Manhunter: Limited Edition
"Dr. Hannibal Lecter lay on his cot asleep, his head propped on a pillow against the wall. Alexandre Dumas' Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine was open on his chest. Graham had stared through the bars for about five seconds when Lecter opened his eyes and said, 'That's the same atrocious aftershave you wore in court.' " With these words, Thomas Harris first introduced Hannibal Lecter to the world in his novel Red Dragon, published by Putnam in 1981. Purchased by producer Dino De Laurentiis, the book eventually fell into the hands of Michael Mann, previously known mostly for his work on television shows such as Starsky and Hutch, Vega$, and later the '80s TV staple Miami Vice. His forays into film had produced mixed results the 1981 Thief, a superb, grim little existential thriller, and 1983's The Keep, a mystical war film, impressed only film buffs. The same fate befell 1986's Manhunter, as Mann's stylish film adaptation of Harris's book was retitled (due to the fact that the De Laurentiis-produced The Year of the Dragon had flopped the year before). Harris, a Mississippi-born former AP journalist, had himself published only one previous novel, Black Sunday, which was later adapted into the movie that along with King Kong famously felled the Mann chain of movie theaters. How curious that another Mann was deeply involved in his next book. Red Dragon was Harris's first excursion into the realm of the nascent serial-killer genre that he, as a novelist, was later to almost single-handedly embody, and films made from his first two serial killer novels also justly served as the gold standard by which all others in this indiscriminate genre should be judged. The Oscar winning The Silence of the Lambs, among other things, made a popular anti-hero out of Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins. That film was such a critical and popular success that a sequel was inevitable, for both novelist and filmmakers. De Laurentiis, who has near-proprietary control over the Lecter character, bought the rights to Hannibal, with the Ridley Scott sequel arriving in 2001.
But Brian Cox was the first Hannibal. In Manhunter (and with his name spelled Lecktor), he plays a relatively small if significant role, much like the one Hopkins performed in Silence an anti-Sherlock Holmes, consulted in his sparse jail cell rather than in the cozy Victorian environs of a sitting room. Will Graham (William L. Petersen) is the FBI agent needing him first; he is brought out of retirement by Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina this time around) to help find "The Tooth Fairy," a serial killer who slaughters entire families every full moon. Graham was a victim of Lecktor, and the man who arrested him. In Manhunter, Lecktor is presented much as he is in Silence, and in fact some of the dialogue between Graham and Lecktor is the same as between Clarice Starling and Lecter, and in both instances the imprisoned killer knows more than he is telling (but then, so do the cops). Through a series of clever deductions, as well as Graham's ability to put himself in the mind of others, he tracks down The Tooth Fairy, who is about to murder a blind woman he is attracted to (Joan Allen, in an early role).
Manhunter is a marvelous, moody, psychologically dense film that, probably because audiences thought the style got in the way of the story, only grossed $8.62 million in the United States. The script, credited to Mann, is a superb distillation of a strong source novel, with Mann only altering Harris's bittersweet ending. It is a perfectly plotted movie, and it's rich in great dialogue (Graham: "I know that I'm not smarter than you." Lecktor: "Then how did you catch me?" "You had disadvantages." "What disadvantages?" "You're insane."). And as is to be expected from the creator of Miami Vice, Manhunter has a terrific pop score, with music ranging from Kitaro to Iron Butterfly (Trivia note: two actors who appear in both Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs are Frankie Faison, who plays Lt. Fisk in Manhunter and the great Barney in Silence, while Dan Butler plays an FBI fingerprint expert in the former and a flirtatious entomologist in the latter. Those with a further interest in the film can visit a
(Editor's note: Manhunter: Limited Edition is limited to 100,000 numbered copies.)