dimanche 29 décembre 2013

Loving you isn't the right thing to do: The furies (Anthony Mann, 1950)

 La version française de cet article est disponible ici.

Some remote place in rural Texas, where the only things that can earn respect from both people and animals are the hand that tames them and the willpower that breaks them. T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston) is very much the local deity, a Zeus by turns irascible or patronizing, but whose craving for more lands to rule over leads to near-bankruptcy. It is obvious that his son is unable to fill his (rather large) boots but fortunately for the family estate of "The furies", his daughter Vance (Barbara Stanwyck) is more than up to the job. Indeed, Vance is both "The furies" ' shadow manager and her late, delicate mother's body double in T.C.'s worshipping heart, if not elsewhere - and by that I really mean that their relationship screams of latent incest. Like father like daughter - so much so that both of them would rather crush their opponent and risk self-destruction in the process, than surrender. This quite primitive line of thinking is pushed to its most absurd when they come to fight each other over their respective love interests.   

How could Vengeance and Destruction not be part of life at "The furies", if only because of the ranch's name? Little by little, more or less directly, each of the persons who could have brought T.C. and Vance back to their senses will end up being destroyed as a result of their dispute. Flo (Judith Anderson), the distinguished lady who was engaged to T.C., is disfigured by Vance, who sees no other way to prevent her soon-to-be mother-in-law from taking control of "The furies". It is also likely that the young woman could not stand the idea of T.C. having fallen for someone so civilized and educated, and therefore so unlike the rough and tough Vance herself. A childhood friend (and not-so-secret admirer) of Vance and the leader of a clan of Mexican squatters refusing to leave the land of their ancestors, the gentle Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland) will be hanged on T.C.'s order under a false pretense. This execution is as much a form of retaliation for the attack against Flo as it is a convenient way to eliminate Vance's only genuine support.

Unsurprisingly, Vance is attracted to Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey, who clearly does not play in the same league as his two acting monsters co-stars), who grew up in a context of unrelenting hatred for T.C. as the man who triggered his father's decline. It makes sense that the man that Vance chooses to love is the only one who is compelled to oppose T.C.'s domination over the region - and as such, she is confident that he is also the one man T.C. could never approve of as his daughter's husband.

Both Jeffords father and daughter are above the idea of compassion, and negociating never was, and never is, an option for them. All they ever do is wipe their enemies out - and why should they do otherwise when their sheer brutality gets them what they want? Their relationship is reminiscent of that among great predators: the challenging of the old by the young to take over the pack is a rite of passage, an integral part of the life cycle. Just like wolves, T.C. and Vance can't help getting at each other's throat - but even so their innate violence is what make them so much alike, and so far apart from the rest. Ultimately, they will always get back together to lick each other's wounds.

The furies looks very much like a transposition of Wuthering Heights in Texas: all the locations have this distinctive gothic flavor enhanced by a strongly contrasted photography and ominous landscapes and the relationships between the characters are as loud as un thunderstorm over Emily Brontë's moors. The casting of Judith Anderson, who played the part of Mrs Danvers in Rebecca (a movie that was itself adapted from a book capitalizing on gothic imagery), only adds to this eerie atmosphere.

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