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Famed German director Fritz Lang's first American film, Fury, is
loosely based on a story by Norman Krasna, "Mob Rule", which itself was
based on the tale of California's last public lynching, in 1933, of
Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes, the kidnappers and murderers
of Brooke Hart, the "son" in San Jose's L. Hart and Son Department
Store. Fury is a fine exploration (although not an analysis) of the
mentality of vengeance, whether from a mob, as in the first half of the
film, or from an individual, as in the latter half. It is loaded with
fine acting and an unusually constructed script by Lang and co-writer
Bartlett Cormack, although it is not without flaws.
Joe Wilson (Spencer Tracy) is deeply in love with Katherine Grant (Sylvia Sidney). Wilson lives in the Chicago area in a small apartment with his two brothers, Charlie (Frank Albertson) and Tom (George Walcott). Wilson wants to marry Grant, but they're short on money. Despite the relationship hardships it will entail, Grant returns to Texas to work--she'll be making good money there, while Wilson tries to improve his lot in Illinois. Wilson finally manages to buy a gas station with his brothers, and earns enough to buy a car and take a road trip, with his dog Rainbow in tow, to meet Grant so they can get married. When he's almost there, Wilson is suddenly stopped by a sheriff's deputy in the small town of Strand. They question him about a kidnapping. Two minor details make him more suspicious, and so they decide to hold him in the town jail while the D.A. looks into his background. Rumors makes their way around the town and things go horribly wrong, bringing us to mob mentality, lynchings and vengeance.
Lynchings were an emerging social problem in the early 1930s. There were 60 known lynchings in the U.S. between 1930 and 1934. Beginning in 1934, the earliest of the "anti-lynching" bills was presented to the U.S. Congress, and that number grew to 140 different bills by 1940. The visual arts also voiced in on the issue--one museum held "An Art Commentary on Lynching" exhibition in 1934. So Fury was certainly pertinent to our culture at the time, and was one of many films to come, such as Mervyn LeRoy's They Won't Forget (1937) that centered on strong anti-lynching sentiments (believe it or not, there were also pro-lynching films, such as Cecil B. DeMille's This Day and Age, 1933).
It's interesting to note that although lynching was primarily a "racial"-oriented phenomenon, Lang was not allowed to comment on that very much. There are a couple shots of blacks in the film, but they are extremely innocuous. Anything even more slightly controversial was excised at MGM's (and specifically Louis B. Mayer's) behest.
Fury's structure is very unusual, contributing even more to its unpredictable, captivating nature. It begins as an almost bland romance while Lang sets up the characters and their slightly exaggerated innocence, turns into an interesting hardship film, briefly becomes a road movie, switches gears again when Wilson is arrested, and actually presents a profoundly impactful climax at the midway point--it seems as if the film could end there. The second half makes a major u-turn as what could be seen as an extended tag/dénouement becomes an in-depth courtroom drama that builds to a second climax. The second half allows Lang to explore the same vengeance mentality as the first half, except from an individual rather than the previous mob perspective.
Although the second climax denotes a fine work of art on its own--there are some very moving performances and developments towards the end of the courtroom stuff, the star attraction is the gradually building mob material in the middle. What begins as an annoyance for Wilson turns into widespread tragedy as the rumor mill gears up and easygoing conformism rears its ugly head. Of course it is well known that Lang came to America to escape Nazi Germany, where he had been asked to act as Hitler's minister of film, so Fury, although sometimes criticized as a commercial film for Lang, certainly had personal poignancy for him. Lang shows rumors gradually distending in a game of "Telephone" with serious consequences, and inserts a humorous shot of chickens to symbolize "clucking women". He shows how easily a situation can go from those kinds of increasingly misreported claims to dangerous action due to conformism. Most folks are shown as all too eager to go along with the crowd and avoid local conflict.
For a few moments, the mob mentality leads to a situation that presages John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). And overall, Fury is sometimes said to have anticipated film noir. However, despite some highly stylistic shots, such as the early, shimmering reflections of rain soaked windows on opposing walls, or the almost comically exaggerated action/reaction shots of the mob in full force (some of the more poignant material in the film), much of Fury's cinematography is more pedestrian. In his interview with Peter Bogdanovich that serves as the bulk of the DVD's "director's commentary", Lang states that he prefers simple, straightforward cinematography, to emphasize realism, or "truth". That may sound odd coming from the man who gave us Metropolis (1927), but at least for Fury, it is consistent.
But this isn't a flawless film. A few dramatic transitions are awkward, including two very important ones--the initial "capture" of Wilson, which is fairly inexplicable, and the final scene of the film, which leaves a significant dangling thread. But the underlying concepts, the performances and more often than not the technical aspects of the film work extremely well, making Fury an important film to watch.
