Criterion has put together a release that looks quite impressive in your hands. The packaging is similar to their Short Cuts and Mr. Arkadin releases, presenting a slip case that holds both a slim cardboard insert that holds the disc (and the booklet) as well as the full length novel on which the film is based. Itís a wonderful looking set.
Disappointingly, though, with this massive looking release you donít really get much in quantity for your supplements (it is only one disc), but they do make up for it in quality.
First up is an audio commentary by film historian and western expert, Jim Kitses. Itís a scholarly commentary and itís obvious heís reading from notes as it comes off stiff most of the time, but itís a decent track. Calling the film a ďhybrid genre ragbagĒ later on in the track (the film combining western, melodrama, and a heavy amount of film noir) he starts off right away proclaiming the film one of Mannís best works, one thatís quite underappreciated. At times he does seem to repeat whatís going on on screen, but doesnít fall into this trap often. He concentrates mostly on the psychological aspects of the film, such as oedipal issues and sexual tensions. He mentions the original source novel sporadically, noting key differences, and talks about the screen play. He talks about Mann and his career at this time, comparing this film with other films in style and character, and also gives brief histories on some of the performers including Stanwyck and Huston, as well as other members of the cast. And every once in a while he brings up Jeanine Basingerís book on Anthony Mann to either expand on something she mentions or even (as Iím sure he feels) corrects her. Itís a good commentary filled with a lot of info, but can come off dry on occasion because of the obvious note reading, which isnít necessarily a bad thing, but can make the track harder to listen to.
Next up is a 1967 interview conducted with Anthony Mann and shown on a British program called, simply, ďThe MoviesĒ in a segment titled ďAction Speaks Louder Than Words.Ē According to the intro of the program this appears to have been shown on television right before the BBC was going to be televising a selection of his films over a weekend. Lasting about 20-minutes and presented in 1.33:1, the segment features Mann discussing his early career, how he got into directing, and themes in his films. He discusses his thoughts on ďheroismĒ and then also talks about violence in his films, which he uses to grab his audience and heighten the drama (Kitses also discusses this in his commentary and actually pretty much repeats what Mann says here.) He also talks about film as a visual medium and how an image can convey so much, bringing up one of his favourite directors, F.W. Murnau. One thing Iím not completely sure on is the use of clips from Mannís films in the segment. While the piece shows a clip from one of Murnauís films, it appears that Criterion has placed production stills over what is supposed to be clips from Mannís work. They had to do this with one of the supplements on their Straw Dogs release due to rights issues. While there is no mention of this in the intro text for the segment on the menu I suspect this was done on Criterionís part. As the interviewer discusses techniques apparently used in one film clip, weíre only shown a film still, but I gathered we were supposed to be seeing action on screen based on the descriptions of the interviewer. This doesnít interfere at all with the overall interview but I felt I should mention it. Itís still an excellent interview that's worth looking at.
The next supplement is called ďIntimate Interviews: Walter HustonĒ and if youíre looking for a real interview with Huston youíre out of luck. According to the introductory notes ďIntimate InterviewsĒ was a 1930 series that played in the theaters before the show. The idea was audience members could send in letters suggesting someone they would like to see an interview with and then eventually one would be filmed. If theyíre all like this then theyíre pretty much puff pieces that are all staged, though this one is somewhat amusing thanks to Huston. The 8-minute segment begins with our interviewer, Dorothy West, showing up at Hustonís home and despite him not wanting to be interviewed she manages to sneak in anyway. Then she asks questions about acting and his general interests. This is really supposed to be a fun little piece so you donít get any real deep insight into much of anything, but Huston, playing himself as sort of a smart ass (who ends the interview trying to ask Dorothy out) makes it easy to get through. Anybody expecting an actual interview, though, will be quite disappointed.
The final big supplement is an interview with Anthony Mannís daughter Nina, recorded exclusively for Criterion this year. The 16-minute interview, enhanced for widescreen televisions, presents Nina talking about her fatherís work and The Furies in general. She discusses how she came to appreciate her fatherís work as art (she states later on in the piece how when she was younger she was usually just more concerned about whether they were successful or not) and goes into the themes sheís found in them, also mentioned elsewhere on this disc (heroism, use of violence to shock the audience, how more information can be relayed through an image, etc.) and even goes into his upbringing, which I have to say I was very surprised by. I also liked a bit where she discusses how she tries to figure out what her father was thinking at the time while watching his films. Nice interview that rounds out the set.
The remaining disc supplements are pretty generic. We do get a trailer, which is probably what you would expect from the time. And then we get a stills gallery, which you navigate using the arrows on your remote. Typical Criterion presentation presents description text before the images. Itís a small gallery containing a handful of photos from on the set, including an amusing few photos devoted to Corey learning how to shuffle cards like a professional dealer.
A nice addition to the set is the novel by Niven Busch, at 267 pages. I was hoping to have read it before posting this but havenít been able to sit and read it the whole way through yet. It does of course differ from the movie in its general structure and sequences, but the themes and story pretty much are the same (so far.) And Criterion also includes one of their booklets, which includes an essay by Robin Wood who obviously loves the film but canít call it perfect (it seems Wood, Kitses in his commentary, and me all agree the ending doesnít completely work.) And then thereís an interview with Mann from a 1957 issue of Cahiers du cinema where some info is repeated from other portions of this set, but we also get some stories about Mann working with James Stewart, and he also discusses some directors who he thinks have a strong career ahead of them. An amusing bit is he seems most impressed with some young newcomer named Stanley Kubrick who has just come off of The Killing. I guess I found that sort of humourous since this youngun', Kubrick, would replace Mann as director of the film Spartacus a few years later. I was also amused by a bit at the end of the interview where Mann appears to confuse two French directors. In all the whole booklet makes for an excellent read. 8/10