Fury (1936)

Fury (1936), directed by Fritz Lang.

Spencer Tracy and sad-eyed Sylvia Sidney plan to get married but have to separate to make some money first. On his way to visit her he is mistaken for a kidnapper and arrested. A lynch mob storms the jail and burns it down. By a miracle he survives and -- now embittered -- plots revenge by staying dead and seeing the ringleaders tried and executed for murder.

Lang's first American film. Goebbels offered to make him head of a German film studio but he left the country instead, first to France and then the US. His wife stayed behind and joined the nazis. They divorced (for various reasons, not just politics).

Lynching in a standard western is just a matter of loud talk in the saloon and then a large crowd suddenly appears with ropes at the jail. Lang is much more realistic, having had experience of mob violence in his home country. We have a long developing section, starting with gossip and rumors, then confrontation with the police and enthusiasm of the press for a good story.

The police try to do their job, first on the steps of the jail, then with an indoor barricade, rifle butts, tear gas bombs and a fire hose. They don't shoot at the crowd; it doesn't seem to occur to them. Later at the trial the sheriff folds and will not testify against the rioters.

He also calls for National Guard help, but the governor's political advisor overrides him. Might not look good. Lang had a dim opinion of politicians.

As a great twist we see the accused man, haunted by his experience, has become as malicious as the mob. The desire for revenge will do that.

Music by Franz Waxman and photographed by Joseph Ruttenberg. The cute but doomed Cairn Terrier is played by "Terry", later "Toto" in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Available on DVD with a commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich. He includes audio recordings he made with Lang in the mid 1960s where they discuss his career as well as this film.

MGM required a lot of compromises even apart from the obligatory happy ending. The innocent man had to white, not black, because racism issues were off-Code. Lang wanted to make an anti-lynching message film, but wanted the accused man to be guilty. It is too easy to feel sympathy for an innocent man wrongly accused.