Anthony Mann cut his teeth in movies directing some of the best "film noir" the genre had to offer.
Movies like T-MEN, RAW DEAL, SIDE STREET and DESPERATE showed his strengths in composition, cinematography and gritty realism in his storytelling (if at times a little uneven). However...Mann really hit his stride when he began directing the "western". Here Mann is in his element.
1950 was the year that made Anthony Mann a directing icon. Filmed before 1950's WINCHESTER 73, yet released after is THE FURIES (1950) This is a deliciously demented mixture of film noir and classic western elements.
Walter Huston plays T.C Jeffords, the widowed, ruthless, cold blooded, yet charismatic cattle baron. Barbara Stanwyck plays Hustons spoiled, headstrong tomboy daughter Vance Jeffords. While he has a son (played by John Bromfield) Huston has chosen Stanwyck to be the eventual ruler of his empire once he has retired. However...after being away on a long trip, Huston returns with a new love interest, the more "society friendly" Flo (played with great complexity by Judith Anderson)
Flo and Vance butt heads and when it is clear that she is jockeying for control of the ranch and trying to edge out Vance, Stanwyck reacts with a disturbing act of violence that has horrific results. Stanwyck flees the ranch and takes refuge with her long time friend played by Gilbert Roland. Roland is a squatter on Hustons land and in retaliation, Huston reacts with an act of violence of his own to spite Stanwyck.
In the aftermath, Stanwyck spits out the most memorable line of the movie at Huston
"now I hate you in a way I didn't believe a human could hate. Take a good long look at me T.C. You won't see me again until the day I take your world away from you!"
And thus begins an epic clash between father and daughter.
As with all of the Mann westerns, the terrain figures prominently in THE FURIES just as much as in Winchester 73, The Man From Laramie and Man Of The West. Unlike Ford, who emphasized and incorporated the beautiful vistas and sweeping grandeur of the southwest, Mann goes for something different. Mann sets his stage in desolate, remote, dangerously rocky hills. He goes for an almost claustrophobic feel. Bullets richochet off boulders, horse and riders struggle on unsure, gravely ground and rocks and boulders tumble dangerously down hillsides.
In a Mann western, the terrain is just as dangerous and deadly an opponent as any black hat wearing villain.
The film also has a memorable performance by Wendell Corey as a gambling house owner whose father was cheated out of his land by Huston, and who may or may not be an ally of Stanwyck. Also of note is Thomas Gomez as Hustons gleefully evil henchman "El Tigre".
It's logical that THE FURIES and Winchester 73 would incorporate a lot of noir style in them as that was Mann's forte prior. But THE FURIES mixes the two genres to the best effect I think. It has possibly some of the best cinematography I've ever seen in a B&W western, Red River and Winchester 73 being the possible exceptions.
Again, like most Mann westerns, there is a "King Lear" style father figure in Huston. Stanwyck has a wonderful and demented strength and stands toe to toe with the imposing, wiley Huston all the way through. Corey is smartly understated next to these two titans. An excellent film, a great western and on my own personal top 20 greatest movies list.
I suggest getting the Criterion dvd of the movie. It has a great commentary that analyzes practically every frame of the film, an entertaining, fact filled booklet with interesting analysis of the film as well as an unpublished interview with Mann. There is a 1930s era interview with Huston at his home. The set also comes with a new printing of the Niven Busch novel on which the film is based. It is shown in its original aspect ratio.
Mann has always seemed to me to be the bridge between Fords more traditional vision of the west and the bleak, amoral, bloody violence of Peckinpaw. There would be no Peckinpaw without Mann, but there would be no classic Mann westerns without Ford. While The Furies is not as entertaining as the collaborations between Mann and Stewart, it is one heck of a ride and definately worth buying just to see the excellent treatment that Criterion gives this, until now, rarely seen little gem.