A New York City detective, traveling by train between New York and Baltimore, tries to foil an on-board plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln before he reaches Baltimore to give a major pre-Inauguration speech in 1861.
The 1870s, New Mexico territory: T.C. Jeffords is a cattle baron who built his ranch, the Furies, from scratch. He borrows from banks, pays hired hands with his own script ("T.C.'s"), and carries on low-level warfare with the Mexicans who settled the land but are now considered squatters. He has enemies, including Rip Darrow, a saloon owner who's father T.C. took land from. His headstrong daughter, Vance, has a life-long friend in one of the Mexicans, her heart set on Rip, and dad's promise she'll run the Furies someday. Her hopes are smashed by Rip's revenge, a gold-digger who turns T.C.'s head, and T.C.'s own murderous imperialism. Is Vance to be cursed by fury and hatred? Written by
[to TC, on being immediately insulted and invited to leave the wedding of TC's son]
Sir, you posted an open invitation to this gathering on every stick of lumber in the country. To protect those present from any further unpleasantness, I'd like to make a deal with you. You stop telling lies about me, and I'll stop telling the truth about you!
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A dramatic steak for actors to sink their teeth into.
Very few westerns have the psychological impacts that this "Mourning Becomes Electra" like saga dramatizes. Barbara Stanwyck, in the role that must have influenced her "Big Valley" character for TV, is both tough and tender as Vance Jeffords, the western princess of TC Jefford's (Walter Huston) empire. Dare step on her toes, and you won't be able to rest, as love interest Wendell Corey finds out. And dare come between her and her beloved father, and you'll end up with a surprising bit of vengeance as Judith Anderson as a gold-digging San Francisco socialite finds out. John Bromfield appears briefly as Stanwyck's brother who knows that he will never have the affections of his father that Stanwyck has and pretty much resigns himself to the fact that she will be daddy's heir, not him.
Barbara Stanwyck was the Queen of the west, and in almost a dozen Westerns, it was Barbara Stanwyck who gave many a western hero a run for their money. Walter Huston, as her patriarchal father, is a force to be reckoned with who has trained his daughter to be tough. When he betrays her one wish, he also becomes a victim of her vengeance.
There are also Gilbert Roland as a Mexican squatter, her life-long friend who becomes a tool in her father's revenge against her; Blanche Yurka, the great Hungarian stage actress, plays the bit role of his vengeful mama; Even in the small role, we are reminded of her excellent performance as Madame DeFarge in the Ronald Colman version of "A Tale of Two Cities" years before. Just watch her intense eyes as she cackles and curses in Spanish as she pushes huge boulders off the mountain in her effort to prevent Huston and Stanwyck from gaining access to the family's mountain hideaway.
Beaulah Bondi also shows up briefly as a society matron who aids Stanwyck in her efforts to take over the Furies. With all this talent, it is amazing that the scenery wasn't eaten up along the way. The great Judith Anderson, who played many of the types of roles on Broadway that Stanwyck did on screen, is subtle as she tries to worms her way into the role of Queen of the Furies, but it is Stanwyck's ultimate revenge which prevents this from happening. Later, when we get our last glimpse of the beaten Anderson, she gives herself a great exit line. This, ironically, was the second film in which one of Stanwyck's characters had an impact on Anderson's character; In the 1946 film noir, "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers", it is young Martha (who as an adult is played by Stanwyck) who pushes matriarch Anderson down some stairs to her death, giving that film its motivations.
The one problem with this casting is the performance of Wendell Corey, perhaps one of the dullest leading men in Hollywood history. Stiff and unappealing, there is no doubt in the viewer's mind that Stanwyck would never feel any passion for the tree trunk like character. He was perfect as the sap husband of Joan Crawford's in the same years "Harriet Craig" but didn't have the fire that Gilbert Roland did. The previous year's "The File of Thelma Jordan" paired them together and proved that Stanwyck's passion required her to have a man on her side (and in her bed) that was her equal.
Fortunately, Walter Huston is given more screen time, and is absolutely outstanding. He truly deserved an Oscar Nomination for his lively performance. When T.C. faces his final moments on-screen, he does it with such acceptance of his fate that it is truly heartfelt. It was his last film, as he died before the film was released. Stanwyck praised Huston publicly, and at her AFI tribute, Walter's son, director John Huston, praised Stanwyck (whom he had never met) for her professionalism and kindness to his father. The same year's "September Affair" took Huston's old recording of "September Song" and utilized it to great effect. Even by only being heard in that film, he truly made a huge impact, and ranks as perhaps my favorite actor of old Hollywood.
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