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teaser T-Men (1948)

His name may not carry the weight of some of his better-known contemporaries, but everyone from Jean-Luc Godard to Martin Scorsese has sung the praises of director Anthony Mann at one time or another. Although his standing never really solidified until several years after his death, Mann was a crackerjack studio craftsman who seemed incapable of taking a misstep when matched with the right genre. His first noir study, T-Men (1947), is a prime example of what a supremely gifted filmmaker can accomplish on a limited budget.

The story, which is really just an excuse for Mann to tighten the screws on a bunch of characters, features square-jawed Dennis O'Keefe as a treasury agent who's determined to break up a counterfeiting ring. O'Keefe and his partner (Alfred Ryder), are forced to go undercover to infiltrate the Detroit mob and things get increasingly intense as the story progresses; a couple of murderous set-pieces are as shocking today as they were 50 years ago.

T-Men, arguably the strongest picture from Mann's noir period, boasts a raw documentary feel that will remind some viewers of the classic TV series, Dragnet. But Mann's brilliant cinematographer, George Alton, gives the film a memorably stark look. Add a first-rate script by John C.Higgins, and Mann's almost intuitive command of the visual language of cinema, and T-Men is a surprisingly powerful B-picture, an urban crime drama for the ages.

As always, Mann's sure sense of visual flair is virtually undetectable.Even in the stylized noir tradition, there's a naturalism to his storytelling, an emotional honesty that serves as the backbone of his work.Mann always generates steam while appearing to never break a sweat.

Astonishing events occur in Mann's films, but they're seldom introduced with the tacky flourishes that we've come to expect from commercial melodrama, especially during the period when Mann was making his most widely-praised films. Fans of T-Men often cite a sequence during which an unlucky character is killed in a steam bath as one of the classics of film noir, and it's managed with remarkable economy. Mann obviously knew that this type of film requires a first-rate photographer, so it's no surprise that he later teamed up with Alton on two more classic noir exercises, Raw Deal(1948) and Reign of Terror (1949).

It makes sense that Mann regularly pulled quality performances from hisactors- after all, he began his career as a stage performer. During the 1920s, he actually had a few featured roles on Broadway. Eventually, after serving time as both a stage manager and set designer, he decided that he wanted to direct. The first time he ever got behind a camera was when David O. Selznick, who was impressed with the range of Mann's success on Broadway, hired the fledgling auteur to supervise screen tests for Gone With the Wind (1939), Intermezzo (1939), and Rebecca (1940). Mann then became an assistant to Preston Sturges on Sullivan's Travels (1941), where he surely learned a thing or two about making movies.

Producer: Aubrey SchenckDirector: Anthony Mann
Screenplay: John C. Higgins (based on a story by Virginia Kellogg)
Cinematography: John Alton
Music: Paul Sawtell
Editor: Fred Allen
Art Designer: Edward C. Jewell
Special Effects: George J. Teague
Set Designer: Armor Marlowe
Costumes: Frances Ehren
Makeup: Ern Westmore, Joe StintonCast: Dennis O'Keefe (Dennis O'Brien), Alfred Ryder (Tony Genaro), Mary Meade (Evangeline), Wallace Ford (Schemer), June Lockhart (Tony's wife), Charles McGraw (Moxie), Jane Randolph (Diana), Art Smith (Gregg), Herbert Heyes (Chief Carson), Jack Overman (Brownie), John Wengraf (Shiv).

by Paul Tatara

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