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T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void

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T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void

Let's pretend for a minute that the dazzling duo of Eagle Lion titles Raw Deal and T-Men was considered lost, and only now had been rediscovered over the past say eighteen months. Let's also pretend that the reputations of Mann and Alton, based on the strength of the canon of both men independent of one another and in tandem, sat at the lofty heights that they always have been. Painting With Light

by Alton, The Black Book, He Walked By Night, plus all of the raves about T-Men and Raw Deal from the past before the films were lost let's say in a nitrate fire in some small Los Angeles or midwest vault. Not to mention Mann's El Cid and Fall of the Roman Empire and all the rest.

Now let's say the films were only now just rediscovered by the current hodepodge of  filmfan generations--cineastes young and old. Imagine the dumbfounded reactions; imagine the stunned audiences as the newly recovered films went on tour through the arthouse circuit. The reviews by a bowled over Kehr, Hoberman, Silver, Ursini, Muller. 

Do you have any doubt that the blogosphere would be alight with reviews by dazzled eyeballs, that hi-caliber film reviewers in the NYTimes, the Village Voice, the Chicago Sun-Times, the LA Times, all the film journals in France and the rest of Europe as the film went overseas (where cinephiles have an insatiable hunger for authentic American noir from the late 1940's). .  . that all of these would create overlapping buzzes about the film that ultimately would join and exponentially expand the sense of impact, turning these two titles and their rediscovery by the modern generation into a cinematic global event of the first order?

Do you think there would be any question that the films would be scanned carefully in 2-4K and encoded for BD release? That there would be a drumbeat of anticipation at very least along the lines of the itchy palms aching to put their hands on the recent Caligari, Variete or any number of titles recently restored and eagerly awaited on BD?

Do you think that there would be something of a scramble for rights acquisition on these little Edward Small productions for home video release? Wouldn't the scramble be something of a rush to be the one to excitedly secure the rights to reproduce for home video consumption these phantasmagorical masterpieces of film noir, and to be the one to facilitate recovered history put straight into the hands of the public for posterity?

T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void 

Maybe the reaction would not be precisely as above, but it sure would be a "thing" in the world of cinephilia. These two films take the foundational elements of early Wilder, Lang, Ulmer and a few others in the early Forties, they take the highly stylized exaggerated snappy patter of--for example--Raymond Chandler in his novels and in his script for Double Indemnity .  .  .   and create a visual equivalent. There's no question that the discovery of these two low budget miracles of careful and highly controlled filmmaking would constitute an event of significant import; the foundational story of Noir would have to be modified, if not quite rewritten. 

*           *           *

Is the significance of this film any less simply because the films have been (thankfully) available to us for continuous viewing since they were made? Should we be any less dazzled, should we allow ourselves to go dull over two examples of low budget B filmmaking that are as lofty as is humanly possible?

Who extracted more from a small cast of second string actors, a few thousand bucks, a camera, high contrast film stock and a few lights to pick out key elements here and there in the darkness? How many other filmmaker-cinematographer combos could so profoundly dwarf with a few stretched dollars the efforts of top tier A list studio filmmakers working with the privilege of lavish crews, sets, top casts and multimillion dollar budgets?

How many other tiny teams of impoverished B film artists could earn so much stunned, almost embarrassed awe from those colleagues way up above of them on the studio ladder of prestige?

Mann and Alton during the brief interludes of their collaboration were a rare--very rare--combo indeed .  .  .  so good they could almost be seen as low budget outsiders who were unquestionably superior to their colleagues in the tippity top of the studio crop: an awe and respect that was profound indeed.  

Yes: situations like these were very rare indeed. The are plenty of filmmaker/director-camerman combos who work within the constraints of the B budget that earn the respect of their colleagues in A level Hollywood .  .  .  but this is an affection filled, slightly condescending regard for rough-edged low budget genre work that rises above the rest of the mass of B drek yet almost never raises an authentic aesthetic challenge to the skills of top tier studio filmmakers and crew-craftsmen .  .  .  at least not during the Golden Age of the studio years ending with the 1970's. The films of Edgar Ulmer or Morris Engel are examples.

T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void

T-Men and Raw Deal probably need no heavy introduction to the kind of readership that floats through this blog. There are a good number of you, and I know where most of you come from--the vast majority of you know the kind of super-rare filmmaking resident in these two gems. Filled with authenticity of their age from location shooting in seedy urban spots amplified by John Alton's high contrast, fine art camerawork, spilling with tough guy masculinity on both the good and bad guy sides (and T-Men is a famous blurring of the line between good and bad guy, cop and villain, as two undercover Treasury Agents--the T-Men of the title--pose as low level gangsters to penetrate the underworld .  .  .  and perhaps get into their roles a little bit too deeply, getting a sympathetic character killed via their needless machinations on the side) these films represent the very top level of accomplishment in the Noir/crime drama medium, as well as a clear apotheosis of mid-century B&W cinematography--probably cinematography period, in any age.

These films ratchet up the process of psychological mise en scene to the level of high Dutch chiaroscuro blended with Gothic art, a rare cinematic delicacy available nowhere else beyond the bounds of TMen, Raw Deal, The Black Book, and He Walked By Night (on which Mann was an uncredited cleaner-upper for Werker). Nowhere else will you find this level of exaggerated, hyperreality distilled to such crystaline excellence. 

T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void

These films have been screaming out for proper treatment on home video for well over ten years. Even the VCI two disc set for T-Men and Raw Deal only just met the bare minimum requirements in terms of image presentation. These two films are cornerstone entries in mid century American filmmaking .  .  .  on any level. The fact that they sit ignored by the Blu Ray age is a crime, a sin, of the highest magnitude. They deserve fresh transfer in 4K resolution from the finest fine grains (or, heaven forfend, a camera neg) sitting out there, with uncompressed mono soundtrack. They deserve, at last, contextual extras, documentaries bringing these two men to life again, filling in the blanks and the background of the making and distribution of these two films.

Anthony Mann received his middling due in the Criterion Collection with The Furies with Walter Huston and Barbara Stanwyk presented kinda ho hum. Eh, meh. Most tuned-in cineastes regard this film as a second string player to the great work Mann did with Alton .  .  . and these two films are without doubt the tip of the towering pinnacle.

Since we've all had the opportunity to bathe in the lush, pitch black paranoia of The Black Book via the Sony On Demand DVD encoded off of telecine from a fabulous print, as well as the Werker on a nice MGM DVD, it's at last time that somebody, somewhere, somehow rescue these two incredibly important works of the cinematic art and place them into the high historical context and state of presentation that is long over due------------P L E A S E! 

I groan into the heavens.

Clive/Schreck

3/24/2015*** 

T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void

(All images Eagle Lion Films 1947-1948) 

 


Published by Preston Clive , 24.03.2015 at 23:23

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Owen Stone
Owen Stone 26 March 15 15:24 This is a cool looking movie. Text hided expand
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