“Manhunter” (1986) dir. Michael Mann

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This was the first film featuring Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter character, approximately five years before Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. Based on Harris’s novel “Red Dragon”, director Michael Mann directed this extremely suspenseful, intense, and atmospheric tale of a troubled FBI agent called back into duty to find a serial killer the top FBI officials can not find. William Peterson does a masterful job playing the troubled FBI agent, Will Graham, a man physically and mentally scarred from an earlier assignment where he captured the infamous Lecter. It was a job where he had to think like Lecter in order to capture him … and this process landed him in a mental hospital.

While there was a decent, but ultimately unnecessary big-budget remake of “Red Dragon” in remake made in 2002 with Ed Norton as Graham and … that’s right … Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter … Michael Mann’s 1986 version is so much better. As iconic as Hopkins’ characterization is, Brian Cox may actually be a scarier Lecter, based on how low-key he plays the infamous mad man. Watch this incredibly intense scene where Lecter meets with Graham where Lecter tries to dominate Graham and oh-so-casually asks Graham for his home phone number.

The attached scene is the climax of the film with major spoilers, but it has one of the best uses of rock music and film ever committed to celluloid … Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” used to absolute sinister perfection.

“Manhunter” … along with David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” … were the jewels in the ill-fated DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group studio’s late 1980s forays into filmmaking. An ironic jewel, because “Manhunter” was not successful … but Hannibal Lecter was a movie star in the making … and Dino DeLaurentiis got his money back in spades with the 2001 film “Hannibal” as well as the 2002 remake “Red Dragon.”

If you have any love for this film at all … or are just fans of the Hannibal Lecter films … please check out the Projection Booth’s recent podcast on this film:

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/06/episode-170-manhunter.html

Trivia note: David Lynch was the original director attached to this film. As much as I love what Michael Mann did here, my mind is blown over the prospect over what Lynch would have done with this material.

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“Confrontation” by Craig Safan from the film “Thief” (1981) dir. Michael Mann

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“Confrontation” is the one musical track NOT composed by Tangerine Dream for Michael Mann’s classic 1981 crime film “Thief.” Yet, it’s one of the most pivotal tracks as it is the theme for the final and extremely bloody gunfight at the end of the film. Composer Craig Safan (who is probably most famous for composing the theme to the TV show “Cheers”) was undoubtedly listening to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” a LOT when composing this music. In any case, it’s a great piece of film music and was one of the earliest and best uses of rock music and film up to that time … a time when it was unusual to have rock music score a scene of this type. I have included the scene below to see how the music plays in the scene. Due to some graphic violence, not safe for work or little ones.

“Thief” (1981) dir. Michael Mann

Michael Mann’s 1981 heist thriller “Thief” is not only one of the best crime movies of all time, it’s also one of the most influential.  Watching it nowadays, you can see where Mann tried out a lot of things that would later become de rigeur on “Miami Vice” (which Mann produced), but it’s not quite as flashy.  “Thief” is unapologetically blue collar.  The movie has many stunning and intense scenes (including some heavy graphic violence towards the end).  However, for me, this nearly 10-minute dialogue sequence between James Caan and Tuesday Weld is the best scene in the movie.  Here’s some setup:  Caan’s character has spent most of his adult life in prison.  Since he’s gotten out, he’s become an extremely successful safecracker and thief (with a few successful legitimate businesses that act as fronts for his illegal activity).  He has a lot of money and material possessions, but he also wants the kind of life “regular” people have, meaning marriage and a family.   He senses something in Tuesday Weld’s character that he feels is on his wavelength.  You see, Weld’s character too has a past, a shady one she’s trying to forget, even if it now means doing something mundane.  Caan’s character, in his clumsy, but direct way, is trying to kickstart his future and take a chance with someone he feels will understand and take the same emotional risk he is.  He guesses correctly.