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Sunday, March 13, 2011


This visually & thematically dark Western, from the Hal Wallis production unit @ Paramount, helped pull helmer Anthony Mann on to Hollywood’s A-list. It’s a distinctive work, but you can also tell that it was a job for hire. It’s taken from a Niven Busch novel that works overtime to uncover Greek tragedy in THE HOUSE OF JEFFORDS, but the unbalanced characters are more neurasthenic than chased by Gods or Furies. Barbara Stanwyck plays the willful daughter of ranch-owner Walter Huston (tremendous in his final role), but she’s about to lose everything. Dad’s got a new wife in mind (Judith Anderson); her longtime soulmate is being thrown off the ranch (Gilbert Roland, who’s just great); she’s fallen for a man who wants to tame her (hopelessly bland Wendell Corey); and the Jeffords are about to lose the ranch to the bankers. There’s incipient hysteria in the air with Stanwyck blasting hot & cold with no in-between setting. The whole film is something of a fever dream, a dark one with a coal-black palette featuring more silhouette shots than lenser Victor Milner used in the rest of his forty year career. But about two-thirds in, the elements start coming together as Stanwyck loses a friend and declares war against her dad. Things don’t exactly calm down, but the overstatement begins to ring true. Mann wouldn’t take things this far again until THE MAN FROM LARAMIE/’57, when he was better able to control it all.

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