Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Barbara Stanwyck vs. Judith Anderson

If you've always wanted to see Barbara Stanwyck face off against Judith Anderson (it was the child actress playing Stanwyck's character who sent Anderson tumbling down the staircase in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers), the Criterion Collection is now giving you the chance to do just that: today they release Anthony Mann's The Furies on DVD.

Made in 1950, it was only Mann's second western (he'd go on to direct many more), and his background in film noir is wonderfully apparent throughout: This is one of the most shadowy westerns ever made. It's also one of the most melodramatic, which is why the casting is pitch-perfect.

Stanwyck plays Vance, the rather passionate daughter of cattle baron T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston, in what would be his final film), and given the bond the two of them share, it wouldn't be far-fetched to call this Electra: The Western. When Vance acquires a love interest in the form of Wendell Corey, T.C. can't help but meddle; what Vance does when her father brings Judith Anderson home goes far past meddling.

To describe The Furies as psychosexual is a bit like calling Cries & Whispers depressing -- it doesn't really tell you the half of it. Think of it as a kind of precursor to Johnny Guitar, the most gleefully perverse of all westerns, but with incest instead of lesbianism. (And before I get my wrist slapped for using the words lesbian and perverse in the same sentence, let me point out that I'm not the one who wrote the fucking movies. I could never write a western unless horses were suddenly equipped with air conditioning.) And with high-quality acting from Huston, Stanwyck and Anderson, none of whom lumber in front of the camera with a dazed "WTF?" look in their eyes a la Sterling Hayden.

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