Educated at Erasmus Hall High School, New York's Professional Children's School .
An actor and a musician, in 1939 he worked in Canada. After the war he directed on Broadway and worked with Elia Kazan. His films were bound by theatrical conventions and an allegiance to overblown female performances. His debut, Come Back. Little Sheba, was intended to display Shirley Booth, but although she won the Oscar, her performance was fussy and unfelt beside the anguished restraint of Burt Lancaster. To dispel the idea that Mann might have a good relationship with Lancaster, The Rose Tattoo encouraged his worst gloating and viewed Anna Magnani’s feverish emotions rather clinically.
Even so, I’ll Cry Tomorrow allows Susan Hayward to suffer to her heart’s content and Teahouse was one of Brandos oddest distractions. Mann helped earn a best actress Oscar for Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8, one of her splendid, posturing performances. In eight years, Mann led three actresses to Oscar—Booth, Magnani in Rose Tattoo, and Liz Taylor. Seen at this distance, that trio stands for the strange fantasies of the fifties.
In the 1960s, Mann’s work hardly moved from a rut of boredom—only James Coburn’s Flint lightened the gloom. To judge by For Love of Ivy and Willard, he was trying desperately to discover novelty.
The wonder was that Mann continued to enjoy respectable projects in an era when Gerd Oswald was driven to TV, and Edgar Ulmer turned into a nomad of the backstreet quickie.
But Mann was very successful, for TV, directing Arthur Miller’s script of Playing for Time, and he deserves credit for obtaining (and controlling) such performances from Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Alexander, Shirley Knight, and Viveca Lindfors (among others). It is unthinkable that Mann could have found such an opportunity by working only in theatrical movies.