The Sound of Fury (1950)

The Sound of Fury (1950) is a hard hittin' tale of narcissism, sensational journalism, criminality and mob violence from the very heart of film noir and a classic of its kind.

It's a film that fires on all cylinders and one of the few from the era that still has the power to shock — the full on shocks coming in the final scenes, when a mob gathers to hit a jailhouse. 

In the long build up to this however, there is a full film noir panoply of crime, saps, weak males, money-minded females, a brutal murder that is just as gratuitous and frightening as the justice it inspires, and classic spiral-into-alcoholism that is every bit the quintessential sign of public failure — wrapped up in a hard hittin' tale of crime, punishment and yellow journalism.

The dramatic set up for The Sound of Fury (also known as Try and Get Me!) is a classic of its kind. Frank Lovejoy is the honest family man who is out of work and getting dissed like a jerk wherever he goes. Back home he's got an honest family life in the form of a wife and kid to support  — but there is still a sense there that he is going to crack.

When we first meet his family in their modest home, and all is well and cuddles. However when family man Howard (that's Frank Lovejoy) shares the fact that he has not found work, his wife cracks and cries, and at that Frank cracks too, as he can't take this cissy-footery, and he needs her to be a little stronger.

Lousy husband Howard (Frank Lovejoy) runs a lousy home in
Try and Get Me! (1950)

As wives of film noir go, Howard's wife (played by Kathleen Ryan) is passive, and weeps and wrings her hands, and paces up and down and worries about him — although oddly she seems happy enough when the money is coming in and doesn't seem to question it. 

She is yet exceptionally passive and unlike the more dynamic seeker wives of film noir she does nothing to unravel the mystery, and fails even to protect her man — not that he necessarily merits her protection.

Pick-up at the bowling alley — eccentric criminal narcissist Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges)
Try and Get Me! (1950)

As a failure, hitting the streets in search of a change in his luck, Frank Lovejoy's character Howard runs into one of the most lively and crazed-up energetic characters in all of the film noir period — the slick and loopy villain of the piece — Jerry Slocum, played by Lloyd Bridges.

Jerry is a wild man, a great egoist of villainy and as portrayed by Lloyd Bridges, a prototype for many of the carefree and anarchic villains that would glamourize crime in the movies to come, right up until the present day. There is something about this live-fast die-young kind of hero that Hollywood enjoys. No punishment is enough for this type of psycho, because nothing can compensate for the amazing joy they get of the crimes they commit.

What starts with the the theme of what an honest but desperate man will do to help his family, then morphs into a heavily loaded look at what sensationalist and lurid journalism can contribute to social ills, and ends with a shocking indictment of mob violence.

So Jerry, played by Lloyd Bridges is free, fun, egomaniacal and it appears irresistible to both men and women. Certainly, Frank Lovejoy's sap of a weak husband Howard is taken in, and follows him home, almost becoming hiss servant, without exactly knowing why. Sure — it is something to do with the money on offer — but he does walk rather sleepily into the whole armed robbery scene, and doesn't even appear to get a buzz out of it. He just likes the money.

Ironically The Sound of Fury was made when anti-Red hysteria in Hollywood was quite the thing, and when hidden pro-communist messages were being read into some cinematic trifles at times. The advertising campaign that went with the movie even seems to goad the audience into mindless mob action.

This was at odds with the message of the movie which is that ordinary guys can get sucked up by circumstances and find themselves suffering the same fate as those who are actually evil. 

Media processes in The Sound of Fury (1950)

The script of The Sound of Fury, written by Cy Endfield and author Jo Pagano, who wrote the original novel The Condemned, does offer domesticity and pits it against the darker material. These are nostalgic glimpses of a time past in which bowlers tipped the pin-setter by rolling coins down the alley and even better — neighbours gathered to watch the television together.

The memorable climax of The Sound of Fury is a lynching scene which may be among the most violent things filmed in the immediate Post-War period. a truly frightening movie whose disturbing imagery lingers long after the voice-over reassurances subside.

