Western Roundup: The Furies (1950)
This month my Western RoundUp column takes a look at The Furies (1950), an Anthony Mann Western with Barbara Stanwyck heading a top cast.
When I wrote about Forty Guns (1957) here last May, I wasn’t planning to do a series on Stanwyck’s ’50s Westerns over the course of the year, but here we are! Forty Guns led me to watch The Violent Men (1955), and those films combined to spark my interest in The Furies. The three films range from good to great; taken both individually and as a group they make fascinating viewing.
In terms of quality I’d class The Furies in the middle of the three; Forty Guns was my favorite for several reasons, including Stanwyck’s chemistry with her leading man (Barry Sullivan). It’s interesting that of the trio, Stanwyck’s role was also the most sympathetic in Forty Guns, though that character was no less ambitious than the women she played in the other two films.
The Furies is the name of the Southwestern ranch owned by T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston). T.C. is something of a wild man who has carved out his ranch territory by any means possible, including theft and murder.
The widowed T.C. has a curiously…close…relationship with his headstrong daughter Vance (Stanwyck) which is threatened when he brings home a widow, Flo (Judith Anderson), he’s thinking of marrying. The clever Flo schemes to pack Vance off to Europe and assume control of T.C. and his money.
There are flaws with Flo’s plan, however, including the fact that for years T.C. has been paying creditors with fake notes called “T.C.’s.” When Flo threatens Vance’s control of the ranch, Vance schemes with banker Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), whose father’s land was stolen by T.C., to buy up the notes and take over the Furies.
There are subplots aplenty, with Vance being attracted to Rip, while in turn she’s loved by an old friend, Juan (Gilbert Roland). The fact Juan is an Hispanic “squatter” on the ranch is a strike against their relationship being anything permanent, and it also seems that Juan’s love isn’t exciting enough for Vance.
On that note, in addition to her oddly possessive, physical relationship with her father, Vance has a masochistic streak and seems to enjoy being abused by Rip. A scene where she invites Rip to hit her is an eye-popper. Indeed, Vance’s relationships with both her father and Rip are such that I’m frankly amazed it all was passed by the censors in 1950.
Charles Schnee’s screenplay for this 109-minute film was based on a novel by Niven Busch, who himself wrote the dark, florid screenplays for Duel in the Sun (1946) and Pursued (1947). Touches of those films, including an unusual familial relationship and deadly love, are apparent in The Furies — which, like Pursued, deserves to be called “Western film noir.”
The Furies has very stylized dialogue and staging every bit as over the top as Duel in the Sun, though the film it reminded me of most closely was the later Johnny Guitar (1954). My first viewing of both The Furies and Johnny Guitar left me thinking “This movie is very strange…but I think I like it.”
The Furies was one of three Westerns directed by Mann which were released in 1950; the first was the classic Winchester ’73 (1950) with James Stewart, and the other was the well-regarded Devil’s Doorway (1950) starring Robert Taylor as a Native American dealing with racism in the post Civil War West.
Having seen many Mann films, including all of his Westerns with Stewart, the rather different, over-the-top style of The Furies was surprising to me, though no less enjoyable. The story comes off as a cross between Shakespearean tragedy and high melodrama.
Stanwyck is excellent as the restless, unhappy Vance, who wants three things: Her father, the ranch, and Rip, and she has no intention of sharing. Her physical reaction when she realizes the extent of Flo’s plotting is a stunner; even more stunning is there’s never any mention of involving the sheriff, even when the characters are away from T.C.’s ranching kingdom.
Corey is good as the edgy Rip, who’s seemingly unmoved by Vance’s love and does quite a bit of plotting of his own. Corey’s restrained, rather withdrawn style here works for their relationship, though at times I wished the role were played by someone who struck more sparks with Stanwyck.
The sprawling story doesn’t make quite enough room for the wonderful Roland, and my only real criticism of the film is the disturbing way his storyline came to an end. No more will be said on that point to avoid spoilers, but I’ll be fast-forwarding past that sequence next time I see the film.
Anderson — who also appeared in the previously mentioned Pursued — couldn’t be better as Flo, who freely admits she’s in her relationship with T.C. not just for love, but for the money, which makes life much more pleasant. She’s calculating, certainly, yet not really mean about it; she seems to genuinely like T.C., and the consolation prize she offers Vance for taking over her role at the ranch is a “grand tour” of Europe. Flo, like others, doesn’t count on just how far a Jeffords will go to have what they want, with tragic consequences.
