July 7, 2008
Director Anthony Mann made the important transition from film noir B movies to westerns in 1950 with three films: Winchester ’73, Devil’s Doorway, and The Furies. The last film was an ambitious big budget mix of western and women’s melodrama with a fascinating dash of psychological subtext. At its heart is a startlingly complex performance from Barbara Stanwyck.
Based on the novel of the same name by Niven Busch, The Furies set in the New Mexico Territory during the 1870s. Widowed ranch owner T.C. Jeffords (Huston) comes into conflict with his headstrong daughter Vance (Stanwyck) over her dowry, to whom she should marry, and the ownership of the family ranch known as the Furies. T.C. arrives from San Francisco for his son’s wedding and makes a grand entrance befitting of his loud, brash character. He showers his children with expensive gifts in place of genuine heartfelt love.
The Jeffords are plagued by squatters stealing their cattle because they feel that they are the rightful occupants of the land. T.C. may be land rich but he is cash poor with several outstanding IOUs. Vance is definitely her father’s daughter as they share the same stubborn nature. He wants her to marry a man like himself and insists on approving the man she marries if she’s to inherent the family ranch. To this end, she becomes interested in Rip Darrow (Corey), a rival rancher whose father T.C. killed in a fight. Does Vance truly love him or does she get involved with Rip to get back at her father? It only adds to the complex relationship between father and daughter.
Vance Jeffords is another tough, strong-willed character that Barbara Stanwyck became known for portraying. While her role as a scheming femme fatale in Double Indemnity (1944) established her as a bona fide movie star, she really showed her range as an actor with performances like the one in The Furies. She not only conveys Vance’s tough side but a vulnerable one as well, like when she falls in love with Rip but when he betrays her, she learns not to make the same mistake again. She has bitter arguments with her father and yet is the first to defend him against outsiders.
While The Furies has all the iconography of a western, it more resembles a psychological drama and as such, it is quite an achievement that Anthony Mann was able to make it within the Hollywood studio system.
There is an audio commentary by film historian Jim Kitses. He talks about how the film evokes a blend of gothic romance, film noir and the western. He makes a convincing case for Anthony Mann as an auteur and how his thematic preoccupations elevate this film above genre conventions. Kitses expertly analyzes the director’s style and how it informs the characters and their motivations. This is a solid, informative track.
“Action Speaks Louder Than Words” is an excerpt from a 1967 interview with Mann for British television. He talks about his beginnings in the theatre and how he broke into the film business. Mann also talks about some of the filmmakers that influenced him in this excellent interview.
“Intimate Interviews: Walter Huston” is a rare interview with the veteran actor who comes across as a larger than life figure as was his reputation. It is a playful yet odd interview as he gives little away.
“Nina Mann Interview” features the actress and daughter of Anthony Mann as she talks about her father and his films, in particular, The Furies. She points out that he refused to have stereotypical heroes and villains in his films and this was readily evident in this film. She praises the lack of ethnic and sexual stereotypes as everyone is treated with respect.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
There is a Stills Gallery with a nice collection of behind-the-scenes photographs of the cast and crew at work.
Finally, in a nice touch, Niven Busch’s source novel is included which is a wonderful extra the Criterion Collection has done in the past (i.e. The Man Who Fell to Earth) and hopefully one that they will continue in the future.