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Fury (1936)

Having fled Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, director Fritz Lang first took up residence in France, later relocating to America to work in the Hollywood studio system. He was a welcome addition — 1931's M had been well received stateside, and Lang quickly found work at Metro Goldwyn Mayer. His first title was 1936's Fury, and it's one of cinema's great sucker punches. The film starts with Joe Wilson (Spencer Tracy) and Katherine Grant (Sylvia Sidney) looking in a store window at a modern bedroom. The two want to get married, but they need money, so Katherine takes work out west, while Joe toils at a garage, hoping to raise enough cash to open his own. A year passes, and finally there's enough money for Joe to travel west to marry her. But as he drives cross-country, he's stopped in a small town, where the peanuts he always carries with him cause him to become a suspect in a recent kidnapping. While Joe is held, word leaks out to the community that one of the kidnappers is in the jail. Words are exchanged, drinks are quaffed, and rumors transmogrify into facts — and soon a group of townsfolk decide that justice will only happen if they mete it out themselves. As the unruly mob reaches the jail, the sheriff (Edward Ellis) and his staff find they are no match, and the jail is burned down. Joe is thought dead, but he survives and returns to his brothers to tell his story (Joe explains "I could smell myself burn.") And then they set out to get the people who lynched Joe, hoping to make them stand trial. But in order to gain a conviction, Joe must be presumed dead — which means he must hide out as the trial gets underway. No one in the town will testify against their own, but the newsreels taken of the lynching and Katherine's testimony are ammo enough. The whole trial hinges on Katherine, but after she learns of Joe's survival, she finds him to tell him that she can't love a man so bent on revenge. Fury begins lackadaisically, in a drawling fashion that plays up the romance, opening with such corny music that by the time the story gets to the mob violence, one can see how Lang slowly pulls his threads into knots. The lynching sequence is where Lang uses all his cinematic know-how to create a great atmosphere of chaos and dread — and when the riot begins, Lang moves in for the kill. It's a stunning sequence that has the sort of brutality and brilliance that seems out of place in 1930's Hollywood. Fury was Lang's first American film — it also turned out to be his first American masterpiece. Part of Warner Home Video's "Controversial Classics Collection," the title arrives on DVD in a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Extras include a commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, which includes comments from an archive interview Bogdanovich conducted with Lang. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.

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