21.5.13

I Don't Think I Like Being In Love. It Puts A Bit In My Mouth: The Furies (1950)

Anthony Mann's The Furies is easily the most richly shot films I have encountered in this marathon.  Somewhere between between the deep grays and blacks and the way shadows explode and evaporate in his wide shots it is hard not to fall in love with the seeming sumptuousness of the film.  Of course Anthony Mann who I first encountered, fittingly enough in a Film Noir course for his work Border Incident, creates a landscape in his films that while beautiful, represents a decaying and fractured society and extends to reflect the psyche of those individuals existing in the space.  In fact, just like the previously mentioned Border Incident I would be inclined to call this film something of a film noir text, although it is also a woman's melodrama, in that Barbara Stanwyck whose presence alone is almost its own film noir trope, is playing a character who falls foolishly and blindly in love, an act that proves unusual for the actress who made a career as a femme fatale.  In its modernist blending of genres to create something spectacular, The Furies is a piece that is as captivating and it is jarring, the unusual soundtrack is more reminiscent of an Igor Stravinsky number than the swelling and sweeping violins of the traditional melodrama.  Everything about The Furies begs to be heavily considered and analyzed, no character throughout the film is purely of one mind frame or ethical framing, often contradicting their previous actions or betraying the very elements of respectablity which the western genre so heavily hinges itself.  The films possesses pseudo-villians, anti-heroes and even a reconsideration of who can occupy the space of such a good and evil dichotomy.  Sure the narrative gets a bit convoluted at the end and sloppily ties itself back together, but it is a work that wants to embellish its own fractured style, at times the slightest of alterations to the focus of the frame makes the scene blurry in the most inconspicuous of manners, nonetheless, suggesting a frame of reference that is, like the characters of The Furies, melting and sweating under its own heated paranoia.  Were this film not to be so heavily invested in the use of natural sets, one could easily place this among the greatest of expressionist masterworks.

The Furies, focuses on the farm and land for which the title borrows its name.  The land is located in the New Mexico territory and is compared to being a feudal ran area, which is fitting because the patron of the land T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston) navigates the world as though he had a certain degree of regal authority about himself.  T.C., as the narrative establishes, is far from in control of his situation and indeed owes a considerable amount of money to various lenders, while also struggling to keep a group of previous residents turned squatters from occupying his land.  All these issues come to the forefront while T.C.'s own daughter Vance (Barbara Stanwyck) attempts to assert her own presence on The Furies, hoping one day to own the entire land for herself, without the societally assumed ties of another male figure, preferably a husband.  To make matters slightly more convaluted Vance also has a strong relationship with one of the squatters named Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland) for whom her father does not approve, nor does the larger extent of society.  In enters Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey) a wealthy banker and loan shark, who has a considerable grudge with T.C. over name calling and wrongs in the past.  Yet, Rip is a powerful man and could free T.C. from his economic woes by marrying Vance, who takes an instant liking to debonaire gentleman.  Of course, Rip is far from Vance's ideal man because he is neither submissive nor interested in marrying her, even taking a bribe gladly not to mary her from T.C.  During her struggle to obtain the reigns of The Furies, Vance is blocked by T.C.'s mistress of sorts Flo (Judith Anderson) who has her own vision of what the ranch will become, a notion so infuriating to Vance that she violently attacks Flo with a pair of scissors.  After a final dispute over land, T.C. kills Juan and his men, pushing Vance to the edge, allowing her to remove all barriers from her desire to overtake her disillusioned father, using his blind economic ambitions against him and eventually tricking him into submission, an act that results in T.C. congratulating his daughter and allowing her control over the land.  Yet T.C.'s previous egregious behavior inevitably leads to him being gunned down by the remaining members of the Herrera family and act that leads Vance and her now fianc√© Rip to plan on naming their first child after her late father.



It is no mystery that Westerns often borrow their narratives from other well established literary or filmic works, in many cases films borrow directly from Wagnerian operas or from classic samurai flicks.  Anthony Mann, on the other hand, had a very well-documented and feverish desire to create the perfect King Lear adaptation.  To a degree The Furies is almost a King Lear adaptation, in the blind patriarchal ambition and it is in this particular devotion to Shakespearian figures that one can find western tropes within The Furies being embrace and rejected, at times, simultaneously.  The King Lear figure is decidedly a masculine one, and those he is attempting to pass his land along to are decidedly male as well.  Mann in his quest for the appropriate replacement for the figure, creates an absurdly blinded vision of Lear that is highly metaphorical and not the literal "let him smell his way to Dover" one of the play.  The absurdity is no less present though, particularly in his refusal to allow his daughter to run The Furies despite a clear and established ability to do so successfully, it is this very issue of gender that both bends the idea of domestic roles, as well as the figures within the classical text.  Shakespeare who was no denier of gender bending, think The Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it would not be unreasonable to consider a version of Lear where the son's are replaced by daughters, or in this case at least one daughter who is attempting to assert herself as a masculine figure.  Stanwyck performs this role masterfully, moving through spaces in an erect and assertive manner, however, the narrative falters when she meets Rip who knocks down any assumptions she has about her ability to be a patriarchal figure and assert her authority.  This is perhaps where Mann loses his ability to commit to a real possibility for a new consideration of Lear.  What could have been a revolutionary statement of domesticity and classic adaptations flails in the end to tie up lose ends in a traditionalist notion, one that would allow for audiences to embrace the film without the confusion of a somewhat familiar story ending in a new way.  Ultimately, Mann succeeds more than he fails in his particular adaptation, it should just be noted that his reliance, even if minimal, on western genre tropes result in a failure to grasp the final rung of perfection in the films closing moments.

Key Scene:  The shootout between T.C. and the Herrera family is wonderful and really speaks to the psychological divisions of the film, as well as showing the wonderful way a world was filmed under Mann's direction.

This is a must grab, almost solely because Criterion puts more effort into a transfer and supplements than is remotely necessary.  The article provided is especially excellent, not to mention the inclusion of the book for which this film was based.

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