One of the most terrifying lynch mob films before this is Fury (1936), directed by Fritz Lang and starring Spencer Tracy. Fritz Lang had fled Nazi Germany shortly before making Fury and the scary mob violence in the film must surely relate to his experiences in Germany. 

Hangover from Hell - Frank Lovejoy and Lloyd Bridges in
The Sound of Fury (1950)

In Fury, the sheriff blames strangers from out of town for the lynching, which sounds perhaps like Hitler blaming the Jews for Germany's troubles. The story of Fury is said to be inspired by a lynching that took place in San Jose, California, in 1933. A mob dragged two suspects from the jail and hanged them in the town square as newsreel cameras turned. The governor of California refused to call in the militia and announced that the lynching was a lesson for the whole country. In fact, like in The Sound of Fury, nobody was ever prosecuted for this lynching.

ABOVE: The night out from hell. Try and Get Me! discusses a million social ills at once, and that includes alcohol. Frank Lovejoy as Howard experiences everything from hell — and if hell on earth were ever in any noir it would be this one. Humiliating-as-hell night out via drink and that false friend who leads you on those awful self-debasing sprees. Here alcohol combines with Bobby Stewart, MC Darrell (and his crackerjack sap-on-a-stick false hand trick; and the four gorgeous girls. Howard's emotional death takes place on this night — although his physical end is going to be be wilder than hell still. . . 

Similarly, The Sound of Fury was a part based on this same incident. In The Sound of Fury, people leading the lynch mob are seen wearing University of Santa Sierra shirts because Brooke Hart, the real-life murder victim from the 1933 incident had recently graduated from the university and it is believed that the mob was led by Hart’s friends and classmates.

If the driving force in Fury is people from another town, it is quite different in The Sound of Fury, which makes a great and in depth discussion of the role of the media, and in particular here, print journalism. 

A further complexity is added in high noir style with the side story of the journalist played by Richard Carlson. He plays a journalist who with the aid of his boss, played by Art Smith, sensationalises stories in the eyes of the public and in effect creates the public perception of a crime wave, out of a series of smaller robberies. 

The prototypical noir figure in The Sound of Fury (1950) is the good guy who goes badly wrong while down on his luck. Similarly the noir narrative present in The Sound of Fury sees the moral descent taking place at night, offering genre compliance insofar as Tyler tells his wife he is working night shift, which he is insofar as his crimes take place at night - - as does the cacophonous and violent final act.

Frank Lovejoy and Katherine Locke

This is a huge amount to pack into a short evening of film noir, and so unlike the longer and more in detail moves made by Fritz Lang along these lines ins films like The Blue Gardenia (1953) and very much in the spirit of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951).

This notion of journalism and the media in film noir is absolutely key to the horrifying and sensational end of The Sound of Fury (1950). The moral effect in The Sound of Fury is achieved in rather a strange manner, by the introduction of a character who moralises about the effects of the press on the public, played by Renzo Cesana, who appears in many scenes with eager young journalist Richard Carlson, and seems to lecture him in an expert foreign accent, about what might go wrong.

Alcohol too plays its part. Another film noir motif is the inability of a person to deal with their crime, and this is stated as bluntly as it ever was in The Sound of Fury (1950). Tyler's descent is around drink, but even his propensity towards the booze is no match for the guilt and the horror of having committed a murder. In the nightclub scene, this grows worse, and the oblique angles and noise serve to highlight his experience, now shamefully shared with the viewers.

Everything does go wrong at the terrifying conclusion of The Sound of Fury. To say that a mob gathers at the end of the film is to fail to find a descriptive term large enough to describe the size of this crowd, which has to be one of the largest in film noir history. Stretching for as far as the eye can see in every direction, thousands of people have gathered to carry out this killing — an incredible concept.

And at the end, this mob amazingly defy the police, beating them aside, smash their way into the police station and run amok in their hundreds until they appear to literally tear apart the two guilty men.