If Fritz Lang had died or been killed by the Nazis (whom he detested and
opposed)in 1933 or 1934, it is stunning to realize that his position as a
great film director would have been assured. He would have already had
METROPOLIS, SPIES, DR. MABUSE, and M down to establish his credentials as a
master of cinematic art. But he left Germany to escape the real villains
who were coming to power. And he ended up, after briefly staying in France,
coming to the U.S. Most of his later films would be made in the U.S. FURY
is his first American masterpiece - a study of mob violence, and the
destructive forces it unleases in even the most decent people. Here, it is
Spencer Tracy, the erstwhile victim of a lynch mob, who becomes demonic in
retaliation for his own mistreatment at their hands. It would be a theme
Lang would return to again and again in later films - Edward G. Robinson
turning on Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea in SCARLET STREET is a good example.
Like many great crime films it is based on an actual incident that occurred in San Jose, California in 1933. Brooke Harte, the son of a wealthy department store owner, was kidnapped by two rather stupid men, Harold Thurmond and Jack Holmes, for a ransom, and drowned when they collected the money. Brooke had been a very popular young man, and when the men were caught a mob attacked the jail, and killed them (hanging at least Thurmond when he was still alive - Holmes was beaten to death in the jail). The incident gained notoriety around the globe (the Nazis had the nerve to use it to suggest Americans were violent degenerates - and frequently republished photos of the dead men as propaganda in World War II). It was hard to hide the story - the mobs were filmed attacking the jail, and (as mentioned above) the swinging bodies of the two kidnappers were photographed. Most people in America were appalled by the incident, but it had defenders. Governor James Rolph (former Mayor of San Francisco) defended the lynch mob beyond any reasonable point (Rolph was running for re-election, and in ill health - he would die before the reelection was held).
A fine account of the crime, SWIFT JUSTICE by Harry Farrell, only touches lightly on the Lang movie. The similarities with the newsreel trucks and even a Rolph-clone (Clarence Kolb, in a small but sinister role as a powerful man trying to convince the Sheriff - Edward Ellis - to leave the jail underprotected from the mob)are there. But Lang allows Tracy to survive, unlike Thurmond and Holmes. Also, in reality the newsreel footage was not clear enough (like that in the film) to be used against the defendants in their trial. In fact, nobody was ever indicted for the lynch murders of Thurmond and Holmes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In what was his fourth film on his new MGM contract Spencer Tracy
finally broke through the ranks and became an A picture star. Tracy had
been in Hollywood for six years five of them with Fox. Most of his work
there was relegated to B picture second features. In this, the first
American film by Fritz Lang, Tracy emerges with a powerhouse
performance of a man who nearly destroys himself in a quest for
vengeance against the mob that nearly kills him by setting a jail on
fire where he's being held on a suspicion of kidnapping.
Remember that this was the 30s with news of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial fresh in the minds of the movie-going public. Probably the most hated man in America was Bruno Hauptman, the Lindbergh kidnapping suspect. That's a dimension that can hardly be appreciated by seeing the video today. But Lang's direction of the mob scenes still retains the power to frighten.
Sylvia Sydney registers well as Tracy's fiancé and Bruce Cabot stands out as the local town bully who whips up the mob in the first place against the innocent Tracy being held in the town jail.
In the first of many climactic monologues Tracy comes forward and redeems himself from the twisted personality his victimization by the town mob has left. The speech is simple, direct, profound; pure Spencer Tracy. And that's as good as it ever gets.
Tracy is fantastic as salt-of-the-earth whose soul is incinerated by fiery
destruction of lynch mob. In the wake of the kidnaping of the Lindbergh
baby, this was an especially emotional topic in 1936. Tracy's performance
riveting and even more-worthy of the Oscar than his Oscar winning
performance that year in Captains Courageous.
Sylvia Sydney is excellent as Tracy's love interest, and Frank Albertson is superb as his hard-edged brother. Edward Ellis (title star of the Thin Man) does a good turn as the reasonable Sheriff. And Walter Brennan does an excellent job as a deputy. There are also two contrastingly poignant scenes in bars. Overall, score a home run for Fritz Lang in his first US film.
Horribly melodramatic, but psychologically complex, well-directed and excellently edited. Spencer Tracy is an innocent man assumed guilty by a mob and "lynched." Making this 1936 film still-timely are the growth of the mob and its trial, conviction and execution of Tracy based only on speculation and emotion instead of on evidence and reason. Also, the line, "I will remind the jury of the easy habit of putting on foreigners events that disturb our conscience" comments on a tendency that still exists today (just listen to talk radio here in Massachusetts!). The story touches on many issues - morality, humanity, patriotism, law, politics, media, etc - and, as such, raises many issues for discussion. Teachers might consider showing this film in class as a start-point into exploration of today's issues. Spencer Tracy gives an appropriately melodramatic performance, but Edward Ellis as the town sheriff gives the best (albeit small) performance. For entertainment value, I'd give this film 6/10; but for fans of any of the stars, the director, or for advocates of civil rights and justice, this film is worth about 8/10; finally, as a tool for teachers, 10/10.
