Sunday, August 31, 2008

MGM makes a Warner Brothers movie

TCM rounds off this year's Summer Under the Stars with 24 hours of Spencer Tracy movies. Coming up overnight tongiht, at 12:45 AM ET (that's still late Sunday evening in the rest of the US) is a movie Tracy made the same year as San Francisco, but which has a totally different atmosphere: Fury.

Tracy stars as Joe Wilson, a man from Chicago whose fiancée, Katherine Grant (played by Sylvia Sidney), has gone to Texas to earn a better living since Wilson currently doesn't have the money to marry her. He goes into business with his brothers, promising Katherine that when he earns enough money, he'll get married to her. Eventually, he does get enough money, but suffers a problem on the way south to meet her: there's been a kidnapping in a small town through which Joe is passing, and the police have some circumstantial evidence to believe that Joe could be a suspect. So, they hold him for questioning. Unfortunately for Joe, it was a particularly brutal crime, and the townsfolk, thinking Joe is guilty, form a lynch mob and storm and burn down the prison.

The story doesn't end here, of course. Unbeknownst to the townspeople, Joe actually survives the fire and escapes, vowing to extract revenge on them for trying to kill him. A courageous prosecutor goes after the leader of the mob (Bruce Cabot, formerly of King Kong) when the real kidnappers are found, trying them for the murder of Joe, for which they could face execution. For Joe, this is a perfect shot at revenge: do nothing, let them be found guilty, and be executed. There's a problem with this, of course, in that it's an extremely immoral thing to do. Worse, Katherine begins to realize that Joe is actually still alive....

Fury is a fascinating movie with an interesting cast, and excellent direction from Fritz Lang, making his Hollywood debut. However, what's even more interesting is that MGM would make such a movie. As can be seen in San Francisco, MGM was the most prestigious and glossiest of the studios, putting out highly polished musicals and elegant dramas; even movies such as Hide-Out, about a criminal on the run, have a look of class above and beyond what the real-life social status of the characters would warrant. Fury, on the other hand, is the sort of social commentary movie that Warner Brothers would have made. (Indeed, one of Spencer Tracy's few movies for Warners was the 1932 prison movie 20,000 Years in Sing Sing.) Louis B. Mayer generally didn't like movie with social commentary, in part no doubt due to political views, but also by the perfectly reasonable assumption that people went to the movies to be entertained. Make no mistake, though: Fury is very entertaining. It's also available on DVD, so if you miss TCM's showing tonight, you can still watch it whenever you want. (Just be careful not to confuse it with John Cassavetes' 1978 horror movie The Fury.)

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