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With: Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston, Judith Anderson, Wendell Corey, Gilbert Roland, John Bromfield, Thomas Gomez, Beulah Bondi, Albert Dekker, Wallace Ford, Blanche Yurka, Louis Jean Heydt, Frank Ferguson, Charles Evans, Movita Casteneda, Craig Kelly, Myrna Dell
Written by: Charles Schnee, based on a novel by Niven Busch
Directed by: Anthony Mann
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 109
Date: 08/16/1950

The Furies (1950)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Ranch Messing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Anthony Mann's is a career made up of easily definable segments: "B" movies in the early 1940s, film noir in the late 1940s, Westerns in the 1950s and epics in the 1960s. That would make for a nice, cozy catalogue, except for the fact that Mann also made several transitional movies, suggesting more of a slow, exploratory curve rather than sharp angles. Of these various transitional films, none is more consistently fascinating or misunderstood than the masterpiece The Furies.

The Furies, of course, falls between Mann's exceptional films noir and his groundbreaking psychological Westerns. In the former (in films like T-Men), Mann used revolutionary lighting to create a vivid, inky blacks and stark, bright whites and coupled it with stripped-down documentary style storytelling. His Westerns (Winchester '73, etc.), usually starring James Stewart, explored a kind of morally challenged character, trapped between right and wrong, with the very terrain enhancing and underlining his conflict. The Furies is also a Western, but a good portion of it takes place indoors, with the amazing, deep-focus, black-and-white photography (by Victor Milner) highlighting the enormous, dungeon-like rooms of a massive ranch. The ranch is named "The Furies" after the mythological winged trio of women who punished sin, especially among family members. Barbara Stanwyck stars as Vance, the strong-willed daughter of T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston). Her brother Clay (John Bromfield) has always dutifully followed T.C.'s rules, but Vance is clearly her father's favorite; Mann has a definite sexual undercurrent running through their relationship. T.C.'s empire has begun to crumble; his personal IOUs have become numerous and his debt has become sky-high, and the native families living on The Furies have become a nuisance. Vance begins flirting with a notorious gambler, Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), without her father's approval, and her advances lead to trouble for everyone. At the same time, T.C. takes up with Flo Burnett (Judith Anderson), who threatens to take Vance's place, both physically and emotionally.

It's a fairly complex story, nicely adapted from Niven Busch's novel by screenwriter Charles Schnee (Red River, They Live by Night). One storyline has been significantly softened: a friendship between Vance and the Mexican Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland) who lives somewhat peacefully on The Furies was clearly supposed to be more. Mann uses the striking cinematography, lighting and sets in a more abstract way than in his later Westerns, going more for mood than naturalism. Like a black-and-white Douglas Sirk melodrama, the weather, sky and shapes (like cactuses) heighten the drama to monumental proportions -- well past any kind of realism. In that, Huston and Stanwyck give two truly extraordinary performances, one-upping each other and sparring with a passion usually reserved for family members. They're both given beautifully crunchy dialogue to savor, rolling the words around with vigor, but also using eyes and body language to convey volumes. Because The Furies is such a stylistic film with little in the way of Western action or gun fighting, it was received with a shrug and shunted off to the history books. But watching it anew on Criterion Collection's crisp, gorgeous new DVD reveals it to be a true masterpiece and one of Mann's most essential films.

DVD Details: The DVD comes with a superb commentary track by my former professor Jim Kitses, perhaps the greatest living authority on the Western. Extras include a TV interview with Mann, a rare, early interview with Huston and a new interview with Nina Mann (Anthony's daughter). Otherwise we get a photo gallery, a trailer and an actual copy of Busch's novel.

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