For the most part Jan and I watch great old movies which I already know and select for her. The other evening we watched one neither of us knew, borrowed from the library: Fury: starring Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney, directed and co-authored by Fritz Lang.
First note: I showed Jan Lang’s M (1931) a while back, I haven’t yet shown her Metropolis.
Meantime, pk already has a series of posts on German cinema: German Prototype starts it.
So: in Fury we have a Hollywood film from 1936 with a German film genius as its principal creator. Note the year: Hitler was well along in his take over of Europe. German and other citizens were liking it, other citizens, many others, were the victims. Spancer Tracy plays a guy engaged to the Sindey character. He’s in Chicago, she goes back home to wait for him while he finances the marriage. He runs a garage and gas station, buys a car, heads to the sticks to join his love: and is arrested on suspicion of being a kidnapper. The townsfolk build a rumor mill in which he is tried and convicted, now the lynch mob doesn’t want the sheriff or the law standing between them and blood.
Wow! Lang imported Nazi hysteria right into the US: and makes it fit! showed that it belonged!
Well, of course it did! Wasn’t it Twain who wrote how American Christians were wasting their time raising money for missionaries to China when the lynch mobs of Mississippi and Alabama and George needed some Christian lessons right on this side of the Atlantic!
It reminded me of Rambo: First Blood: the film that for me better than any other brought the Vietname war home where it belonged. Sly was beautifully matched there by the northwest sheriff, played by Brian Dennehy: a war monster versus a law monster.
Well, Lang’s movie shows us something very interesting, if not entirely successfully: a lynch mob society trying to establish, under law!, what the hell happened, and whom shall we now punish: pretending that we’re competent to ever get anything right. (Lang here is optimistic, or perhaps is being disingenuously hopeful. Twain’s view of lynchers, in Huck and elsewhere, is much darker, and it could be argued, more realistic. Remember though: in moviedom, it’s Lang who is the “master of darkness,” and the father of film noir!
Tracy escapes his lynching. The lynchers don’t know it. He’s on the verge of getting his revenge on them: getting twenty-odd citizens convicted or murder and sentenced, perhaps to death, when he decides that revenge isn’t the best way to his girl’s heart. Tracy lets the lynchers off the hook and Sidney loves him all over again.
Meantime, the lynchers are still what they are: and, for a moment there, they knew it.