Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Furies. A

The Furies, both the film and the place, seem like something from the mind of John Steinbeck. It's an enormous ranch owned by a the corrupt T.C Jeffords (Walter Huston, in his final role), and it's an incredible film from the director Anthony Mann. Jeffords is a classic character, so in love with his ranch that it turns him evil. He's a great character because he's not just the overseer, but a tough cowboy who at the beginning of the film is seen rescuing a baby cow from a sea of mud. His persona has made its way into his daughter's blood, too. She's Vance, played by a devilish Barbara Stanwyck. The movie has a lot going on in its running time of just under two hours. There are the Mexicans, portrayed sympathetically, who claim that some of Jeffords' land is their own. Then there's the banker, played by Wendall Corey, who also claims to own some of the land. Finally there's the woman, Judith Anderson, who Jeffords brings in to marry. She's sly, but honest. She admits that in order to be comfortable, money really does help. Vance hates her, and the conflict leads to one of the most memorable sequences of all time. Vance takes a pair of scissors and throws them at Anderson's face, tearing up her skin and producing a surprising amount of blood for a film released in 1950. Vance then runs to the Mexicans' hideout on the mountain (she's very close to an amigo, Juan, in their family). Jeffords then leads a group of men after her and a brilliant gunfight ensues, complete with massive boulders being rolled off the mountain by the Mexicans. They eventually agree to stop fighting, and then Jeffords makes a surprising order for Juan to be hanged. Each of these three scenes, the scissors attack, the gunfight, and the hanging, are all relevant to the tension Mann has been building up. He uses action the same way as Michael Mann (no relation) does. Not for its own sake, but because it fits into the conflict. The Furies is a fascinating Western, unlike any of its time. In an interview, Mann's daughter pointed out that in the classic Westerns, the hero had the white hat and the villain had the black hat. Good and evil were two very separate things. Here, it's more complicated. The good guys are not all good and the bad guys are not all bad. What really makes this a killer film though is Stanwyck, whose Vance is driven by an intense hatred so rarely seen in female characters. Wendall Corey says that her problem is that she loves to hate. Her other is the Furies, a place that in the end is a haunting, endless land that can drive man to madness. Hatred and the Furies, a nasty combination.

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