Anthony Mann spent much of the 1940s directing tough noirs and most of the 1950s directing psychologically complex Westerns. Set on and around a sprawling Arizona ranch, The Furies appears to fall squarely into the latter camp, but it's an untraditional Western even by Mann's tradition-pushing standards. One of four Mann movies released in 1950—three of them Westerns—it's less concerned with gunfighters and the settling of the frontier than with the persistence of wildness even after civilization has set in.
Lorded over by T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston, in a memorable swan song), the eponymous cattle ranch dominates the land around it. Huston even has the power to issue his own currency—he calls his IOUs "TCs"—but some recall the less-than-friendly ways Huston conquered the land. Others, particularly a group of Hispanic squatters led by Gilbert Roland, suggest he never truly conquered the land at all. He's certainly never conquered his tough daughter, played by Barbara Stanwyck as a woman with as little time for traditional gender roles as Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar. The sexual confusion doesn't end there. "Freudian" doesn't begin to describe the undertones of Stanwyck's relationship with Huston. When she isn't kissing him on the lips, she's challenging his authority by hanging out with Roland or being courted by Wendell Corey, a gambler who lives only to recover land Huston took from his father.
The plot skips from simmering directly to boiling over. Taken, like the tonally similar Duel In The Sun, from a book by journalist-turned-novelist Niven Busch, The Furies has a tension that comes largely from power plays made by people who ostensibly love one another beneath all the suggestions of hate. Mann stages the few action setpieces effectively, but gets as much drama from the way Stanwyck throws herself at Huston, partly out of love, partly as a power play, and partly in pursuit of some desire that neither of them will admit to themselves. The reversals of fortune and family melodrama anticipate Giant, Dallas, and other glossy sagas to come, but Mann uses rawer material than they'd ever touch.
Key features: An audio commentary from Mann expert Jim Kitses, a vintage Mann interview, and Busch's novel in its entirety, in old-fashioned print form.