Moviedrome Mondays: Manhunter (1986)

I have posted a youtube video link below to Moviedrome presenter Alex Cox’s introduction to director Michael Mann’s 1986 Neo-Noir/psychological horror/mystery/thriller Manhunter. Readers can also read Cox’s intro transcript here. The episode’s original airdate was August 4, 1991 (read here). As much as I enjoy Cox’s commentaries (this one included), I must say that he is totally off the mark here. Granted, Jonathan Demme is the better director, The Silence of the Lambs does not rank among his finest work. As with that 1991 Oscar-winning hit, Manhunter was adapted from a Thomas Harris novel (Red Dragon) and also featured convicted serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lector (last name appears as “Lecktor” in this film) as one of it’s characters. Unlike Lambs though, there is actually more to Manhunter than meets the eye. On the surface, Manhunter plays out as little more than a standard police procedural, but at the center, it is director Mann’s visual style that intentionally powers the film. The highlights in this case would be cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s stylish use of color and an atmospheric rock soundtrack. Also, despite his limited screen time, I always felt that co-star Brian Cox’s turn as Dr. Hannibal Lector was superior to that of Anthony Hopkins. Whereas Hopkins portrayal bordered on camp, Cox’s Lector comes off as down-to-earth, which only makes his presence more unsettling.

Here is a youtube video link to Alex Cox’s Moviedrome intro to Manhunter

Here is a youtube video link to the film’s original theatrical trailer

16 thoughts on “Moviedrome Mondays: Manhunter (1986)

  1. I agree that Brian Cox was the better choice. Manhunter is my favourite of all the films from Harris’s books. I was caught up in it in a way that never happened to me with the Hopkins films.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. I always felt that “Red Dragon” was the far superior novel as well….that book was scary as as well as suspenseful. I enjoyed “Manhunter” very much and I’m with you John,Cox was a more realistic,unsettling Hannibal…..they made Hopkin’s verison too much a “antihero” when he in fact he deserved no sympathy in the slightest as one could see in “Manhunter”. Excellent post as always!!

  3. I really should make time to watch this film again. I’ve always enjoyed Michael Mann’s style, Miami Vice was my favourite television show as a teenager.

  4. Yeah, I mean Hopkins played Lector as If he was satirizing the character whereas Cox underplayed him to make us more unsettled by his presence since Cox’s Lector comes off as what a real life version of him could possibly come off as. Anyway, thanks for dropping by πŸ™‚

  5. Michael Mann is at his best when he does crime thrillers like this one (Manhunter), Thief, Collateral, Heat, Miami Vice (the film), Public Enemies and Blackhat. Speaking of Heat, I hear you are a huge fan of the film πŸ™‚ Anyway, thanks for dropping by πŸ™‚

  6. I never thought of it that way. That actually rings true. I haven’t seen Manhunter for many years, but from what I remember, yeah, Cox was way subtler about it than Mr. Hopkins, and that’s always creepier. Like when people’s next door neighbors are finally arrested for being a serial killer, what do they always say? “He was very quiet.”
    MUCH more unsettling than over-doing a performance.
    I’m a big Heat fan too.
    My husband and I always refer back to the moment when DeNiro’s character just can’t drive away and rips the steering wheel into a u-turn. When we can’t let go of our anger over something it’s like, “Are you doing a DeNiro U-turn right now?”
    and then we rein it back in, lol.

  7. I’ve got great memories of watching Heat at the old Palace cinema in the town where I live. Back in 95 I didn’t realise how lucky I was!

  8. You are most certainly right about that in regards to Cox’s portrayal of Lector. I also love how you and your husband reference Heat when it comes to anger – “Are you doing a DeNIro U-turn right now?” is a laugh out loud indeed πŸ™‚ Anyway, thanks for dropping by πŸ™‚

  9. I agree with all of the above, although I liked the film Silence of the Lambs very much. I think it’s a very effective psychological thriller that made excellent use of its modest budget. It doesn’t look like a small budget film at all. That it is so influential is a testament to its greatness. Thriller’s are usually here today gone tomorrow.
    I like the stylish 80s flourishes of Michael Mann and the the strong cast of Manhunter with the exception of Peterson, who I’ve never liked. I prefer to contrast Manhunter with Red Dragon. Though, I actually enjoyed Red Dragon, Manhunter is clearly the superior film. Of course this is all subjective.

  10. I hear ya Pam πŸ™‚ Nevertheless, Silence of the Lambs comes off as the type of film that Brian De Palma would have done much better because for me, he is a filmmaking heavyweight, whereas Jonathan Demme is not. On the surface, Demme is a lightweight, albeit one with a heavy heart at the center. Demme’s greatest films were his small character comedies of the late 70’s and throughout the 1980’s. Watch Handle with Care, Melvin and Howard, Something Wild and from 2008, Rachel Getting Married to see what I mean. Aside from concert films and documentaries, this is the area where Demme excelled. I do agree with you though that Manhunter is better than the 2002 version of Red Dragon. Anyway, thanks for dropping by πŸ™‚

    P.S. I also like William Petersen a lot. Along with Gary Sinise, both of them hold a special place in my heart because they are both Illinoians like myself (Petersen is from Evanston and Sinise is from Blue Island) πŸ™‚ As for myself, I am from Niles πŸ™‚

  11. I’m a Brian De Palma fan, as I’ve probably already told you. I even like some of his lesser films like Snake Eyes, but I think Demme made an excellent film with Silence of the Lambs. Michael Mann and De Palma have complimentary, if not similar, styles, so if De Plama made Silence of the Lambs, I think it would look a lot like Manhunter.
    As for Demme, I really only like 2 of his films Married to the Mob and Silence of the Lambs.
    I think Gary Sinise is an excellent actor. I think he is underappreciated. Though I’m not enamored with Peterson as an actor I do admire two films he starred in very much. The other film that I love is To Live and Die in LA.

  12. Pam, I actually think that Silence of the Lambs under Brian De Palma’s direction would look similar to either Dressed to Kill or Raising Cain πŸ™‚

    Also, I think De Palma’s take on Silence of the Lambs would have still packed a sense of humor (black or otherwise), but it would be more fitting in De Palma’s hands because Demme’s just has no zest to it. Michael Mann does not indulge in any kind of humor so comparing De Palma to Mann is probably a little (and I am trying to sound polite here) misguided (for lack of better word) to say the least. Nevertheless, I do enjoy your thoughts as always Pam πŸ™‚

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