Directed by Anthony Mann
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 109 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: June 24, 2008
Review Date: June 18, 2008
An epic western tricked out in the garb of a mere oater, Anthony Mann’s The Furies is one terrific movie. With a free spirited daughter (in the mold of Scarlett O’Hara except out west) of a land baron, some gorgeous outdoor cinematography that captures the grit and glory of the 1870s, and a serpentine plot adorned with some of the most poetic language ever fashioned for a western, The Furies is one film that will be hard to forget.
Vance Jeffords (Barbara Stanwyck) is the daughter of land rich but money poor territory baron (Walter Huston) who calls his land empire The Furies, and she's the apple of her father’s eye. She alone can get away with entering her late mother’s bedroom, raiding her closet and wearing her clothes and jewels in her father’s presence. Her father merely encourages her zest for life and high spirits. She’s also wrestling with two loves, neither of whom would be approved by her father: Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland) whose poor family has been squatting on The Furies for years, and Rip Barrow (Wendell Corey), a local banker who also had a strip of land incorporated into The Furies and who’s desperate to get it back. Vance has always had the promise of her father of being given The Furies when he’s too old to maintain it, but suddenly an interloper enters the scene, a seductress (Judith Anderson) who makes no bones about wanting the money and power that such a vast territory would bring her as the wife of the elder Jeffords. Vance suddenly finds herself on the defensive if she’s to retain the empire she’s worked her entire life to maintain and sustain.
The title of the film, of course, offers multiple interpretations since fury is built into the makeups of several of the film’s principal characters. In fact, there isn’t anyone in the film whose emotions don’t run hot at some point during the film’s 109 minutes, and watching these conflicts work themselves out makes the film a fascinating exercise in psychological maneuvering from many angles. Charles Schnee’s screenplay adapted from the novel by Niven Busch brings a grandeur to the speech that’s relatively rare in westerns, but for some reason, it doesn’t seem odd here. Anthony Mann moves things along with such forward momentum that even the floweriest of passages moves right by without seeming out of place or eccentric.
The cast is made up of some of Hollywood’s greatest character stars. This was Walter Huston’s last film, and he goes out at his zenith with a remarkable performance of sly cunning and making a huge impact. No less powerful is Barbara Stanwyck even if she was perhaps a few years too old for the role. Her directness and fiery demeanor made her perfect for westerns, and she excels as both a tough customer and an alluring woman. Judith Anderson’s sweetly calculating Flo is one of her career highpoints, too, as oily as a snake and just as venomous. The always wonderful Beulah Bondi has a couple of memorable scenes in a powerful woman-behind-the-man role while Gilbert Roland has some earthy suavity to offer as Vance’s best friend and soulmate. As for Wendell Corey, he’s the wink link in the cast, a rather colorless and unappealing leading man here when someone with more fire (perhaps Jeff Chandler who was busy at the time with Broken Arrow) might have been a better match with the tough yet tender Stanwyck.
At the time, The Furies wasn’t much thought of (Broken Arrow, Winchester '73, and The Gunfighter all got more attention in 1950), but today The Furies is equally the match for any of them. A compelling story, fascinating performances, and awesome location photography makes The Furies a definite ride worth taking.
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented here slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s trademark style. The grayscale is mostly magnificent in these images with rich inky blacks and mostly excellent shadow detail. Only occasionally do the blacks get crushed, and there are a couple of instances of what appeared to be edge enhancement. Sharpness and detail are first rate with the light grain of the image retained for a very film like transfer. The film has otherwise been cleaned to near-perfection. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is strong and clear with only a low level of hiss in the quietest scenes to spoil the mood. ADR is also noticeable in a couple of instances, and the sound is light on bass, typical for films of the era.
Film historian Jim Kitses contributes a very scholarly critical analysis in his audio commentary. Though excellent information is imparted in this critique, the speaker’s conversational style is dry and a bit halting. The information is worth it, but it was a bit of a strain to sit through the entire commentary.
“Action Speaks Louder Than Words” is a 1967 BBC television interview with director Anthony Mann conducted while he was working on what turned out to be his final film, A Dandy in Aspic. The 4:3 17-minute interview deals mainly with his early theatrical career as an actor and director and breaking into the film business with David O. Selznick. He also discusses themes in many of his westerns though The Furies is never mentioned specifically.
“Intimate Interview: Walter Huston” is a 1931 interview short subject filmed for theaters with interviewer Dorothy West talking with Walter Huston at his poolside. This 4:3 featurette runs 9 minutes.
Anthony Mann’s daughter Nina speaks for 17 ½ minutes on her father’s work, specifically The Furies and some of his larger scaled epics and westerns. It’s presented in anamorphic widescreen and was recorded in 2008.
The film’s theatrical trailer, in very damaged shape (showing all the more clearly what a beautiful job of cleaning the film for DVD presentation has been accomplished), runs 2 ¼ minutes in 4:3.
A stills gallery containing 20 black and white shots, mostly behind the scenes of the actors with one another, with the director, and with producer Hal Wallis, are available for browsing.
Included in the package is the entire 267-page novel The Furies by Niven Busch.
The package also contains a 36-page booklet offering stills from the film, an appreciation by film critic Robin Wood of Anthony Mann’s career and specifically The Furies, and a lengthy interview with Anthony Mann excerpted from a 1957 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma.
Some may find Mann’s style and Schnee’s language operatic in quality and ill-suited for a western, but I found The Furies mesmerizing. It’s a Criterion set that I can most definitely highly recommend.