Fritz Lang’s coruscating examination of mob mentality at its most venal has lost none of its power in 1936’s Fury, one of the director’s most powerful films and certainly one of the best movies he made after coming to America.
The Production: 4.5/5
Fritz Lang’s coruscating examination of mob mentality at its most venal has lost none of its power in 1936’s Fury, one of the director’s most powerful films and certainly one of the best movies he made after coming to America after escaping the Nazi regime. Spencer Tracy was given one of his earliest big chances at establishing the same kind of galvanizing power and presence that he displayed on the stage with this movie, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. Sylvia Sidney, top-billed and just as solid as her co-star, justified her presence above the title.
After going their separate ways for over a year in order to earn enough money to get married, engaged couple Joe Wilson (Spencer Tracy) and Katherine Grant (Sylvia Sidney) run into trouble when Joe is stopped and held in custody on the flimsiest of evidence, suspected of being involved with a gang of kidnappers. Town gossips and hot-headed reactionaries decide to take the matter into their own hands and storm the jail determined to lynch Joe without so much as a trial. When the National Guard is called out, the jail is burned down as the townsfolk flee, and even though Joe inevitably escapes, he keeps his presence unknown to all but his two brothers (Frank Albertson, George Walcott) waiting to see what happens to the twenty-two townspeople who are charged with his murder.
Director Fritz Lang penned the screenplay with co-writer Bartlett Cormack based on an Oscar-nominated original story by Norman Krasna, and it achieves its greatest power not in the climactic courtroom scenes which occur in the film’s final third but in the unruly scenes of the riotous lynch mob out for blood and vengeance. From early scenes of clucking hens (symbolizing the town ladies gossiping up a storm and passing their thoughts as truth along to their menfolk) to the disturbing close-ups of crazed, twisted faces as the men storm the jail resisting tear gas and jets of water sprayed to calm them down, Lang doesn’t miss any opportunity to show humankind at its savage worst. He has brought with him the expected German expressionistic lights and shadows (an evocative rainstorm is reflected menacingly on the wall), and the burning jailhouse is both starkly beautiful and harrowingly terrifying as Tracy alone inside grapples with the window bars in his desperation to survive. The courtroom scenes slow the pace down as the district attorney (Walter Abel) and the defense attorney (Jonathan Hale) jab and spar with one another as Tracy’s Joe listens to the proceedings over the radio and thinks of every possible way he can get evidence to the trial that will convict the twenty-two defendants for his “murder.” While the resolution is thought of by many as too sentimental for a nihilist like Fritz Lang, one must remember the Production Code was in full swing by 1936, and the ending we get is pretty much pre-ordained, especially for a film produced at MGM of the time.
1936 proved to be a watershed year for Spencer Tracy in the movies. Not only did he have his powerhouse performance in this film on display (and which probably should have merited him a Best Actor nod), but he got great notices for his comic turn in Libeled Lady and an Oscar nomination for his work as a priest in San Francisco, both films also nominated for Best Picture. Sylvia Sidney’s gentle, fluttery performance is pure nerves from the mid-point onward, and it’s one of her most impressive screen portrayals. Also of note are Edward Ellis (the Thin Man himself) as the town sheriff who tries his utmost to maintain order and serve justice, Walter Brennan as the uppity deputy “Bugs” Meyers who longs to prove to his fellows that he’s a bigshot, and hotheaded Bruce Cabot as the leader of the lynch mob Kirby Dawson. George Walcott and especially Frank Albertson make a believable pair of brothers for Spencer Tracy while Jonathan Hale and Walter Abel do just fine in the courtroom scenes.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The film’s grain structure is most admirably consistent in this transfer even if one might not find it quite as sharp as some other high definition transfers of 1930s films. The grayscale is solid with black levels perfectly acceptable (if not quite as inky as they might be) and whites clean and crisp. There are no instances of scratches, splices, or other anomalies. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is a little underpowered but clear of any age-related problems with hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter. Frank Waxman’s score and the sound effects have been combined with surety to the dialogue passages to make a solid single track.
Special Features: 2/5
Audio Commentary: director/historian Peter Bogdanovich contributes a start and stop commentary punctuated with generous portions of interviews he conducted over four days in the mid-1960s with filmmaker Fritz Lang.
Theatrical Trailer (2:12, HD)
With an insurrection within our own consciousness over the past year, Fritz Lang’s portrayal of a mob unrepressed is frighteningly prescient in Fury, only one of several reasons filmgoers should add this film to their must-see lists. Highly recommended!
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