Inspecting Hidden Gem #24: Try and Get Me! a.k.a. The Sound of Fury
Try and Get Me! a.k.a. The Sound of Fury
U.S.A. / Robert Stillman Productions / 1950 / B+W / 85 minutes / Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Try and Get Me! is a strongly recommended viewing experience but comes with an equally strong warning: The downward trajectory of tragedy and despair this cinematic story takes is unrelenting. This drama offers no relief or “rest stops” along the way that other films about criminals and their activities so often do, say for instance in deploying snappy dialogue or lively character interactions. No, this nightmare is so devastatingly potent, the terror doesn’t even end when the film does. Because Try and Get Me! is based on a true story, the familiar chant of reassurance "It's only a movie" doesn't apply here. That combined with the events one witnesses being so realistic, detailed, horrifying and immediate, expect the devastation to consume your consciousness for a long, long time.
Watching this film, metaphorically speaking, is like entering an old express elevator going down. Your fellow passenger Howard (a literally and figuratively "all in" Frank Lovejoy) is an average Joe struggling to make ends meet for his family but riddled with fear, guilt and depression for losing his job and so worried sick about his family’s bleak future, he can barely talk. His reason for being here is due to the lift operator Jerry’s boasting of a brighter future and quick financial gains (played with zeal by Lloyd Bridges) whose confidence is infectious. So is his narcissism. He's presented as a preening, ostentatious “big operator” but in reality is a lowlife stickup man, who has even bigger plans for himself and his passenger in riding to the top of the American Dream, only by implementing the most dangerous and morally bankrupt scheme imaginable. After this “ride” slams into the ground floor and the situation cannot conceivably get any worse… behold a basement, hurtling us further down the bowels of Hell.
There are other important characters introduced along the way. Each resonates with an emotionally unique identity; there’s even a slightly too pointed, singular voice of reason, but all will succumb to a pervading sense of fatalism enveloping everyone in a spiralling descending thrust.
The film’s final act concerns a lynch mob. There have been similar cinematic renderings but none come anywhere close to this film's horrifically visceral threat of unimaginable violence. They Won’t Forget (1934), Fury (1936) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) are all worthy of recognition in credibly dealing with this frightening topic, but their approach seem relatively safe compared to Try and Get Me! The main reason for this? The individuals sought for vigilante justice in the earlier three films are innocent, making our antagonism easy toward the mob who want payback. It hardly matters how the vigilantes intend to enact their brutality, they’re wrong… plain and simple. Jerry and Howard in Try and Get Me! however, are guilty, which we know all too well. This courageous approach forces us to think more deeply about the mob’s intended punishment versus the crime they are acting against, the greater effect on law and order, not to mention whatever empathy we’ve gleaned by observing the pair's human weaknesses leading to their desperate acts. In short, labelling those individuals who seek immediate justice as wrong is more difficult when we know they are acting against wrong-doers. Here we must face our own potentially uncomfortable feelings of retribution especially the negative consequences their application can bring about.
This was the last U.S. film directed by Cy Endfield, who previously helmed the excellent film noirs The Argyle Secrets (1948) and The Underworld Story (1950). Unfortunately, he became a victim of persecution by the House Un-American Activities Committee and because of the Hollywood blacklist, subsequently fled to the U.K. There he directed the accomplished features Hell Drivers (1957) and Zulu (1964) amongst others. The screenplay was incisively adapted by Jo Pagano from his novel "The Condemned" and is based on the factual 1933 Brooke Hart case that occurred in San Jose, California. Fritz Lang's 1936 film Fury was more loosely based on the same story which probably explains, along with The Sound of Fury's poor box office performance, why Endfield's film subsequently had its title changed to the more lurid Try And Get Me!
Try and Get Me! is a noir contradiction: It has the pre-requisite traits of crime and psychological motive but crashes through and demolishes any and all genre tropes in an uncharted decline into personal and sociological depravity. This nitroglycerin cocktail may be difficult to swallow, but if one craves a hard-edged and unflinchingly honest exploration into the extreme, desperate measures of human capability, the rewards are substantial. These characters generate a torrential downpour of powerful emotions that derive from their distinctively recognisable human needs, desires and drives and are further accentuated throughout by Guy Roe’s photography and Hugo Friedhofer’s music. This is drama of the highest order few filmmakers will achieve. Try and Get Me’s cost is also the film's reward: a consigned ineradicable impression. The astonishing insights into these characters’ lives are masterfully procured and endlessly thought-provoking. The flip side is they also provide as unforgettably tragic and dismal a social commentary as you’re ever likely to see. Now that this cinematic dynamite is finally available, the choice of whether to light the fuse is yours. You’ve been duly forewarned.
How To Best Appreciate This Gem:
Hidden Gem #24 is available on Blu-ray (Region A locked) from Olive Films. This is an excellent transfer: