1950. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston. Directed by Anthony Mann.
There are movies that have used the Hollywood western as a package to tell a different story — The Magnificent Seven is the Hollywood western version of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, for example. And there are those Hollywood westerns that transformed the genre — The Searchers would inspire Taxi Driver, for example, or The Wild Bunch’s violence would soften up audiences for the blood supplied by Bonnie & Clyde and Tarantino. The Furies accomplished a bit of both, mixing Greek tragedy with Douglas Sirk soap-opera complications, and setting it all on a New Mexican ranch.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Vance Jeffords, the favorite daughter of T.C. (Walter Huston), owner of The Furies, the family ranch, which stretches as far as the eye can see. The ranch is coveted by squatters, including former land owners, the Herraras, led by Vance’s childhood friend and secret love Juan, who very much does not meet with her father’s approval. In steps Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), the dashing owner of a gambling house whose father, coincidentally, was killed by T.C., and whose property was incorporated into the Furies. T.C. offers him $50,000 to walk away from his daughter, and Rip shows his true colors by taking the offer.
Vance Jeffords has plenty of heartbreak to endure — her mother dies, her lover Juan is run off the land and killed, Rip Darrow rejects her charms — but she does look forward to inheriting the ranch. (Her brother isn’t entrusted in the ranch or interested in the family fortune, for reasons I didn’t quite understand or believe, but nevertheless. . .) But the biggest obstacle to her control is T.C.’s newest companion, a San Francisco widow (Judith Anderson), who starts moving in and making herself at home.
Stanwyck is great in the role, as she almost always was, playing the tormented woman who alternates between taking control and losing control. The manner in which she diminishes Anderson’s character is shocking, mostly because Stanwyck is desperate and lashes out. When her character is cool, as she is when plotting how to seize back the Furies, she is much more dangerous.
This was Walter Huston’s final performance, and it’s a great one. His portrayal of T.C. mixes the ranch owner’s confidence and con-man smarts — he pays everyone in self-issued “TCs,” instead of real money — with the toughness of an experienced cowboy. The scene where, inspired by a ballad about himself, he chases and wrestles a bull to the ground is my favorite scene.
The “Furies” are, in Roman mythology, female spirits of the underworld embodying anger and vengeance, entities that punish those who violate the natural order, such as murdering a father or brother — if I understand it correctly, which I doubt that I do.
In any case, although the Furies is beautifully shot, capably directed and features a couple fine performances, the western as a soap opera showdown only gets an OK in this reviewer’s corral. Oh. . .that was nearly as hard to write as it is to read.