Huston is annoying as the cantankerous T.C., but then I suppose he’s meant to be. The fine cast is rounded out by Thomas Gomez, Wallace Ford, John Bromfield, Albert Dekker, Blanche Yurka, Louis Jean Heydt, Frank Ferguson, Myrna Dell, Movita, and Beulah Bondi in a small but wonderful role as a banker’s wife.
The black and white photography was by Victor Milner, along with the uncredited uncredited Lee Garmes. The score was by Franz Waxman, with costumes by Edith Head. Hal B. Wallis produced for Paramount Pictures.
Stanwyck is greatly loved for her roles in crime films, dramas, and comedies alike, but as these three films illustrate, she also had a wonderful run in Westerns. I recommend all three Stanwyck films I’ve reviewed this year for excellent viewing.
The Furies is available on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection.
– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns. She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals. Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.
Laura, you wrote a really good write-up of THE FURIES(filmed 1949, released 1950), which I enjoyed reading. Too me, THE FURIES is a movie that once you view it, you’ll never forget it. I liked your statement of, “My first viewing of both The Furies and Johnny Guitar left me thinking ‘This movie is very strange…but I think I like it.'” Yes, it does seem to be a strange movie, but I think that is what makes this movie entertaining, as all get out. I so agree with your description of the movie as a, “…cross between Shakespearean tragedy and high melodrama.” In my opinion, that is what makes it so entertainingly good. The cast is top-notch and they give their all.
THE FURIES was shown a lot on tv, in my neck of the woods, during the 1970’s on Memphis, Tennessee’s WHBQ Channel 13 and later on WREG Channel 3. I first caught up with it on WHBQ Channel 13’s DIALING FOR DOLLARS MOVIE in 1976. This sprawling Western involving a clash of wills of everyone concerned, especially between a tyrannical New Mexico cattle king(Walter Huston) and his equally strong and furious daughter(Barbara Stanwyck) is well worth viewing, in my opinion. I also recommend reading Niven Busch’s psychological novel THE FURIES(1948), which the movie is taken from.
Barbara Stanwyck loved to make Western Movies and it was her favorite movie genre. In an interview, she was asked why she liked to make Westerns and she replied, “You get to be outdoors, ride horses, and shoot guns.”
I look forward to your next write-up and I hope 2023 is a very good year for you and your family.
Walter, thank you so much for your extended comments. THE FURIES is definitely memorable! I’m curious what I’ll think of it next time, knowing what to expect. That helped me to enjoy JOHNNY GUITAR even more — but the leads in that one are much more sympathetic. Not the case in THE FURIES…
It’s always fun to hear your memories of where you first saw a particular movie, as I can still recall the channels where I met certain classic films for the first time in So. CA. Thank you also for recommending the book!
Your comment on Barbara Stanwyck is a good reminder that I was touched a few years ago to learn she asked that her ashes be scattered at Lone Pine, where she worked on Westerns and where I’ve had many pleasant hours taking in the scenery.
Best wishes for 2023,
Huston’s last film, and he had one of the great final lines of a career. “There’ll never be another like me.”
And thus far, there hasn’t been.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Mickey.
I’m fortunate to have a number of Walter Huston films ahead of me to see for the first time. In the last handful of years I finally made the acquaintance of DODSWORTH (1936).
I had never seen this film until buying the Criterion disc last year, so have only watched once. I found it uneven and, at times, disturbing, but still fascinating.
Walter Huston, as usual, is strong (bordering on over-the-top) but that reflects the power-seeking, and achieving, character who serves no one but himself (even his children are second priority). Stanwick is (rightly so) the center of attention, and shows her father’s gumption, but also times of vulnerability. Wendell Corey plays subdued/restrained, as is typical of his roles, but with a slight dangerous edge which he emphasized more so in Desert Fury. I think Gilbert Roland is good, although his character is a bit limited – could have used a little more dimension. The supporting cast is good, and the cinematography is solid.
Criterion included the original novel with its release, which I have been trying to slog my way through, as, to me, the text is a bit meandering.
Like you, I preferred Forty Guns, but still found this film interesting and worthwhile (even if it was uncomfortable).
Thank you for your comments, Shawn. I think we saw this film much the same way, including the underuse of the excellent Gilbert Roland. I wish there had been more room for his character.
Yes, this one is definitively loony. One of those overheated “psycho-sexual” Westerns, whatever that exactly means. It has a great cast. I like it, though like you, my favorite is Forty Guns.
