Reviews

The Sound of Fury

Cy Endfield

USA, 1950

Credits

Review by Glenn Heath Jr.

Posted on 06 May 2013

Source 35mm print

Categories TCM Classic Film Festival 2013

The phrase “a friend in need is a friend indeed” takes on a darkly cynical meaning in Cy Endfield’s harrowing film noir, Try and Get Me. To trust anyone and anything is to be inherently deceived. This applies to Endfield’s treatment of individual relationships, public institutions like the print media, and even the most basic considerations of modern “civilized” society. Fittingly, the film envisions small town America as an ideologically hollow place deprived of economic confidence and brimming with repressed anger. Here, the facade of camaraderie and masculinity can be ripped away in an instant causing irreparable physical and emotional damage. This is Fritz Lang territory, and not surprisingly Try and Get Me is based on the same actual event that inspired the director’s masterpiece, Fury.

In the film’s opening moments, Howard Tyler is mired in a depressive state, stranded at a gas station trying to hitchhike home to a coastal California town. An employment tip has fallen through and he’s desperate to return to his wife and adolescent son. When Howard asks a passing trucker for a ride the man initially tells him off, only to change his mind seconds later out of pity. Many a great noir use the random roadside meeting as an entry point to what will become an earthly purgatory. However, nothing out of the ordinary transpires during this segment. Later, when a similar circumstance inevitably turns dark, it’s clear that Endfield’s seemingly benign prologue was meant to lull Howard into a false state of assurance when dealing with newfound acquaintances.

There’s no mistaking the devil in Try and Get Me: Jerry Slocum appears in full physical stride during a chance meeting with Howard at a local bowling alley. Fit, well-dressed, and arrogant, he is Howard’s complete opposite, constructed of equal parts aftershave, hair product, and smarminess, primped and primed for the con. Jerry smells Howard’s despondency like a shark does blood in the water, and after a few drinks and some calculated misguided justifications, convinces the sad sack to be his getaway driver during a series of liquor store hold ups. The noir whirlpool takes over from there, sucking Howard deeper into a dark abyss that will only end in prison or death.

Howard’s downfall is littered with scathing symbols and thematically-driven narrative tangents. It all begins when the criminal duo graduates from robbery to kidnapping (they nab a prominent son of a local wealthy business owner), and the plan goes awry due to a misjudgment by Jerry regarding their private hideout at an abandoned quarry. The image of their helpless victim sliding down a bed of boulders is a striking one, only outdone by the sound of Jerry pummelling the innocent man’s skull with one of the rocks. From then on Endfield brilliantly foregrounds blunt force trauma. A meat tenderizer relentlessly hammers a raw piece of steak, Jerry twists his girlfriend’s arm at a foreign angle, and Howard mercilessly strangles a woman he has just met.

But none of these intimate moments of violence prepares the viewer for the collective onslaught of aggression witnessed in Try and Get Me’s final act. Howard and Jerry are caught by authorities and then convicted in the public’s eye by a local reporter who has run a series of inflammatory pieces in the town rag. The townspeople descend on the prison in droves looking for justice. If the film’s wonderful title represents a pompous challenge by ego-driven criminals like Jerry who think they are above the law, then the actions by this massive swatch of rioters answers those words with alarming efficiency. Endfield treats the prolonged and disturbing finale as if it were a battle sequence, crosscutting between long shots of the angry villagers, the unprepared police force doing their best to stem off the wave of attackers, and those caged animals caught inside the prison awaiting the inevitable. It’s a marvel of editing and pacing, placing the viewer in both vulnerable and omniscient perspectives to bear witness from multiple angles.

America the beautiful is anything but in Try and Get Me, an incendiary film that detonates the perceived joys and opportunities of post-WWII suburban life. The promise of prosperity, signified by Howard and his family’s relocation to California by way of Connecticut for economic reasons, is just as empty and dangerous an idea as Jerry’s chauvinism, the newspaper’s ethical standards, and the police’s ability to protect and serve. For the innocent, guilty, or those somewhere in between, life itself is a prison. Hell, even Howard’s picket fence is made of wire.

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