The mob, as we see from the opening shots of the film, when it is assumed that we are flashing forward to the moment when this huge gathering comes together, is impervious to reason and as it tramples on the literature distributed by a blind preacher, has abandoned not just social law, but religious and so moral law as well. This is the fervour the press is supposed to have created.

What is moving about this is that Lloyd Bridges character, who is the wild man, and the killer, and the all-out bandit  hell bent on evil, does get what he presumably deserves. Yet it is the fate of the mild-mannered family guy turned remorseful and guilty alcoholic that we care for. It is a hard hard lesson that he seems to be set upon the same fate as his much wickeder colleague —and thus emerges a moment of morality to treasure.

Velma (Adele Jergens) smiles for the Yellow Press in
The Sound of Fury (1950)

Lloyd Bridges is hyperactive and narcissistic as sleaze ball Slocum, and his courting of Howard to join him in crime borders on the sexual. He almost seems to seduce Howard into his alternate lifestyle of crime, luring him back to his apartment and posing shirtless for him while he flaunts his super-indulgent male fashion accessories.  

After the insane carnage that is the concluding ten minutes of The Sound of Fury, journalist Richard Carlson seems to take full blame for everything that has happened — an interesting stance. 

Not only does he in fact take the blame, but on top of that, everyone — and most especially the police — seem to agree with him that it is all the fault of ambitious and lying journalists.  

None of this is to say that the crimes committed by the two men are not brutal. The murder is similarly among one of the worst depicted in the film noir of the period. It's a gagged and bound innocent man rolled on the rocks and bashed on the innocent head with a rock screamer of a killing. And it has a huge effect on Frank Lovejoy's character.

This is the word of the accessory or the accomplice, and the morality is clear. Even if you are a nice guy, complicity in a crime is every bit as bad as the committing of the crime itself. Better still, the fact that you are a 'nice guy' is not going to count for anything when justice approaches — certainly that may be said of mob justice, as served up here. 

The scenes in which Howard (played by Frank Lovejoy) turns to alcohol are similarly incredible. With alcohol, Howard loses more agency, and winds up on a date in a noisy club, unable to drink away the memory of the murder, and brought to a genuinely sympathetic state of self-loathing as he can find no way to cope. Failure upon failure, mixed with booze, gives The Sound of Fury (1950) some of the best classic film noir energy going. 

As a remorseful drunk, his mind split by the chaos of the murder and the drink, Frank Lovejoy is incredible. Worse still, he hooks up with a similarly lost, although not alcoholic soul, in the form of Katherine Locke. 

Director Cy Endfield was one of the Hollywood talents who was driven out by the anti-communist adventures of the late 1940s and early 1950s, being chased out of North America like Joseph Losey and Edward Dmytryk to the United Kingdom. But before he left, Endfield did direct some great socially conscious thrillers like The Underworld Story and this one, The Sound of Fury, aka Try and Get Me! 

Katherine Locke in Try and Get Me! (1950)

In the UK, Cy Endfield made a number of minor pictures before making Hell Drivers (1957), one of the great British films of the decade, and a harsh depiction of working life on the margins, and something with the flavour of his harsh and bleak film noirs. Hell Drivers had a great cast including Stanley Baker, who formed a company with Endfield which a few years produced the biggest film of his career Zulu — (1964).

Low budget hell - - scenes from the denouement
The Sound of Fury (1950)

Try and Get Me! opens with a blind preacher trying to make himself heard, while the people around him are in an agitated state for complicated media reasons - - what should be a public service in the form of a newspaper is now functioning as a for-profit enterprise. Newsman Hal Clendenning (played by Art Smith) is in the business of scaring readers into buying his Santa Sierra Journal and given the one man crime wave in the form of robberies of service stations and liquor stores, Clendenning believes that scaremongering will boost his publication's circulation.

The Sound of Fury (1950) on Wikipedia

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