Sunday, May 13, 2012


Walter Huston returns to the family ranch in New Mexico, called the Furies, on the occasion of his son's marriage, and also to shore up the ranch's economic problems.  The son is weak and colorless, but Huston's daughter (Barbara Stanwyck) is a strong, take-control type who runs the ranch in her father's absence.  In order to get a bank loan, Huston must evict a group of Mexican-American squatters who have lived on his land for years.  Unfortunately, one of those squatters is the hunky Gilbert Roland, whom Stanwyck has been "friends" with for years, so she insists that Roland's family be allowed to stay.  Stanwyck's official love interest is Wendell Corey, a banker whose father was killed by Huston, but in addition to the flirtation between Stanwyck and Roland, there is obviously a strange passion between father and daughter which borders uncomfortably on the physical.  Soon, Huston brings his mistress (Judith Anderson) to the ranch, intending to marry her and make her head of the family, which sends Stanwyck into a rage; when the gloating Anderson patronizingly tells Stanwyck that she'll always be welcome at the ranch, Stanwyck throws a pair of scissors at her face, disfiguring her for life.  Stanwyck then puts into motion a plan to get hold of the ranch behind her father's back.

When critics talk about the "Freudian western," they're usually referring to JOHNNY GUITAR with Joan Crawford, but this one is actually a better example: the plot, settings, and characters are more consistent and coherent, and the tone less campy, though still with over-the-top elements that emphasize the Greek-tragedy aspect of the story (sadly, the redemptive ending chickens out from what should be a bloodbath).  Huston (in his last film) and Stanwyck (both pictured)  are absolutely pitch-perfect and their scenes together are superb.  Anderson and Roland are fine in their limited roles; the drippy Corey is the inevitable weak link--someone stronger and more charismatic would have amped up the sexual tension considerably.  Still, this overlooked gem is a must-see for film buffs, especially the great print available on DVD from Criterion.  [DVD]

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