Reign of Terror aka The Black Book (Anthony Mann1949)
A world lived in shadows, where silhouettes hold conversations, make love and conduct hideous acts of torture. John Alton’s play with chiaroscuro pushes the film into abstracts; or better yet into negative space, the kind loved by Manny Farber. Reviewing The Naked Spur (1953), Farber described director Anthony Mann as the “Marquis de Sade of the Metro directing crew ”… Someone who is “good at making action films come to life after the sun sets, when in delicately underlighted episodes he demonstrates that nothing is more fascinating than an objective study of nihilistic evil, death and destruction.” The description works just as well for Reign of Terror.
The screen grabs are taken from an exquisitely claustrophobic sequence where veils and mirrors conceal and reveal characters and their doubles …
“For me, landscape has everything to do with cinema! The first time I had a real 16mm camera in my hands, I did one three-minute take, because that’s how long the reel was. It was of a landscape. I set up the camera; there was nothing happening. The wind blew, clouds passed overhead, nothing happened. It was an extension of painting for me, of landscape painting. I didn’t want to put anyone in the foreground, and even today when I’m making a film I feel more interested in the sun rising over the landscape than in the story that’s going on there: I feel greater responsibility for the landscape than for the story I’ve situated it in. I learned that from Western directors too, one of them in particular: Anthony Mann.” - Wim Wenders, 1982
The only reason I heard I about the Naked Spur is because of Martin Scorsese and I am so glad that he talked about it. this Jimmy Stewart western is not about gun fights or Cowboys vs. Indians. It is a psychological drama about a man with a dark past against a man who can easily manipulate it. The result is one of the most intense psychological western that I have seen since Treasures of the Sierra Madre. This Jimmy Stewart is basically the harbinger of his performance in Vertigo. My only complaint is that I feel that the technicolor takes away from the film. It is such a dark movie that the bright liveliness of the technicolor is untrue to the mood of the film.