When I was in college, I had a wonderful professor named Dr. Taylor. He taught several film classes, mostly about film noir. He was adept at pointing out the sexual subtext of films made during the Hays Code era in Hollywood, especially those made during the late 40s/50s with the Freudian subtext that was all the rage then. In fact, there were times when it seemed as though he read a tad too much into the films.
He loved to pick out incestuous or other perverse subtext in a film. I, and many of my classmates, found this funny. We would snicker during scenes in films shown in his class that had the kind of subtext he loved to point out.
We soon coined the term “a Dr. Taylor film.”
The 1950 Western The Furies is a perfect example of what we meant by a Dr. Taylor film.
Let me put it another way: if director Anthony Mann and Douglas Sirk had had a love child, it would be this film.
The Furies doesn’t go quite so far as having star Barbara Stanwyck caress phallic shaped objects when thinking of her daddy, the way Dorothy Malone does in Written on the Wind–but it comes close to having that same kind of sexual subtext that Dr. Taylor loved.
Is there any character that Barbara Stanwyck played that COULDN’T be classified as an anti-damsel? I’m having a hard time thinking of one. It was more likely someone needed rescuing from Stanwyck than the other way around. In this movie, her character Vance is plenty feisty, as you would expect of a Stanwyck anti-damsel, but she is also spoiled, daddy-fixated, and has very questionable taste in men–which gives the character a fantastic complexity.
Daddy is T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston, in his final film role), who has a habit of calling his children “Son” and “Daughter” as if he can’t quite remember their names. T.C. is a cattle baron frequently skating on the edge of financial disaster. Instead of dealing with money, he gives out “T.C.” notes, practically daring people not to accept them.
T.C. also has a habit of asking Vance to scratch the scar on his 6th lumbar vertebrae (wink-wink, Dr. Taylor!). He promises to settle $50,000 dollars on her if she chooses a suitable husband.
Vance has a friend named Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland) who squats on her father’s land. In spite of an interesting kissing ritual they share every time they part, Juan is permanently exiled in the friend zone. He knows it and accepts it with a surprising amount of graciousness. Her father keeps threatening to burn out all the squatters to please the bankers giving him loans, but Vance makes him promise he will never touch the Herreras.
At her brother’s wedding, Vance meets saloon-owner Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey) and falls in love with him at first sight. Rip resents her father because he took a bit of land called The Darrow Strip that he believes belongs to him. T.C. disapproves of Rip because he would probably disapprove of any suitor for Vance.
(Aside: nothing against Mr. Corey, and I know he and Stanwyck were paired on screen a few times, but if the choice is:
Gilbert Roland or Wendell Corey…
…Wendell Corey or Gilbert Roland
Let me think, let me think: Uuuuuuummmm—yeah, I think I would go with Roland.
But maybe that’s just me.)
So Rip (dontcha love that name?) and Vance take off in a buggy and start sparking each other. She invites him to call on her and promises to bake him a cake. (YES, anti-damsels can bake, IF they want to!) Rip reveals himself as utterly irresistible when he tells her they can’t get involved because her father would destroy his business. She still expects him to show up.
She finds and confronts him. Then they start slapping each other.
Oh, yes. This is a very slappy relationship.
Not exactly “50 Shades” slappy, but it seems that this couple can’t kiss until one or the other has administered a slap.
No judgement on my part. Whatever turns people on, and there seems to be a fairly equally distributed number of slaps. I mean, Vance IS an ANTI-damsel. She can take it and dole it out at the same time.
(Though I do have a problem with Rip dunking her face in a basin of water. Jerk.)
We all know what’s really going on here, right? Vance has fallen in love with a man who is practically a carbon copy of her daddy. Just because Dr. Taylor saw Freudian/Jungian subtext everywhere doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.
Vance keeps reminding Rip that she has a $50,000 dowry. When he sees T.C. about marrying Vance, T.C. offers him the money to dump her. Which he does, immediately.
