“When the camera pans, it breathes.”- Cahiers du Cinema critic Andre Bazin on Anthony Mann’s visuals.
The opening long take in Anthony Mann’s Men in War starts cramped on the side of an upturned jeep, then swiftly cranes upward to reveal a deep, mountainous countryside and an American soldier taking cover behind a lone tree, then brilliantly pans to the left following a haze of thick smoke, introducing the war torn world of Korea, 1950, finally ending on a radio operator’s fruitless pursuit to contact his battalion. Right away, Mann gives his film a sense of place, and it’s one of desolation and uncertainty. To top it off, the film introduces it’s character’s through action, not dialogue, using the voiceover of the radio operator while the camera cuts to each man, both linking them together as a unit and showing their stasis as warriors. Hopelessly trapped behind enemy lines, these men must trek through dangerous terrain to find their way back to headquarters, but no one really knows if it even exists anymore. Led by Robert Ryan’s tough but vulnerable Lt., Mann’s collection of soldiers have one thing on their minds – survival, and the politics and ethics of war get lost in the shuffle. What separates Men in War from other similarly themed War pictures is Mann’s use of space. He gives every set piece a feel all it’s own, whether it be the minefield sequence in a dense forest exterior, where flickers of light barely shine through, or the rocky hillside battle sequence that ends the film, vintage Mann which could have been replayed in Man of the West or The Naked Spur. Many directors lose sight of their characters during the ominous execution of battle sequences, but Mann displays here that the tension and conflict of combat only draws his men closer together, even if for one more fleeting moment before death.