are examples of Mann's working women.
Once we get inside the heroine's kitchen, the set erupts into circular forms: a round table with round bowls on it, apples, a cabinet full of circular plates.
Aside from the boots, Stewart and his sidekick are mainly in neutrals: Stewart wears a brown jacket and gunbelt, gray shirt and pants. Stweart does have a small red kerchief around his neck, giving just a touch of color.
The adobe buildings we see next have a reddish tinge. They look pleasant, but distinctly different from the desert. The buildings are matched by the red donkeys pulling Stewart's freight wagons.
The Native Americans in the crowd are mainly in brown or neutral costumes too, although one is in a pale, inconspicuous blue.
The inside of the Half Moon ranch is in gray and maroon. It is often color coordinated with the clothes worn by the heroine and its owner Kate (Aline MacMahon). This makes the women seem strongly connected to the ranch. It is a "woman's world". The name of the ranch invokes the Moon, often associated with women. The glass cases full of dishes, remind one a bit of the glass store windows in Mann's film noir thrillers.
Some of the overhead views also convey the "map of a terrain" effect found in Mann.
The high platforms, reached by steps, recall the outdoor staircases in Mann.
However, like Devil's Doorway, The Fall of the Roman Empire presents a frightening vision of a fairly egalitarian society falling apart, and moving backwards to racism. As in the earlier film, we start out with races living in peace - then violent haters kill and use force to destroy the vision.
He Walked By Night has an idealized image of a handsome, successful Hispanic cop in the LAPD. Similarly, the opening parade in The Fall of the Roman Empire contains handsome rulers in full ceremonial armor, from the various provinces of Rome. They are explicitly of different races and nationalities. Such idealized images of men embody a Civil Rights vision.
Aurelius's attempt to promote peace recalls, on a large scale, Wyatt Earp's enforcing peace in Dodge City in Winchester 73, and Perkins attempt to pacify the Western town in The Tin Star.
The film also recalls the conflict between the brothers in Winchester 73.
The villain (Richard Basehart) of He Walked By Night also lived a shadowy existence, hunted by the authorities. Like the protagonists of this film, he often moved about in underground chambers and tunnels. The resistance fighters here spend much of the film in underground cavities. In both films, these areas are highly industrial.
Also, both the resistance fighters and Basehart are experts on radio and other electronic devices. Much of the existence of both groups centers on radio.
There are also resemblances here to the heroes of He Walked By Night: the snow white uniforms worn by the characters in the middle of the film recall the virginal looking white milkman's uniform worn by the hero of that film. Both films have intense contrasts between pure white and pure black.
Much of the middle of The Heroes of Telemark takes place in spectacular mountain scenery in Norway; the film was shot on location. These scenes recall the Western United States mountainous landscapes of The Naked Spur (1953).
Clocks, another Lang trademark, play a big role in the finale here, just as they did in Mann's Desperate. Both finales are highly suspenseful. Clocks also play a role in the final scenes of Raw Deal.
Early in the film, the hero has to watch the death of a fellow agent, without giving away his own undercover identity. This scene recalls T-Men. In both films, intense looks are exchanged between the two men, although they can say nothing, being surrounded by a crowd of enemies. The agent dies under the wake of a ship: a scene that recalls the tractor killing in Border Incident.
The hero's undercover identity has lasted far longer than the hero's in T-Men. It has gone on for decades. This is not just a new identity: it is a whole new life. In this, he recalls Linc in Man of the West, who is concealing a sinister past under a new existence. Both heroes now have a facade of naive, wholesome innocence.
The Russians are played by actors with working class mannerisms; the British by performers who convey upper class personas. This gives a class dimension to the hero's double identity. He can recall the hero of Devil's Doorway, in being suspended between two worlds.
When the hero visits the Russian agent, the agent is dressed in a seedy robe and pajamas, while the hero is dressed to the max in a suit. This recalls encounters between well-dressed police and witnesses in robes in He Walked By Night.
A Dandy in Aspic opens in the London of the Swinging Sixties. Some of the early, non-spy scenes recall Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966), made two years before, and a huge box office hit.
The heroine is a photographer. Her studio-cum-apartment recalls that of the male photographer hero of Blowup. And scenes of industrial London, glimpsed through the rear windows of a car containing the hero, also recall similar landscapes in Blowup.