The Thin Blue Line: A Radical Classic By Charles Musser
Inside the Pink Stable By Chuck Stephens
Sometimes it’s pretty tough for me to divorce my inner fanboy from the (probably unrealistic) ideal of a business-only, detached producer. One such moment was when I saw that Anthony Mann’s The Furies was a part of our Paramount deal. I think the geeked-out obsessive in me pounced to work on it before the aloof “professional” part of my brain even absorbed the rest of the list.
That’s because Mann is, in my book, one of cinema history’s perfect filmmakers. That’s not to say that I think every film of his is a masterpiece. It’s rare for any director, especially one with a significant body of work, to bat a thousand and judging from comments he made, Mann would have been the first to agree. But the traits that define his work—lean characterization, immaculate and expressive cinematography, conflicted protagonists, hard-hitting action, and Olympian personal drama—pretty much define what I enjoy when I watch a movie.
The Furies has all of these trademark Mann motifs. It’s been, I think, kind of wrongly sidelined in relation to his more famous and rightfully canonized westerns with James Stewart (The Naked Spur, Bend of the River, Winchester ’73 ), so the chance to put it back on the map, so to speak, was a terrific opportunity. It’s a genuinely unique movie, one that blends melodrama, film noir, the western, and even screwball comedy into a single genre-defying work, and did so way before terms like deconstruction and revisionism became everyday catchphrases.
Mann passed away in 1967, but I was excited to see in my research that one of his daughters, actress Nina Mann, had introduced a screening of Winchester ’73 in Los Angeles some years ago. That led me to believe it’d be a pretty safe bet that she’d be happy to talk about her father’s work, and have some solid thoughts about it too. With some excellent leads and help (shout-outs to Jake Perlin, Jim Healy, and Jon Zelazny), I got in touch with Ms. Mann over the phone, and was instantly blown away not only by how knowledgeable she was about her father’s films but also by how articulate her storytelling and recollection process turned out to be.
After getting the ball rolling on a possible interview date and time, I think the fanboy in me slipped out again, and I rambled about how much of an honor it was for me to talk to her, how many of my friends would be amazed that this was happening, and how totally thrilled I was that the interview was going to happen. Absolutely sincere thoughts, but I’m sure I could’ve found a better, more dignified way of mentioning them if my brain hadn’t short-circuited.
When I met Ms. Mann a bit over a month later in L.A. for the interview, things couldn’t have gone better. Her responses were genuinely enlightening, she was a very engaging speaker, and she always found ways to bring her comments back to the film at hand. Trust me, this is a major plus when it comes time to edit, because it creates a lot of nice, ready material and keeps topics focused and relevant. It was one of the most painless edits I’ve worked on.
What threw me for a loop, however, was something that I’d never really considered. I guess it was a “given” for the cinemaniac part of my brain that Ms. Mann would have always been invested somehow in her father’s films (after all, he’s only One of the Best Filmmakers Ever, right?), that she would have seen every single one as it was finished, watched the dailies . . . I don’t know, eaten, breathed, lived Anthony Mann movies all of her life. Turned out that couldn’t have been further from the case, and that her “reconciliation” with and appreciation of his work really only happened a handful of years ago, when that aforementioned retrospective played in L.A. The fanboy in me had basically blocked out the concept of growing up in a household with a father who was constantly working (many times on remote locations), and the fact that it was, basically, those great movies that were keeping him away.
After the interview, the sound recordist, Percy, told me that he felt like he was tearing up during some of her responses, and I knew what he meant. I now consider it all the more amazing and genuinely moving that through his movies she found her way back to her father as an artist, and that she so swiftly developed a full yet ever growing appreciation of his work. It was, truly, an honor for me to meet her, and that goes for the fan and the producer sides of me.
I’m also happy to say that Ms. Mann was generous enough to shoot some short asides on various topics for possible inclusion on our website. This one is her recollection about the pure joy her father found in the simple act of storytelling.