Thursday, June 07, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Fury at Furnace Creek (1948)

FURY AT FURNACE CREEK is a scaled-down Western variation on John Ford's FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER (1938). It's pleasant entertainment, but the good cast would have benefited from a stronger script.

As with the original film, the plot concerns brothers attempting to restore their father's good name and military record. However, in this version the number of brothers is halved from four to two, Cash (Victor Mature) and Rufe (Glenn Langan); and unlike the earlier version, the brothers are long estranged and reluctant to work with one another to restore their father's honor in the 1880s West.

Cash is a roving gambler type who learns of his father's death and sets out on the trail of Captain Walsh (Reginald Gardiner), a drunk Cash suspects is complicit in the plot that ruined his father. Cash follows Walsh to the frontier town of Furnace Creek, investigating the mystery incognito while also tentatively romancing Molly (Coleen Gray), a cook who blames her own father's death on Cash's father.

FURY AT FURNACE CREEK is watchable enough, thanks largely to Mature, who makes an appealing Western hero, but it lacks a certain spark. Langan (the French teacher in MARGIE) doesn't register very strongly as the hotheaded younger brother, and he has moments where he looks downright out of place in Western garb. The brothers' background is underdeveloped; most importantly, the cause of the past breach in Cash's relationship with the rest of his family is never adequately explained.

As the earnest, open Molly, Coleen Gray is refreshingly different from the typical demure leading lady, but she and Mature don't have a script which allows them to strike the same sparks as they did the previous year in the classic film noir KISS OF DEATH (1947). They have some nice moments, but as with the relationship between Mature and Langan's characters, their interactions are sketchily developed.

The film has a deep supporting cast, starting with Gardiner as the pathetic alcoholic with a guilty conscience. Charles Kemper plays Peaceful, a large man who adopts Cash as his pal and comes through for him at an important moment. Fred Clark and Albert Dekker are among the film's villains. The cast also includes Robert Warwick, Roy Roberts, Griff Barnett, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Jay Silverheels.

This movie was filmed in black and white by Harry Jackson, with location shooting in Kanab, Utah. Mature and Gray share a scene riding in a wagon with very poor back projection, but otherwise there's some nice Western scenery on display. Additionally, the scenes in Furnace Creek do a good job conveying a boom town atmosphere.

FURY AT FURNACE CREEK was directed by Bruce Humberstone. It runs 88 minutes.

FURY AT FURNACE CREEK is available on DVD. Extras include a trailer along with stills, production photos, and poster galleries.

It's interesting to note that while the DVD box and the stills gallery include publicity photos of Glenn Langan embracing Coleen Gray, their characters only inhabit the same geographic space in two sequences, and they never interact with one another.

Final thoughts: Fans of Mature and Gray will enjoy passing the time with this Western, but with a little more work this could have and should have been a stronger film.

2013 Update: This film has also been reissued on DVD-R by Fox Cinema Archives.


Blogger grandoldmovies said...

This sounds like an unusually serious role for Reginald Gardiner. I associate him with comedy (The Man Who Came to Dinner, Christmas in Connecticut), particularly anything calling for wit and high style. It would be interesting to see him playing a dramatic role, especially one calling for him to play a down-and-out character, as he seems to do so in this film.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I read your article. Very interesting. I add your link in my page about this movie.

8:21 AM  

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