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
an absorbing, underrated work that boasts appeal for men and women
Probably a rarity as I can see it: Anthony Mann's The Furies would fit in just as well on AMC or TCM as it would, if it would ever screen old movies from the 40s and 50s, on the Lifetime network. What this means is that for the film being technically classified as a Wetern, it really has a lot more to offer for audiences of hardened men looking for another memorable performance from Walter Huston, and for women looking for a tough but conflicted heroine with Barbara Stanwyck's character. Mann has terrific source material to work with (the writer also wrote Duel in the Sun), in part because it doesn't cater simply to those looking for a shoot-out. On the contrary, The Furies derives its fascination as a work of psychologically complex family games of power and personal ownership. The 'Elektra complex' issue touched on by other reviewers isn't misplaced, but there's more to it.
This isn't quite to say it's entirely one of Mann's best films, or a masterpiece on the Western genre. It takes a little time to get started, past some of the daughter/father scenes of laughing with one another, and for the drama to really get plugged into about the dealings of ownership of the land of TC Jeffordses. The father, TC (Huston), says he'll give all he has to his daughter, Vance (Stanwyck) to run, but it might not be that easy of a transition. We see this tangled web develop, of Stanwyck's two love interests, one from way back with the Herrera's (still very bitter with TC for taking their land) and another with a banker who has a real love-hate thing for the fiery daughter of a big-bad baron like TC. And both the Jeffords' characters being what they are- really big, amazing personalities- require the actors to pull them off.
Luckily, Mann has the right two people with Huston and Stanwyck, especially with the latter the star projects such confidence and darkness and, at the same time, vulnerability it's not hard to see how she could have been the star in her day. Mann also gets some rich work from a supporting cast; one of which, playing the matriarch of the Herrera clan, is very memorable in a specific shoot-out scene where she talks to herself frantically with TC in her gunshot sight. There's also further development about a level of payback in the third act, and other more melodramatic touches involving TC's bond with an older woman that really gets Vance's gaul (not even so much her father bonding with her, but for her assertion into the clan to push her out far away into Europe, leading to a startling confrontation and a pair of scissors). If you're not strapped-in for some almost soap-opera-ish touches, look elsewhere.
But overall, Mann directs all of this with a fine eye for the darker corners of the western landscape, of the dry and barren lands of the deserts- some of these look shot at night, or developed to look darker than they are- with the cacti and horses riding on in them striking as something more evocative to go along with the big rooms and typical locations of a circa 1870 New Mexico set. And there's even a hanging scene in the film that should rank on any film-lover's list of important scenes; Scorsese even included it in his documentary on American movies, and it's well worth the inclusion. For some good stretches of time, and particularly for the second 2/3 of the running time, The Furies does its job well on its audience, drawing in both sexes for various reasons into its story of land ownership, love and loss, and a father and daughter bond that is touchy and amusing at most pleasant moments. 8.5/10
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