This has been a strong year for the versatile director Anthony Mann on DVD.
Genius Products put out deluxe sets of his 1961 epic "El Cid" in January and then followed up with comparable releases of 1964's "The Fall of the Roman Empire" in April. MGM came next in May with 1958's "Man of the West" -- a disappointing disc for its shameful lack of extras but not for the quality of its highly influential film -- as well as a repackaging of the previously released "Winchester '73," "Bend of the River" and "The Far Country" as part of a James Stewart boxed set.
And now the Criterion Collection on Tuesday is releasing a special edition of another Mann western, 1950's "The Furies" ($40). While some might say that "The Furies" didn't have the lasting impact of "Man of the West," which inspired the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, it is -- as film historian Jim Kitses notes in commentary on the DVD -- "an exceptional film by any standard, seriously underrated and neglected."
"The Furies" also has something that most westerns lack: a strong female lead character.
Barbara Stanwyck dominates the screen as Vance Jeffords, a fetching tomboy who seems more concerned with her eventual inheritance of the family ranch, the Furies, than with settling down. To get the homestead, though, she'll need to wrangle her wild father, T.C. (Walter Huston), who's near bankruptcy.
The film hums along on Stanwyck's and Huston's larger-than-life performances. A 1931 "Intimate Interview" film short on the disc reminds us that the studly Huston's swagger extended to the real world, too.
The film's bold plot points -- especially racy when you consider the vintage of "The Furies" -- also keep things lively. For example, Vance has frequent trysts with a Mexican squatter (Gilbert Roland) on the ranch and a slap-happy love-hate relationship with a family rival (Wendell Corey). T.C. ruthlessly tracks down the squatters on his property, burning their houses and ordering hangings. Then there's the rather unfortunate incident in which Vance goes off half-cocked with a pair of scissors.
Mann masterfully places many of these events out of frame, heightening viewer interest while toning down the tawdriness. Tying it all together is the film's rapturous black-and-white cinematography, which earned an Oscar nomination.
Other extras on the DVD include a 1967 interview with Mann, a recent interview with his daughter, a photo gallery and a trailer. A booklet includes a printed interview with Mann in which he laments, "It's sad to say, but women do not have much importance in westerns."
The inclusion of a new printing of Niven Busch's 1948 novel, which led to the film, might seem like an unnecessary extravagance, but it's a nice addition to a $40 DVD set. Busch's dedication page says all one needs to know about "The Furies," in print and on film:
"For my mother ... who has always wanted me to write a book about a nice woman -- but who will, I am afraid, be disappointed once more."Digital bits
• Sure, the 1980 musical "Xanadu" is a wee bit cheesy, but the songs by ELO and Olivia Newton-John are still great. That's why fans will like Tuesday's "Magical Music Edition" (Universal, $20), which boasts new surround sound and comes with the soundtrack CD.
• Ongoing DVD releases of TV shows don't usually merit a mention beyond the first-season set, but CBS/Paramount's recent release of "The Fugitive: Season 2, Volume 1" has fans in a tizzy. All of the instrumental underscore in each episode has been replaced. There's no word yet from the studio on the reason for the switch.
Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542