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The Criterion Collection presents

The Furies (1950)

"You stop telling lies about me, and I'll stop telling the truth about you."- Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey)

Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston
Other Stars: Wendell Corey, Judith Anderson, Gilbert Roland, Beulah Bondi, Albert Dekker, Blanche Yurka
Director: Anthony Mann

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:49m:05s
Release Date: 2008-06-24
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

"Freudian westerns" flourished during the 1940s and 1950s, spicing up an often stodgy genre with welcome ambiguity and deviation. Twisted longings, unresolved emotional issues, and hidden vulnerabilities pervade these subversive sagebrush sagas, and enhance such archetypal western components as sweeping vistas, rugged characters, and themes of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong. 1946's Duel in the Sun was perhaps the first entry in this fascinating subgenre, and its author, Niven Busch, quickly capitalized on its success with a richly entertaining follow-up, The Furies. With hints of incest and interracial romance, the film embraces taboo themes, but director Anthony Mann masterfully tempers the melodrama so it never eclipses the western flavor, and the result is a riveting portrait of greed, desire, manipulation, and revenge.

Barbara Stanwyck stars as the fiery Vance Jeffords, who dutifully oversees The Furies ranch in 1870s New Mexico during her widowed father's lengthy absences. Vance worships patriarch T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston)—perhaps a bit too fervently—but the two often clash, and their hot-headed nature fuels many a hot-blooded conflict. He disapproves of her "friendship" with a Mexican squatter (Gilbert Roland) who lays claim to his land, while she can't stomach his betrothal to a fading California socialite (Judith Anderson) who seems determined to usurp her position. Such fierce jealousies unravel Vance and T.C.'s abnormally close ties, and pit the two against each other in a battle royal for supremacy that drives each to the edge.

The Furies appeals to a wide audience by adroitly weaving compelling domestic drama and incisive noir elements into its western framework. The taut psychological tension builds from the opening frames, but passions never boil over until a shocking incident midway through the film. Those expecting a brawny, action-packed shoot-'em-up may be frustrated by all the angst, yet no matter how fraught the interpersonal squabbling becomes, Mann makes sure we never forget we're watching a western. He dutifully adheres to the genre's conventions, employs dusty Arizona locations to pump up authenticity, and treats his Mexican characters with surprising sensitivity—a brave choice in a prejudicial era. Mann has helmed some of Hollywood's most renowned westerns (Winchester '73 and Bend of the River among them), but his invisible style keeps him largely—and wrongly—under the radar.

The fine cast, however, can't escape notice, and their uniformly excellent work keeps us enthralled. Although Stanwyck had already appeared in such outdoorsy fare as Annie Oakley, Union Pacific, and California, The Furies marks the star's first true foray into a genre for which she soon would become the female poster child. Her affection for the western is immediately apparent and she attacks her role with customary grit, displaying enviable equestrian skills and relishing her action sequences. Still, Stanwyck is most impressive in her dramatic scenes, locking horns with Huston (who would sadly die shortly after the film was completed) and sparring with Anderson. Rarely was Stanwyck given the opportunity to play opposite such esteemed performers, and she brings her "A" game to the table. Her exchanges with Huston crackle with intensity, and her raw emotion nicely offsets Anderson's airs. At 43, Stanwyck also cleverly embodies Busch's headstrong heroine, who's a mere 19 in the author's novel. Instead of playing Vance as a kittenish, Scarlett O'Hara-like vixen, the actress chooses instead to use her own maturity to add layers to the character and bite to her love scenes with Roland and Wendell Corey (who aids Vance in her plot to topple T.C.). Her advanced age also makes Vance's obsessive relationship with her father even more disturbing.

Huston, fresh from his Oscar-winning performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, takes obvious delight in the irascible T.C., chewing the scenery without descending into caricature. The impeccable Anderson underplays to perfection, and Roland sinks his teeth into his role, filing a tough yet heartfelt portrayal. There's also a wonderful bit from Blanche Yurka (the evil Madame Defarge in the original A Tale of Two Cities), who wordlessly skulks around during much of the film—á la Gale Sondergaard in The Letter —but makes a big impression at the denouement.

The Furies is far from a typical western, but its bold themes, masterful performances, and expert direction make it a timeless and memorable genre entry. Stanwyck and Huston ignite plenty of sparks, and their terrific chemistry propels this involving, textured film.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Criterion Collection has lavished considerable care on the transfer, scrubbing away "thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches" to produce a smooth, beautifully contrasted image. The Oscar-nominated cinematography is well rendered, from the vast expanses of dusty plain to the ornate interiors of the Jeffords ranch. Blacks are stable and rich, and a wide grayscale provides depth and texture, especially during night scenes. Close-ups contain an acute level of detail, and enough grain remains to preserve the film-like feel. Occasionally, a few faint vertical lines can be detected, but their fleeting appearance will only distract the most discriminating eye. This is another standout effort from Criterion, and the crisp transfer perfectly complements the taut, involving story.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono track has also undergone a much-needed makeover, with technicians erasing almost all pops and crackles, and substantially reducing hiss. The crackling dialogue, however, is always clear and comprehendible, while Franz Waxman's rousing score nicely fills the room. Some fine bass accents also enliven track, and gunshots possess plenty of pop.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film and western historian Jim Kitses
Packaging: Boxed Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage interview with Walter Huston
  2. Stills gallery
  3. Niven Busch's original novel
Extras Review: This classy release comes packaged in a hefty box set that includes the DVD, a handsomely produced booklet featuring an essay, interview with director Anthony Mann, and rare photos, and—best of all—a paperback edition of Niven Busch's original novel. The extras are equally attractive and feature an astute, articulate, and probing audio commentary by film historian and western expert Jim Kitses. Kitses authoritatively analyzes the plot, characters, and setting, and cites the differences between Niven Busch's novel and Charles Schnee's screenplay. He calls The Furies "underrated and neglected," and works hard to right that wrong. Although at times he sounds overly scripted, Kitses presents an eloquent monologue that's chock full of interesting observations and well worth your time.

The video supplements begin with a vintage 1967 interview with director Anthony Mann for the BBC series, The Movies. The 17-minute Mann segment, entitled Actions Speak Louder Than Words, gives the director a forum to discuss his early career, cinematic influences, how any story can be adapted for the western genre, and the necessity of violence in great drama. Unfortunately, Mann does not address The Furies directly, but his articulate speech and passion for his vocation make this an enlightening and enjoyable profile of an often overlooked craftsman.

Up next, the rare nine-minute short, Intimate Interviews, gives us an up-close-and-personal—if slightly goofy—look at actor Walter Huston from 1931. Dorothy West asks the stilted poolside questions, which touch upon Huston's stage roles, his views about acting, and how "talking pictures" are made. Nina Mann Interview runs 17 minutes, and allows Mann's daughter to salute her famous father and analyze the ambiguities of his westerns, especially The Furies. She also addresses Mann's upbringing in a California commune (and how it influenced his life and work), his love of location shooting, and his respect and affinity for actors.

The film's original theatrical trailer and a still gallery featuring 20 black-and-white production images complete the extras package.

Extras Grade: A

Final Comments

Criterion at last gives The Furies its due, with a comprehensive DVD package that features a first-class transfer, clean audio, and plenty of absorbing supplements. Though it may not be Anthony Mann's most famous western, The Furies ranks among the director's best work, and its muscular storytelling, mesmerizing portrayals, and Freudian undertones keep it vital and gripping more than a half century after its initial release. Highly recommended.

David Krauss 2008-07-09