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
Mann's Compelling Prairie Psychodrama Given the Deluxe Criterion Collection Treatment
There's a lot of Freudian subtext in this unusual 1950 Western, but what resonates most is how director Anthony Mann so smoothly transcends the testosterone-driven genre to come up with an entertaining hybrid of a woman's picture and a Greek tragedy. At the dynamic core of this film is the masterstroke of casting Walter Huston (in his last screen role) and Barbara Stanwyck as a spendthrift father and his headstrong daughter at odds over running the expansive ranch that gives the movie its name. In Roman mythology, the Furies were supernatural personifications of the anger of the dead. As females, they represent regeneration and the potency of creation, which both consumes and empowers. It is this single-minded sense of empowerment that drives Vance Jeffords to usurp her wily father T.C. while seeking his approval at the same time.
Set in 1870's New Mexico, the story written by Charles Schnee ("The Bad and the Beautiful") is steeped in not-so-indiscreet psychological baggage. T.C. lives by his own rules by borrowing liberally from banks, paying hired hands with his own script, and allowing Mexican settlers to live off his land. Unlike her weak-willed brother, Vance enjoys provoking her father but to what end is never clear as an unacknowledged cloud of incest hangs over their strange relationship. At the same time, T.C. has a sworn enemy in gambler Rip Darrow who is looking to avenge his father's death at T.C.'s hands. Vance falls for Darrow, but she's also drawn to Juan Herrera, a childhood friend and one of the Mexicans now considered squatters. Complicating matters even more is the arrival of T.C.'s pretentious fiancée Flo Burnett, a devious socialite out to rid the ranch of the Mexicans and push Vance aside as the female head of the beleaguered family. This ploy leads to a most shocking scene that fits well within the story's noirish shadings.
As T.C., Huston gives a grand performance evoking both as the old prospector in his son John's "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" and the conflicted industrialist in William Wyler's "Dodsworth". Although a bit old for her role at 43, Stanwyck combines her no-nonsense manner with a childlike vulnerability in illuminating Vance's most complex psyche. This is excellent work from an actress who always seemed home on the range. Generally a pliable third lead in films ("Rear Window"), Wendell Corey doesn't lend charisma or a convincing edge to his swagger as Darrow, but Gilbert Roland shines in the smallish role of Juan and strikes sparks with Stanwyck that should have happened with Corey. However, it is Judith Anderson (Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca") who steals her brief scenes as Flo bringing out a palpable tension with Stanwyck in their almost-comically cutting scenes together (pardon the pun!). Veteran character actress Beulah Bondi also has a nice near-cameo as a banker's wife fully aware of her husband's prideful shortcomings.
The intensely passionate movie swirls in all its psycho-sexual emotionalism and Shakespearean-level acts of murder, revenge and greed, but oddly (and perhaps due to the edicts of studio censors), Mann applies the brakes in the disappointing final portion of the film. Still, it's well worth viewing in the new Criterion Collection's 2008 release chock-full of extras. First, there is the meticulously academic commentary track by Western author Jim Kitses ("Horizons West"). Then there is an interesting 17-minute interview with Mann ("Actions Speak Louder Than Words") conducted just prior to his death in 1967. Another interview is offered with Mann's daughter Nina specifically for this release as she recalls her father's often underrated body of work. More of a curio is a silly, obviously scripted 1931 interview with Huston where he evasively responds to the vacuous questions of a pretty reporter. The original theatrical trailer and a stills gallery round out the extras.
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