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Black Fury (1935)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Romance | 18 May 1935 (USA)
An immigrant coal miner finds himself in the middle of a bitter labor dispute between the workers and the mine owners.

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(screen play), (screen play) | 2 more credits »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Joe Radek
Karen Morley ...
Anna Novak
William Gargan ...
Slim
...
McGee
...
Mike (as John T. Qualen)
...
Steve (as J. Carroll Naish)
Vince Barnett ...
Kubanda
...
Poole
Henry O'Neill ...
Hendricks
Joseph Crehan ...
Farrell (as Joe Crehan)
...
Mrs. Mary Novak
Sara Haden ...
Sophie Shemanski (as Sarah Haden)
Willard Robertson ...
Mr. J.J. Welsh
Effie Ellsler ...
Bubitschka
Wade Boteler ...
Mulligan
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Storyline

An immigrant coal miner finds himself in the middle of a bitter labor dispute between the workers and the mine owners.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

18 May 1935 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Czarna furia  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film was banned outright in Chicago, Guatemala, Spain, Peru, Venezuela, Trinidad and other countries. Many other locales required cuts in police brutality, Mike's murder and the mine explosions. The Hays office was concerned about Joe's criminal behavior in setting off the mine explosions not being punished, but eventually issued a certificate of approval. See more »

Goofs

The orchestra at the dance, near the beginning of the film, are miming extremely unconvincingly. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Forty Naughty Girls (1937) See more »

Soundtracks

Why Do I Dream Those Dreams?
(1934) (uncredited)
Music by Harry Warren
Played on piano in bar during scene where men challenge Radek
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A Closer Look at the Political Subtext
28 October 2009 | by (Claremont,USA) – See all my reviews

Dynamic social conscience movie from the 1930's studio of record, Warner Bros.-- MGM may have had the glitz, but Warners had the heart. The film is no unmixed triumph. Muni over- acts, at times outrageously, yet most importantly there's no effort at prettifying the lives of the miners. The company shacks the miners must rent are unrelievedly dingy; the streets, narrow and drab; the women, unadorned in cheap house dresses. The only polish or comfort comes from company offices, but that too is understated. The underground sets look authentic-- closed-in, dirty and dangerous. No wonder the company keeps battalions of "cops" on hand. This "company town" is more like a penal colony than a work site, and I'm reminded of the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song "Sixteen Tons". Anyone thinking these conditions exaggerate should Google "Ludlow massacre" or "United Mine Workers of America" for historical insight.

The screenplay does a good job of weaving personal stories into the larger social context. At the same time, there are several topical points to note. First, there's a union-management agreement in place at the movie's outset. Neither side is fully happy, but work is proceeding (notice miners aren't paid for work not directly that of extracting coal!). Trouble is that strike-breaking companies like the one Croner (Naish) works for aren't making money during periods of labor calm. So, through Croner, they exploit lingering grievances to break the agreement, and make money. The screenplay casts them as the real villains, and not the union nor the company. Thus, the studio plays it safe by refusing to take sides between labor and management. And if miners are still unhappy, the script suggests conditions will continue to improve with the union behind them. Then too, once the various conflicts ( miners vs. strike-breakers; Radek {Muni}vs. Mc Gee {MacLane}) culminate, a federal government, depicted as justice-seeking, steps in to punish wrong-doers and guarantee the new agreement.

Thus, the government in Washington is cast in a non-partisan and positive light. At the same time, union and management are shown as able to reconcile their differences as long as there's no outside agitation. Now, this is in practical alignment with actual New Deal policy towards emergent industrial unions and newly installed federal bargaining rules (National Labor Relations Act). On the other hand, had the script wanted, Croner could have come from the political Left (Communist or socialist) instead of the political Right (strike- breakers). In historical fact, Roosevelt had to confront militant forces from both Left and Right in forging what became a Centrist labor policy that continued for decades. At the same time, the movie reflects much of that approach. Indeed, Warner Bros. was the New Deal's best friend in Hollywood as its many topical films from that period testify.

The movie does a good job of motivating the characters. The popular Radek becomes a vulnerable fall-guy for Croner once Anna (Morley) jilts him. Revealingly, both he and Anna are motivated by desires to escape the grueling life of the mines. Farm life may, in turn, be as burdensome, but at least you're your own boss. The very real problem of alcoholism is also hinted at in several scenes, it being the one escape open to the men. Note, however, that the screenplay remains vague on the demands of the break-away union faction, perhaps to keep the audience from taking sides over the strike. Something should also be said about that fine actress Karen Morley, a real-life labor activist in the actor's union. Her angular features bordered on prettiness, but were especially effective in registering icy determination, as a number of 30's films testify (e.g. Our Daily Bread, (1934).

Despite its many dated elements, the movie should not be looked at as a dead artifact. True, many of the awful work and living conditions depicted in the movie have since been overcome, thanks to labor's right to organize and bargain. Nonetheless, in our own time, many industrial jobs have been exported to low-wage countries, while coal as an energy source has been de-emphasized. Nonetheless, the basic conflicts between labor and management remain, whether blue-collar or white-collar, while government's role remains key. And in a sagging economy rife with unemployment and stagnant wages, old movies like Black Fury continue to resonate.


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