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The Furies

The Furies, 1950

An old rancher named TC (Walter Huston) owns a huge property in New Mexico knows as the Furies. He manages the property in part with his daughter, Vance (Barbara Stanwyck), who loves the land deeply. TC is constantly annoyed with the presence of squatters on the property, especially the Herrera family. Vance has a deep friendship with the eldest Herrera son, Juan (Gilbert Roland). But when TC begins to take action that will cut Vance out of her place on the ranch, he and Vance get into a serious conflict that only deepens as each of them digs their heels in deeper.

It is rare that I can truly identify a moment where a movie lost me, but in this case it is crystal clear. The first half of this film is amazing and I was totally in love with it aside from one element. But around the halfway point something happens and from there I watched the rest of the film with a mix of bafflement and slight disgust.

The first half of the movie is mostly a delight. Stanwyck and Huston have solid chemistry together as two people who are just as stubborn as each other and clearly love sparring with each other. I also really enjoyed the sequences between Vance and Juan--a great portrayal of a loving and respectful relationship between two people. Juan is in love with Vance, and she knows it, but he respects that she doesn't return his romantic feelings and the two are able to continue their friendship.

The one sour note for me in the first half was Vance's romantic pursuit of another main character, Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey). Rip believes that part of the Furies rightfully belongs to him and his family, and romancing Vance is a good way to get back at TC. It is easy to understand that Vance would need a strong man, and that in the mold of her father she might even prefer one who is slightly domineering. But there is a scene between Rip and Vance that really put me off. When he stands her up for dinner she goes to his home. And angry at her he grabs her by the hair, hits her, pushes her down, submerges her face in a basin of water, and calls her names. This really crossed a line for me, and watching Vance run after him like a kicked puppy was gross. There could have been a well-observed theme here about why Vance continues to like Rip, but the film never bothers to even attempt to explain. She just loves him, ya'll. And for a character who has been so strong, this sudden meekness is kind of confusing.

But the film picks up again nicely as TC brings home a new wife, Flo (Judith Anderson), and blatantly begins to push Vance out. TC also offers Rip a bribe to break things off with Vance. Fed up at his interference, Vance attacks Flo and then runs away to join the Herreras. TC and a crew of ranch hands get into a standoff with the Herrera family, as Vance frets.

It is the conclusion of this standoff that leads to the moment in which the movie "broke" from my point of view. I'll put the rest of this review in spoiler tags.

WARNING: spoilers below
Juan, seeing that Vance is worried about her father's safety, agrees that the Herreras will leave the Furies. He negotiates safe passage with TC. Only TC then goes back on his word. And in a horrible scene he has Juan hanged as the laughing ranch-hands look on and Juan's mother screams. Vance, furious and tearful and unable to watch her best friend's final moments, swears vengeance against TC and rides away as Juan's mother screams for her son.

Okay--that sequence is awesome and powerful and emotional.

And then the film . . . turns into a comedy?? Vance hatches a plan to steal the Furies from TC by sabotaging his mortgage. She reunites with Rip (you know, the guy who physically abused her, manipulated her, and took money to not marry her?) and the two of them get back together romantically.

Then we see further wacky adventures of TC and his men on a large cattle drive, not realizing that Vance is the one set to buy the cattle.

I was, frankly, just grossed out by this last half of the film. I could not forget Rip's treatment of Vance as she continues to make doe eyes at him. I could not forget Juan's brutal murder as the film moved toward its conclusion and everyone's attitude toward TC seemed to be "aw, he's such a character!!!". It's the fact that Vance herself seems to have forgotten the murder and memory of her childhood best friend that stings the most. It makes her seem like a money-grubbing creep, not all that different from her father. I don't think she even mentioned Juan's name in the entire last half of the movie.

And the romance between Rip and Vance stings partly because Rip is a jerk. He's smarmy and self-centered. He is not even 1/3 of the person that Juan was, and so the romance just adds insult to injury.

If the second half had matched the first in intensity and character work, this would have been an instant classic.