The censors must have been on an extended coffee break the day this movie went through the production board. Vance’s relationship with Rip is, erm, interesting. The problem is he’s played by Wendell Corey. I’ve said it many times before, Corey is a good actor, I like him, but he’s not leading man material. This throws the movie slightly off-balance. Unfortunately, Gilbert Roland is “friend-zoned”. Roland and Corey should have switched roles.
Margot, I chuckled over your comment on the censors going on “an extended coffee break.” Truth!
What a very interesting idea suggesting that Corey and Roland could have switched roles. I can see it working.
A child’s garden of mythological Greek verses.
This is a film in which Wendell Corey has been cast as someone equally or more attractive than Gilbert Roland, with Barbara Stanwyck married to Robert Taylor. The right guy.
Barry, I’m not quite sure what you mean exactly. Could you elaborate?
Robert Taylor is the prototype for Rip. He was also Stanwyck’s husband at the time. Gilbert Roland is not only more attractive than Corey, but he also plays the only character one can identify with; the others are all vicious nuts, Woke morons running wild. Admire them? Despise them. Oh, and if not Robert Taylor, there are other viable candidates.
Hi everyone! I’ll be answering all these great comments at more length soon, but for this morning I’ll jump in on this — although, as I wrote, I felt as though the actor playing Rip needed more chemistry with Stanwyck, at the same time he’s far from a conventional hero; the movie can’t decide if he’s hero, villain, or something in between (I guess it ends up the latter). Rip and Vance’s relationship is pretty odd, at times even unpleasant, with the sadomasochistic overtones. I wonder if Corey playing this sort of off-kilter character fits in that sense, rather than a more conventional leading man?
That’s not to say Taylor couldn’t have done well in the role; I’ve often said I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves as a fine actor.
I do certainly agree with Barry that Roland plays the only character one can identify with — which makes the end of his character’s storyline all the worse. I don’t think I’d describe the other characters as woke in this setting — I think I’d go with simply evil.
Very smart, Laura. The Woke reference is personal as I consider evil and Woke synonymous
A very enjoyable in-depth review, Laura, of a film that warrants it. I first saw “THE FURIES” many years ago on TV and found it really strange, even a tad disappointing, probably in contrast to Mann’s westerns with James Stewart.
I rewatched it within the past year and felt quite differently this time. For a start, I knew what to expect now and secondly I have in recent years discovered the films Walter Huston starred in during the 1930s and appreciated what a fine actor he was. Contrast “A HOUSE DIVIDED” (1931), “LAW AND ORDER” (1932) & “DODSWORTH”(1936) to get the range of his acting skills.
This film definitely requires more than one viewing to properly appreciate it.
Jerry, I was very interested to read about your initial reaction to THE FURIES and how you found it when you returned to it. It’s fascinating what a new context can sometimes do for a film, isn’t it? I was also interested to read that knowing what you expect helped you appreciate it more, as I’ve sometimes had that experience myself.
I agree that this movie is over-the-top, but enjoyable. It is confusing though–are you supposed to hate T.C. or love him? What he does to Gilbert is inexcusable and I kind of hated Barbara Stanwyck for forgiving him. The casting of Wendell Corey nearly ruins the picture. Why didn’t they cast William Holden or Robert Mitchum or Gregory Peck? Good grief. I reviewed the film here: https://dualpersonalities.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/friday-movie-pick/
Thank you for sharing your review, Katie. I smiled over your description of the plot as “a bit disturbed.”
I agree, the part with Gilbert Roland was just…ugh.
I can’t really see Holden as Rip, but Mitchum…I can see that one! Some interesting casting ideas being shared here, I’m enjoying that. Thanks!
As a great admirer of Anthony Mann I do not admire EVERYTHING that he has done and THE FURIES is one of those films. I think for the same reason I cannot get along with THE HALLIDAY BRAND another dark.brooding intense Noir Western.
I have all of the Mann Stewart Westerns on Blu Ray apart from WINCHESTER’73 which deserves the Criterion treatment. I also have THE LAST FRONTIER which I like a lot and CIMARRON which I feel is somewhat underrated despite the fact the film was taken out of Mann’s hands-he was replaced by Charles Walters of all people. I am awaiting THE TIN STAR and DEVIL’S DOORWAY to appear on Blu Ray.
I’d love to get Laura’s take on MAN OF THE WEST a film I find seriously flawed mainly down to the casting.
THE FURIES is the only Mann Western that I dislike enough not to include it in my collection.
