The psychological westerns of Anthony Mann : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a degree of Master of Philosophy in English at Massey University

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Massey University
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The more notable westerns made by Anthony Man between late 1950-58 have been characterized as "psychological' on the grounds that the westerns are as much concerned with the action which takes place internally within the film's protagonist (a man usually obsessed with exacting personal revenge) with Mann's camera acutely capturing his psychological conflicts, as well as devoting itself to core narrative actions which take place in the film. Mann's scripts are spare; and in the narrative of all of these psychological westerns the hero can be observed proceeding on a journey which is for him both physical and metaphorical. To an extent to which perhaps no other director of westerns has done. Mann uses the variegated landscapes through which his protagonist proceeds in his journey to mirror the effects of the internal changes which are taking place in the protagonist. Mann employs an extremely subjective camera throughout much of this narrative with the intention of involving his audience with the protagonist in his progress. Mann's westerns achieved this identification with the public in the fifties proving enormously successful in box- office statistics. The fact that the seven "psychological" westerns are still readily available (for purchase) on the Internet suggests that they are still, indeed, very much in the public domain. Film critics on the Continent (Andre Bazin; Jean Luc Godard; J.P. Missaien; Alberto Morsiani have admired Mann's narrative style which (in contrast to the style of westerns they see as setting out to teach), are characterized by them as being refreshingly pure (as well as primeval). They have spoken of Mann's being able to capture the tactile sense of his western terrains to the extent that his camera seems to veritably breathe. With English language critics however, Mann's works have never evoked more than half-hearted interest. Indeed, to judge from the total lack of index references to him in recent books of film criticism, interest in Mann's has all but evaporated reputation, which never received more than half-hearted support from most critics, has watered down (if one is to judge by the total lack of index references to him in books of recent film criticism) to the stage of negligibility. Mann's emphasis in his westerns upon a strong storyline and adroit use of a probing camera to align strongly the viewer's interest with the fate of a protagonist whose bearing is usually well adrift from the Hollywood "heroic" mode, may well succeed very well with the public, but much less well with an English language critic who is wary of so much involvement; whether (such identification of feeling). The rational Anglo- Saxon critic requires, rather, that a western make some kind of statement; whether it be political, sociological or at least in some way ideational in order for it to be a subject warranting a thoughtful analysis. The elemental western narratives of Anthony Mann which demand an identification of feeling rather than logic, tend to be either dismissed, or assigned to the "too hard" basket by most English speaking critics. This work attempts to explain this difference in response to Mann's westerns.
Western films, History criticism, Mann, Anthony 1906-1967