Out of MGM, Fury is directed by Fritz Lang and stars Spencer Tracy and
Sylvia Sidney and features Walter Abel, Bruce Cabot, Edward Ellis and
Walter Brennan in support. It's adapted by Lang and Bartlett Cormack
from the story Mob Rule written by Norman Krasna. Loosely based around
the events that surrounded both the Brooke Hart murder in 1933 and the
Lindbergh kidnapping/murder case in 1932, the story sees Tracy as Joe
Wilson, an innocent man who is jailed and apparently killed in a fire
started by a rampaging lynch mob. However, as the lynch mob go on trial
for his murder, Joe surfaces but is twisted by thoughts of revenge on
those who happily watched him burn.
Widely considered a classic, this first Hollywood outing from director Fritz Lang is a remarkable look at mob violence and one man's limit pushed to its breaking point - and then some. That Lang survived studio interference to craft such a penetrating study of injustice is a minor miracle. Fury is neatly put together as a story, the calm before the storm as Joe & Kath are brought to us as the happy face of Americana. Then it's the middle section as rumours run out of control, the dangers of idle prattling rammed home as things start to escalate out of control-culminating in the savage assault on the jail (a gusto infused action sequence indeed). Then the fall out of mob rule actions - the court case and Joe's malevolent force of vengeance, that in turn comes under scrutiny.
The film was said to have been Lang's favourite American film, which is understandable given it bares all his trademarks. The expressionistic touches, shadow play dalliances and supreme cross-cutting between tormentors and the tormented, for sure this is prime Lang, with no frame wasted either. While it's no stretch of the imagination to think that Lang, having fled Nazi Germany, was pondering what he left behind as he moulded the picture together. Of the cast, Tracy is majestic as our main protagonist, while Sidney is brightly big eyed and hugely effective as the moral centre of Joe's universe.
Controversial at the time, the film has naturally lost some of that controversial power over the decades. But as the film points out with the lynching statistics, there was once a time when inhumanity was able to rear its ugly head in the blink of an eye. Fury serves to remind two-fold that not only is it a potent social commentary, but also that it's a damn fine piece of skilled cinema. 9/10
An idealist sets out to visit his girlfriend, whom he hasn't seen for a
year, but he is picked up by the cops for no real reason and thrown into a
cell because a flimsy piece of evidence hints that he might be the kidnapper
of a young woman. A rumor flares in the small town and soon most of the
populace is standing outside the police office demanding retribution.
I won't outline the plot any further, because there are many twists and turns to come. Fury is basically a study in justice, guilt, revenge, and mindless fury. Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sydney star and are exceptional. The supporting cast is excellent also. Lang's direction is often amazing. It is always stylistic, expressionistic and it challenges you every step of the way. Watch for one scene near the center of the film where Lang cuts together a series of close-ups. His timing is incredible here. The script is imperfect. In fact, there are a lot of instances of unbelievability and silliness in the film. It is a testament to the rest of the script (and the other aspects of the film, too) that Fury ends up being such a great film. I like it nearly as much as M. It may not be quite as good, but it moves at a brisker pace and is thus often more exciting and suspenseful. 9/10.
The hard worker Joseph "Joe" Wilson (Spencer Tracy) and the teacher
Katherine Grant (Sylvia Sidney) are in love with each other, but they
do not have enough money to get married. Katherine gets a better job in
Washington and together with Joe, they save money to get married one
year later. Joe quits his job in the factory and uses his savings to
buy a gas station, working with his brothers Charlie (Frank Albertson)
and Tom (George Walcott). He makes enough money to get married with
Katherine and buys a car. While driving with his dog Rainbow to meet
his fiancée, Joe is stopped in Strand by the redneck Deputy "Bugs"
Meyers (Walter Brennan) as suspect of kidnapping a boy in the Peabody
Case. When they find peanuts in his pocket and a five-dollar bill in
his pocket with the numeration of the money paid for ransom, Joe is
arrested in jail for investigation.
"Bugs" Meyers makes a comment in the barbershop about the prisoner and sooner the gossip is spread in the little town. As a tale never loses in the telling, Joe is accused by the population of kidnapper and they try to invade the police station to lynch him. For political reason, Governor Burt (Howard Hickman) does not send the National Guard to help Sheriff Tad Hummel to protect Joe and the Police Station is burnt down by the vigilantes. Katherine witnesses the action and has a breakdown.
