Fury: Lang’s First American Film Noir?

Fritz Lang’s Fury is one of the few films of the decade to show that society’s legitimate authority, the government-police force, is both ineffective and inefficient.

The sheriff and his deputy are not trusted by their populace; considered to be lazy, they play cards instead of working.

The politicians are corrupt demagogues who are using empty slogans. Will Vickery (Edwin Maxwell) says in his campaign, “The American people, dedicated to equality and justice for all, want no Communism, Fascism, or any other such dandruff in their hair!” The governor is all too easily persuaded that dispatching the national guards would be a political mistake. By the time they are brought in, it’s too late; the jail has been set on fire. The movie shows how easy it is to violate the tenets of fair play and common

Teachers and education don’t fare much better in this town. Jorgeson threatens the high school teacher: “If you young geniuses keep tryin’ t’ fill our children’s heads with these radical ideas, we parents ‘ll have to get a law!” “It’s not possible to get a law that denies the right to say what one believes,” says the teacher, citing the Constitution, but Jorgeson has never read–and doesn’t care about–the Constitution. Provincial, the inhabitants are also pompous and pretentious. Asked to identify her occupation at the trial, Mrs. Hooper uses the French word couturier, not a dressmaker.

Fury is an early film noir, thematically as well as stylistically. The protagonist, like many later noir men, is an embittered loser bent on revenge. The ambiguity and obsessiveness of his character qualify him as a noir hero, a man unable to forget his harrowing past, which will continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.

The narrative is divided into two parts. In the first, more powerful and truthful, part, there is a direct attack on lynching and a plea against mob rule. In the second, and weaker part, the tone becomes more sentimental and reconciliatory.

Still, despite a “resolution,” when Joe decides to come out of his hiding and testify, and despite a nominal “happy ending,” in which Joe and Catherine are reunited, the overall tone is grim and depressing. The film does not imply that the town’s inhabitants have learned any lesson from their misconduct. Nor does Joe redeem himself completely of his obsessive urge for revenge.