I’m also a fan of Mann’s Noirs and only recently-to my shame caught up with SIDE STREET which is a knockout. I also sourced a rare early Mann film STRANGE IMPERSONATION which I loved especially as it featured Brenda Marshall and Hillary Brooke.
I have no problems with either THE VIOLENT MEN or FORTY GUNS.
Off topic and following Laura’s fondness for obscure mainly B Movie actresses last year I “discovered” Jean Rogers (never been much of a Flash Gordon fan I’m afraid.)
I caught up with BACKLASH (1947) which I thought excellent and HEAVEN WITH A BARBED WIRE FENCE which marked the debut of Glenn Ford and Richard Conte.
I thought Rogers’ performance as a (sort of ) Femme Fatale in BACKLASH was excellent contrasted widely with her Dust Bowl Drifter in “HEAVEN”
I have another Rogers film on order FIGHTING BACK which I’m really looking forward to.
John great to hear from you, and I’m really interested to read your take and that this one didn’t work for you. It’s interesting you mention THE LAST FRONTIER as of all the Mann Westerns I’ve seen I’ve been thinking it comes closest to THE FURIES in terms of a fair amount of strangeness built in — in different ways, but it’s there.
I’ve been meaning to get to MAN OF THE WEST for quite a while! I got to see STRANGE IMPERSONATION a couple times and thought it was great fun.
As you note, I have a longstanding interest in actresses best known for “B” films and I like Jean Rogers, though I haven’t seen her in nearly enough. Thanks for sharing your Rogers viewing!
Wendell Corey was probably being built into a leading man by Hal Wallis who had him under a personal contract. You would think old Hal knew better than that.
True. He was paired again with Stanwyck in Thelma Jordan. We have the same problem as in The Furies.
He was also cast as leading man in Hell’s Half Acre.
Corey was best in supporting roles or when playing (slightly) psychotic characters, as in Desert Fury and The Killer is Loose.
Good points about Corey, Barry and Margot. I think I liked Corey best as the detective in THE ACCUSED.
He did do well as off-kilter types. Maybe that is why I’m not entirely dissatisfied with him in THE FURIES, despite feeling a lack of chemistry with Stanwyck. Rip is definitely a little odd…
Good choice, Laura, but I like Corey best in Rear Window and followed closely by The Wild North.
Those are both excellent Corey performances, Barry! Corey and Stewart Granger are really good together in THE WILD NORTH and REAR WINDOW is a classic.
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Hi,Laura – your review is balanced and thoughtful but I think you have underrated The Furies somewhat. My jaw dropped when I first saw this and subsequent viewings led me to post the following review of it a couple of years ago:
This is an extraordinary Western, at times electrifying in its storytelling. It is about love turned to hatred and the search for revenge.
At its heart is a complex and intense relationship between a father and his daughter. At times they look at each other like lovers, at other times taunt each other and compete for the upper hand. The man’s son is an irrelevance to him, his daughter the sole focus of his attention. Most of all, though, he loves power.
She has a relationship with an older man, a squatter on her father’s vast property, who is like a father to her except that they share kisses which seem to go beyond the platonic.
She also develops a relationship with a gambler and businessman which looks like love but has a violent edge to it, kisses often alternating with slaps. Most of all, though, he loves money.
There are two acts of savagery in the film which shock the viewer and illustrate the brutality and ruthlessness to which the perpetrators are willing to go to hurt their enemies. The Director does not dwell on these acts – one occurs offscreen – but this does not lessen their impact.
The director (Anthony Mann), scriptwriter (Charles Schnee) and cinematographer (Victor Milner) have created a film that is noirish, at times an operatic melodrama, but never less than gripping and intriguing. Mann frames the story against a huge, rugged landscape and the night time sequences, rich with moody cloudscapes, are striking.
The father and daughter characters are brilliantly played by Walter Huston and Barbara Stanwyck respectively, both infusing subtle layers and complexity into their portrayals. Another exceptional performer is Judith Anderson, who holds her own in the scenes with the other two formidable actors and breaks the heart in her final scene with Huston.
The film is let down by its finale, whose sentimentality does not fit with the key characterisations so deeply developed in all that has proceeded.
The Criterion edition includes a copy of the fine novel by Niven Busch on which the movie was based. Reading it strengthens one’s appreciation of Mann’s artistry in turning the essence of the book into a great visual experience.
‘The Furies’ was released in 1950 and also that year came ‘Winchester 73’, the first of Mann’s superb Westerns starring James Stewart. The former film loses nothing in the comparison
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on THE FURIES. It’s always fun to “compare notes” with other film fans on our reactions to movies!