Joe is presumed dead but out of the blue he appears at his brothers' apartment seeking justice. He had learnt that in accordance with the laws, Lynch Law is murder in the first degree and his brothers open a case against twenty-two dwellers of Strand. The prosecutor Mr. Adams accepts the case and Katherine Grant is the prime witness. Joe's revenge is set in motion.
"Fury" tells the heartbreaking story of dehumanization of a good man and hard worker that believes in the justice and loves his country through the imprisonment and subsequent lynching by despicable people moved by gossip. Fritz Lang makes another excellent feature in his first American work, and I enjoyed the gossip sequence that ends in a brood of hens.
The story is engaging with a great revenge of the bitter Joe. I would love to see the twenty-two defendants going to the gallows, but the moralist conclusion works perfectly in the story. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Fúria" ("Fury")
A compelling "message picture" with good performances from both Sylvia
Sidney and Spencer Tracy and deft direction from Fritz Lang. 'Fury' is
tautly dramatic and not without lessons for a modern audience, but it
still falls just a little short of masterpiece status.
This was Lang's first American film, the studios were presumably in fierce competition to sign him to a contract and seems clear that MGM was quite proud of itself and thought they could safely fit the Austrian master into their mold while also revisiting some of his past successes. 'Fury' is by no means a remake of 'M' but it does share some key themes. However, the style is a marked departure from the director's German work and the Hollywood treatment keeps this film from being as compelling as its older brother.
Hailing from the Midwest as I do, the Hooterville Junction take on small-town America rankled with me a bit. Gossipy housewives and self-important businessmen are played for laughs and then suddenly turn into a howling mob bent on the death of a man against whom the "evidence" is literally peanuts. It's a serious matter, as we're later reminded by the prosecutor's speech about the number of lynchings in America's then recent history, it should never have been treated lightly.
Do watch it though, and keep an eye out for a very familiar Cairn terrier. Also, early on when Joe and Katherine are looking at bedroom furniture there's a distinct chuckle at the expense of the Hays Code (which was enforced starting in '34).
Fritz Lang's first US film is arguably the best he made
there,containing elements of his most celebrated film,M,though this
time here the mentality of mob violence does not have a genuinely evil
monster (so brilliantly portrayed in M by Peter Lorre) as it's point of
retribution,but a decent,ordinary man in the shape of an equally superb
Spencer Tracy.The first reel or so of FURY is somewhat dull,with Tracy
and his fiancé Sylvia Sidney struggling to raise money for their
wedding in what seems a straight-forward domestic story.But the film
soon gets into gear when Tracy is mistaken for a kidnapper and held in
a small town jail,and is lynched by most of the town's population,led
by waster and bad boy Bruce Cabot.Or it seems he is lynched......Tracy
somehow escapes,and totally hardened by the experience,is determined on
exacting revenge against the perpetrators.
The film wasn't a particular critical or box-office triumph in it's day,maybe because it told some unpalatable truths in aspects of American life at the time.While not necessarily Hollywood's best-loved or most effective leading man,Tracy was arguably it's best actor from a technical viewpoint,and his performance is outstanding here.His transformation from an innocuous everyman to vicious criminal is totally convincing.After he makes his way back home to his brother's apartment,his speech detailing his ordeal and his thirst for vengeance is a quite brilliant piece of screen acting.Tracy had this and other memorable big screen monologues to his credit in a distinguished career (watch other fine examples in such films as STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE,STATE OF THE UNION,INHERIT THE WIND and GUESS WHO'S COMING HOME TO DINNER),and there were few,if any,that could equal him in similar circumstances.There are no forced histrionics,no exaggerated hand or facial gestures,no bellowing out of words,just a careful and believable building up of rage until he explodes on the final word he comes to.......,DEATH!
Aside from Tracy's excellence,the film is at it's most effective in the setting up and brief aftermath of the lynching itself.Lang's penchant for Germanic expressionism and moody lighting is very effective here,especially in the scene where the converging of the mob on the police station is represented by a subjective tracking shot,a remarkably powerful scene which is the film's highpoint.
The film goes slightly downhill in the courtroom sequence,which although has interesting elements (the use of newsreel footage as evidence),tends to get over-melodramatic and obviously contrived(Tracy's peanut habit and word misspelling are not too convincing plot devices),and Lang was reportedly very opposed to the somewhat sappy ending tagged on by MGM(as Hollywood's moral code demanded in the 30's).That aside,fine support performances(Ms Sidney,Walter Brennan,Edward Ellis,Walter Abel,etc.),a good musical score(Franz Waxman),stylish visuals(Joesph Ruttenberg)and bravura direction by Lang still make FURY,despite dated elements,a powerful and effective essay on lynch mob rule seven decades later,which most of it's contemporaries can certainly not boast.
RATING:7 and a half out of 10
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