6/21/15

CRACKING THE MANN CODE

Yesterday a quite exceptional moment in the field of film studies occurred spontaneously and quite innocently. I posted an interview with Sara Montiel, former wife of director Anthony Mann, and expressed my frustration at not being able to understand her Spanish. Within moments of tweeting my post, film historian and critic Farran Smith Nehme had retweeted it with a 'calling all cars' alert to her many followers, asking for help with the translation. And within the hour, students of the work of one of our finest (and continually underrated) filmmakers had a whole new set of building blocks to play with. This could only happen at this time, in this century, deeply embedded as we are in the connectivity of all cultures. A major thank you to all who participated!

It turns out that Anthony Mann was not a violent man as I'd feared was being implied. Indeed, he was apparently gentle, caring and more than a little haunted. The person who helpfully stepped up with the necessary translation has summarized it in the comments section of the previous post, but I'll reprint it below.

"The questions are about love and hapiness. Sara says she has loved and been happy, but some people have suffered for loving her, like Anthony. Love for them arrived too late, though. Anthony taught her most of what she knows now, including how to love in a different way and to be less impulsive. Anthony was also the man who discovered stars as Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner and Ingrid Bergman, and created innovative exterior shots working in Gone with the Wind.
She loved Anthony since the first time she saw his movies. Since he was self-conscious about the age gap, his daughter told Sara to make the first move. They then went to walk in Santa Monica beach, she was barefoot (all men seemed to be attracted by her feet). It was 1957, when Sara had lost her husband, and five months later she married Anthony in a hospital. The union was encouraged by his daughter. 
Sara and Anthony had a son, who died when he fell down the stairs. When their relationship began to fade, Anthony went to direct El Cid in Spain, but Sara refused a role in the film and went to tour in argentina and Mexico. But he fell in love with Spain and with time they just got apart and divorced, but she was deeply moved when he died in Berlin in 1967.
She says she felt always protected and guided by Anthony Mann, and still refers to him as "my husband", which she says is logic when the interviewer asks her why ("well, he once was my husband, right?"). She says her image as a seductress is wrong and she fought a lot in her life, receiving a lot of help from "Tony".
Her now husband says he knew Anthony Mann better when he got to know about his relationship wth Sara. He even has a positive opinion on Anthony, the man."

A coupling of dangling issues--'hanging chads' as it were--that remain unresolved.I assumed Mann left his first wife Mildred for Sara as the dates on his IMDB page give 1936-57 for his marriage to Mildred and 1957-63 for his marriage to Sara. Perhaps the marriage had ended earlier, however, thus making sense (sort of) of the strange fact that Mann's daughter 'encouraged' him to go after Sara.  Mann's daughter is/was named  Nina and I have a feeling she's this Nina Mann, an actress who appears as herself' in a documentary called 'A Night At The Movies: The Gigantic World of Epics', which Dreamworks TV had something to do with. If this is her, then she must be talking about her father and the production of the Bronston mega-pix. Perhaps these posts might somehow find their way to her--anyone out there got her number? And assuming the internet trail hasn't led me astray, Nina's mother Mildred may well have been the same Mildred Mann who was a very important figure in the 'new thought movement' of the mid-century. (She's roughly the same age as Anthony and both of them can be placed securely in New York City in 1936 when they were married). If it's her, it gives us a little insight into AM's career trajectory--he went from actor to theater director to screen test director for Selznick, to GWTW apprentice, to 'dialogue director' for Preston Sturges, to B-quickie director, a clear case of a young man in relentless pursuit of a very specific goal. Furthermore, Mann's first batch of films met with little or no positive response from audiences or critics and I wonder if his stick-to-it-iveness and huge work ethic had its roots in the early 'positive thinking/imaging' work of Mildred Mann. (Or maybe she was just a dame named Mildred who wed a guy named Tony). But the most important part of the above paragraph has to do with the awful tale of the kid who died on the stairs. I haven't the slightest idea of whether this tragedy impacted Mann's work in any obvious way, but certainly Sara's involvement in his life was concurrent with his most emotionally resonant film "Man With  A Gun", his most outwardly erotic film "Gods Little Acre" and had to have influenced the unusually deep and evolved romantic plot of "El Cid". 


As I've mentioned before, Mann and I share the same birthday, June 30th which is--yikes--about a week away. I will be 51 and am in mid-shoot of my eighth movie. When Mann turned 51 he was either beginning or finishing 'Man Of the West', my favorite of his westerns. The fact that we share a birthday is much less meaningful than my appreciation of his art. But the fruitcake-spiritual side in me can't help but wonder if he was tapping on my shoulder--indeed, the collective shoulder of the entire film appreciation community--and letting us know that more information was available and that its time to be known was finally here...

3 comments:

  1. These are the films I grew up watching after school. Perhaps that is why I ended up working
    with horse's at Freehold Raceway for a spell. A long spell. We were just a bunch of cowboys actually. Just hooting and hollering. Was to young to know that I was having fun. Would have
    loved to have worked on a couple of Anthony's pictures They could have used a
    Blacksmith in a scene or two I would think

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  2. Actually, Sara said she fall down the stairs and suffered a miscarriage when she was eight months pregnant. She said she was expecting a boy.

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  3. According to Sara, she used to have lunch with Mann's daughter at the studios (she made no reference to which studios or to which film was she working in). Sara said Mann's daughter asked her to marry her dad while he was in a hospital due to a heart attack. Sara said that Mann's daughter thought Sara was the love of her father's life.

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