Walter Huston (John’s father, in his final role) is a slightly less grotesquely comic version of Egbert in Ruggles of Red Gap, a rich, eccentric cowboy. His extremely strong-willed but beloved daughter Barbara Stanwyck (soon before Clash By Night) argues with him over practically everything, finally scheming to swindle him out of his land as revenge for an argument taken too far. She has a brother (John Bromfield) who is introduced at the beginning but practically disappears from the movie, since he’s a decent, unassuming fellow and Stanwyck and Huston are commanding our attention at all times.
Complicated, exquisitely shot and acted movie, obviously based on a novel (I can’t explain – it just smells novelistic). Stanwyck and Huston have a near-incestual rivalry. She loves Juan (Gilbert Roland, who played bandit The Cisco Kid in six movies) who lives illegally on Huston’s land, and Huston marries gold digger Flo (Judith Anderson, sinister housekeeper in Rebecca). But after Stanwyck stabs her new stepmother in the face with scissors (!), Huston has Juan killed. Katy and I lost track of exactly how Stanwyck then claimed possession of her father’s land. She cozied up to rich gambler Rip (Wendell Corey, Janet Leigh’s dull boyfriend in Holiday Affair) then bought up her father’s outstanding I.O.U.s around the country and used those as payment when he sold off his animals, but then how did that prevent the bank from repossessing the land?
This is the first movie I’ve seen by Mann, who made three other movies in 1950, at least two of them considered great classics. That’s just how it used to work.
R. Wood for Criterion:
All of Mann’s westerns—unlike, for example, John Ford’s—suggest deep psychological disturbance, but those currents never again manifest themselves as blatantly and explicitly as they do in The Furies. Mann’s westerns … show little interest in history or in mythology; they are grounded in a fallen world of existential struggle in which the villains often become the heroes’ dark shadows. Typically, when he shoots down his enemy, the Mann hero experiences not triumph but exhaustion, almost prostration, as if he had forfeited a part of himself, his manhood.