(Seriously, Vance, any chance at all that I can persuade you to reconsider your relationship with Juan?)
T.C. gets his lumbar vertebrae scratcher back and Rip opens a bank with the money. Vance starts running the ranch and worries it’s running out of money. Once again, the bank pressures the Jeffords to evict the squatters.
About this time T.C. has a visit from a lady named Flo Burnett (Judith Anderson) who quickly earns Vance’s enmity by taking over the lumbar vertebrae scratching and talking about Vance taking a tour of Europe.
Vance runs into Rip at the Darrow Strip one night and notices he has a “dainty little derringer.” She takes it from him and shoots it at him, threatening to kill him if he ever shows up at The Furies again.
(Dammit, Vance, you missed your chance to get rid of him! What do you need him for? You’re more like your daddy than he is! Dainty little derringer, indeed.)
When T.C. and Flo announce their marriage plans (as well as plans to evict the Herreras and boot Vance from the ranch) Vance grabs a pair of scissors and throws them at Flo, permanently scarring her. In retaliation, T.C. finally has the Herreras evicted. At the last moment, he decides to hang Juan.
Juan, who is almost too decent a human being for this story, tells Vance not to humiliate herself by begging for his life, because T.C. will hang him anyway. He is right. Vance vows vengeance on her father.
Vance travels around, buying up T.C. dollars for five cents on the dollar, planning to ruin T.C. and take over the ranch. She gets Rip to finance her endeavor, promising him the Darrow Strip as payment. They start working together, resuming their slapping/kissing routine.
Vance manages to get the bank to agree to extend T.C’s loan so he will round up the cattle. For some reason this is crucial to the plot. (Don’t expect me to explain the plan. I’ve watched Trading Places at least 50 times and to this day can’t tell you how they made a fortune. Financial stuff whizzes right over my head.)
ANYHOO, T.C. knows he has almost no chance to make the money he needs in time, even with the extension, so he asks Flo to give him back the money he settled on her before Vance’s assault with the scissors.
Using very polite language, Flo tells T.C. to jump up his own ass.
(One thing I noticed about this movie this viewing–nearly EVERY female character in it is an anti-damsel. Very cool.)
However, salvation is at hand (i.e. Vance and Rip set T.C. up big-time). Word comes that there is a buyer for the cattle. T.C. and his hands round up the herd. When they’re done, T.C. proves what a manly man he still is by wrestling a bull.
Vance and Rip celebrate the imminent success of their plan and take a buggy ride back to the spot they first fell in love. Vance proposes a business-type marriage. Rip reveals he’s still a crumb bum by telling her if they marry, he will tell her when she’s wrong, and if he’s ever wrong, she’ll keep her pretty little mouth shut.
(VANCE, WHY DIDN’T YOU LISTEN TO ME ABOUT JUAN?!)
Then Stanwyck utters a line of dialogue that would have had Dr. Taylor’s entire class flat out on the floor:
“Mister, I hope you can chew what you just bit off.”
They succeed in ruining T.C., who takes it pretty well, complimenting Vance on how well she “rode the bull.” (There goes Dr. Taylor’s class again.)
He even seems pleased that Vance and Rip plan to marry and have a son. Rip realizes Vance wants her father to become a partner in their venture. As they set out to celebrate, Juan’s mother appears and shoots T.C. dead.
(Told ya. Lots of anti-damsels in this movie.)
Vance and Rip take T.C. back to The Furies and plan to name their son after the man they spent the better part of the movie hating.
O.K., O.K., I’ve been tweaking the heck out of this movie, but I love it to pieces, especially Stanwyck’s Vance. I love that she is headstrong and clever, yet at times mistaken and misguided. Anti-damsels aren’t perfect–which is why they are so great.
Yes, her relationship Rip is very problematic, and I don’t see a happily-ever-after for these two. But something tells me Vance found ways to keep her anti-damsel status throughout their marriage. The woman carries a loaded pair scissors and isn’t afraid to use it, after all.