Although made at Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1936, Fury is a very unlikely production for the highly prestigious studio, famous for its glitz, glamour and witty repartee. It is the kind of project they made over at Warner Brothers, dark and brooding social dramas with an emotional punch and a message to hit home. In turn, Fury's director, Fritz Lang, was very unlike any of MGM's in-house directors at the time (no Clarence Brown or W. S. Van Dyke here). It was Lang's American movie debut, and in it the German film maker injected a stark, pull-no-punches complexity rarely seen by Depression audiences in the United States.
The film stars Spencer Tracy as Joe Wilson, a regular "Joe", hard working, happy go lucky, upstanding citizen, who's head over heels for his girl, Katherine (Sylvia Sidney). In the opening reels, Katherine is leaving to take a better paying job in another city, so that she and Joe can save money faster to be able to marry. Joe pools all his cash and with his two brothers opens a service station. After several months, he has enough shekels saved up to collect and marry his betrothed and live the American dream happily ever after. However, en route to fetch Katherine, our happy hero is stopped by the law in Podunk, USA, and being a stranger in them there parts, is suspected as an infamous local kidnapper who has been on the loose. As word spreads of a suspect in custody for the crime, momentum builds throughout the community, by way of gossip and bias against a "foreigner", that leads to the unfair conclusion in the town's collective mind of Joe's guilt.
Like a snowball down a mountain, the outraged townsfolk swells into an angry mob that stops rolling at the front door of the jail where Joe is being held. They demand the turnover of the prisoner for lynching. When the hick sheriff refuses, the excited throng burns down the jail and Joe in it. So they think. After the fact, the real kidnapper is discovered and the realization hits the community that an innocent man was burned to death. As the populace whispers excuses among themselves to ease their guilt, Joe reappears to his brothers and explains how he escaped the inferno. He also explains that he wants to remain "dead" and through them bring the mob participants to trial for murder according to the law. Now bitter and enraged, he seeks ultimate vengeance and justice for his suffering
Fury is a taut, gripping drama. It's a fascinating study of society under mob rule and also how political ploying can affect society under such conditions. This would be Sylvia Sidney's only film at MGM. At the peak of her career, she gives an extremely moving performance as Katherine. Her face exudes the angst and emotional stress as she does so well in other roles with similar characteristics, such as Trina in Dead End in 1937. Bruce Cabot is fine as the nasty, belligerent instigator of the pack as is Edward Ellis (the actual "thin man" in the series of films by that name) as the gruff small town sheriff. As usual, Walter Abel gives great support as the district attorney. Fury is, however, Spencer Tracy's film. Having just signed on with Metro the previous year, performances like the one he gives in this movie kept him there for 20 years. Through the course of the film, we see Tracy's dramatic metamorphosis from a kind, jovial lover of life, to a callous, embittered shell filled only with overwhelming hatred and vengeance. His emotional, as well as physical transition mark an ominous foreshadowing of his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde made five years later.
Never a spoiler this blog, suffice it to say MGM and director Lang had differences about the films ending. Despite that, Lang created a more than memorable film and began an impressive career in the U.S. Arguably one of Tracy's best early films, Fury is solid through and through.