T-Men (1947) Anthony Mann
U.S. Treasury Agents Dennis O’Brien (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony Genaro (Alfred Ryder) go after counterfeiters in this crackerjack police procedural that begins in a pseudo-documentary style before settling down to nail-biting crime story, a nice blend of procedural and film noir. The tension is both excellent and hard-edged, and anytime you’ve got Charles McGraw in the cast, you know there’s gonna be some serious hurt put on someone… and there is! The film features cinematography by the always wonderful John Alton. (More on him and director Anthony Mann in a moment.)
I first saw this film two years ago and was very impressed, but watching the new ClassicFlix release is like seeing it for the first time. The picture is absolutely stellar, showcasing John Alton’s jaw-dropping cinematography to great effect. I guarantee you’ll be knocked out by it. T-Men was the first of six Mann/Alton collaborations (another, He Walked by Night, was also just released on Blu-ray by ClassicFlix), one of the most successful director/cinematographer pairings in film noir if not classic cinema itself.
In his excellent audio commentary, biographer and film historian Alan K. Rode points out how Alton differed from many other cinematographers of the time, lighting for mood and ignoring more traditional lighting and camera set-ups that Hollywood rigidly held. The first time we see Charles McGraw “looming out of the shadows,” as Rode expertly describes it, the shot instantly becomes an iconic noir image. That moment is followed by another impressive shot, a figure running from deep in the shadows into a single light in the forefront of the scene, something you rarely (if ever) saw in films from the time. T-Men is a showcase of Alton’s amazing talent and innovation. After you’ve seen the movie, you’ll be tempted to watch it again with the sound off, just to marvel at Alton’s work.
Rode’s audio commentary is not to be missed: a virtual gold mine of film noir and cinematic history. The disc also includes “Into the Darkness: Mann, Alton and T-Men,” a 10-minute overview of the two men’s collaboration, and “A Director’s Daughter: Nina Mann Remembers,” a 9-minute tribute to Mann. And lest we forget, this release also offers a top-notch booklet with an essay by Mann scholar Max Alvarez and design work by Michael Kronenberg. This is the type of booklet that Criterion used to do, but has largely abandoned in favor of their recent disappointing line of “leaflets.” Thankfully, ClassicFlix has shown the rest of the industry how booklets should be done. An excellent job. If you’re even remotely a fan of film noir, you must own this release.
Photos: DVD Beaver, High Def Digest