THE FURIES (Anthony Mann, 1950)

Starkly photographed in black and white by Victor Milner and beautifully scored by Franz Waxman, The Furies is nonetheless a dispiriting melodramatic Western whose vague echoes of King Lear prove insufficient to keep it from falling flat. Its Freudianism enlists empty routines of love-hate revolving around configurations of surrogate sister-surrogate brother as well as father-daughter. Anthony Mann directed, and the surplus of business dealings as a cattle rancher attempts to meet obligations for his spread in the New Mexico territories in the 1870s announces an American story. It doesn’t hurt that playing T.C. Jeffords—this was his last role—is Walter Huston, who in the 1930s played both Abraham Lincoln (1930, D. W. Griffith) and Frank Capra’s Depression banker in American Madness (1932). Huston gives the best performance.
     Barbara Stanwyck is okay in what might be considered a trial run for her much richer performance in a much better film, indeed a brilliant one, Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957). For Mann, Stanwyck plays Jeffords’ imperious daughter, Vance.
     Charles Schnee adapted a novel by Niven Busch, himself a film writer, that the credits don’t identify. There are many good lines: “I just don’t know how to fight her. It’s like hitting the wind. It freezes you.” “He sits on his stallion stiff with hate.” “Money is the only thing that makes loneliness bearable.”
     A motif of defacing runs throughout. This includes slaps without flinches, as though the two recipients are beyond pain, or at least beyond registering it, a supposedly comical forced face-push into a basin of water, the mutilation of a woman’s face by another woman flinging a pair of shears (I don’t believe the heft, balance and aim of the trajectory across a room), and the way Jeffords’ assassination is shot, with his face, facing the camera, slipping into a death mask as he is fatally shot in the back in a kaleidoscope of vengeance. This is indeed an American story, but, unlike John Ford’s Wagon Master” (1950), The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), it doesn’t have the symbolical resonance to make it “the story of America.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s