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Fury

Fury

Fritz Lang

USA, 1936

Credits

Review by Beth Gilligan

Posted on 16 May 2005

Source Warner Bros. DVD

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Screening Log: Fury

Fury begins, misleadingly, on an up-tempo note. Its opening scenes, which involve a young couple played by Sylvia Sidney and Spencer Tracy, share the rhythm of a Capra film, betraying none of the dark events that will soon follow. The couple, Kathy and Joe, is deeply in love, but due to the harsh economic circumstances of the times, must accept jobs in separate cities until they save enough money to be wed. After a weepy goodbye at a train platform, the two resolutely go about their lives, subsisting on a flurry of correspondence in which Joe promises they will be reunited soon.

When that day finally comes, Joe hops into his shiny new automobile and drives determinedly in pursuit of his beloved. Miles away from her new hometown, he is both startled and frustrated to have his car brought to a halt by a local sheriff’s deputy, who is in search of a notorious kidnapper. Despite his protests of ignorance, Joe’s out-of-towner status arouses the deputy’s suspicion, and results in his being brought into the station for questioning. Though it swiftly becomes clear that the evidence against Joe is shaky at best, the locals’ desire for justice and a few tenuous overlaps between Joe and the description of the wanted man convince the sheriff to place him under arrest.

While a confused Joe languishes behind bars, the wheels of the town gossip mill slowly begin turning. The first rumblings occur at a local bar where the deputy sheriff, desperate to impress his peers, brags about having caught the alleged kidnapper. A few whispers later, and the residents are certain Joe is the man in question. Hysteria builds, and before Joe can fully process the charges against him, he finds himself face to face with an angry lynch mob.

The plot twists that follow are pure Hollywood, but the film, however shrill and preachy, packs an unexpected dramatic punch. For starters, its director, Fritz Lang, was well acquainted with mob mentality, having recently fled Nazi Germany for Hollywood. Five years prior to Fury, he tackled a similar subject in the film widely considered his masterpiece, M. However, while M was comprised of jagged angles, haunting sounds, and stylized shots that allude to off-screen events, Fury is a more conventional film, designed to be palatable to wider audiences. There is also less moral ambiguity here, and Joe’s descent from innocent, upstanding citizen to bloodthirsty manipulator seems less nuanced and convincing than Peter Lorre’s tortured child murderer in M.

However, the movie’s boldness in tackling the controversial topic of lynching cannot be overlooked. Released in the wake of an effort by Southern senators to block an anti-lynching bill, the film was a surprise hit and sparked a national debate about the subject. Still, Fury skirts away from a vital aspect of the issue: race. Though this was likely due to reluctance on the part of the MGM, the movie’s refusal to address the bigotry that often fueled these mobs gives it a watered-down feel and makes it more likely to be chiefly remembered as the film that marked Lang’s Hollywood debut than a “controversial classic.”

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