Combustible Celluloid
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With: Frank Lovejoy, Kathleen Ryan, Richard Carlson, Lloyd Bridges, Katherine Locke, Adele Jergens, Art Smith, Renzo Cesana, Irene Vernon, Cliff Clark, Harry Shannon, Donald Smelick
Written by: Jo Pagano, based on his novel
Directed by: Cy Endfield
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 92
Date: 04/19/2016

Try and Get Me! (1950)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Lynch Worms

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Cy Endfield was a fascinating figure in American film. He was discovered by Orson Welles' Mercury Theater for his talent with card tricks, and was allowed on the sets of some of Welles' films. He made short films and wrote scripts, and was involved in a series of "Joe Palooka" films before he made his mark in 1950 with the film noir The Underworld Story, and this movie. Try and Get Me! is a powerful condemnation of mob mentality and a call for kindness and reason, and it was immediately considered Communist propaganda. But Endfield refused to name names and left the country, working out of England for the rest of his career.

At last released on DVD and Blu-ray by Olive Films, Try and Get Me! is actually the re-issue title; Endfield's original title was The Sound of Fury. (Not sure why Olive went with the other title, but at least it's the same film, and appears to be uncut.) It's based on a novel by Jo Pagano, which was inspired by a real incident that occurred in San Jose in 1933. That incident also inspired Fritz Lang's film Fury (1936).

Out-of-work Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy) can't seem to get a break. His wife Judy (Kathleen Ryan) is pregnant with their second child, and he can't even afford to let his son go to a ball game. He goes out for a beer and runs into the slick, effervescent Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges), who is bowling. Jerry seems to have money to burn, and he tells Howard about a possible job, driving. Of course, the job is outside the law, holding up shops and gas stations, but Howard can't turn it down. Before long, there comes the "one last big job," kidnapping the son of a wealthy family and asking for ransom. Something goes wrong, and Jerry brutally murders their victim, deciding to go ahead with the ransom.

They drive to the next town to mail the ransom note, bringing along two "dames" — Jerry's blonde, statuesque girlfriend Velma (Adele Jergens) and Velma's homelier friend Hazel (Katherine Locke) — so as not to look suspicious. After a long night of drinking and suffering of brutal, crushing guilt (Lovejoy really conveys the weight of his conscience), Howard confesses to Hazel. Meanwhile, a successful, syndicated newspaper columnist, Gil Stanton (Richard Carlson), has been asked to cover the kidnapping story, and he goes to town on Howard and Jerry, calling them inhuman monsters, etc. A European professor friend (Renzo Cesana) warns Gil that he ought to be treating them with reason and understanding (perhaps the movie's only overt messaging), but Gil has papers to sell. Before long, a lynch mob has formed outside the police station.

The final sequences show Bridges and Lovejoy in their cells, photographed like animals. Bridges is like a tiger, raging at the bars, pummeling the bedframe, murder in his eyes, while Lovejoy is more like a scared rabbit, trying to hide. The mob outside is no better; it's all raw emotion, and all of it ugly and curdled. The movie opens with a blind man preaching the gospel on the sidewalk, offering passerby the way to the light, but he is knocked over and his pamphlets scattered.

Endfield is clearly a gifted director. His daylight shots emphasize a run-down urban area, everything around Howard's home feeling shabby and cheap. Gil's place, on the other hand, is ritzy and open-aired. He's a gourmet in his spare time and prepares wondrous meals on the patio for guests, lighting the outside lamps to cast light on the lush greenery and the fancy food. Then, there's the out-of-town sequences, the nightclubs with their off-kilter angles and out-of-focus fuzziness. A lousy comedian immediately attacks the foursome with some pranks; Howard looks around gamely at every single nightclub patron laughing at him.

But it's Endfield's final message that sticks with you: that sound, the sound of a mob cheering at the untimely, unlawful deaths of two human beings. At this point, Gil has become aware of what his newspaper stories have done, and he's regretful, but imagine how devastated Endfield would be to find how little has changed in 2016, with Fox News catering to the masses with emotional, button-pushing stories, and people like Trump riding on waves of anger and hatred. Ordinarily, I'd consider a movie like this a "message movie," but when the movie is so brilliantly made, with a story so well-told and so urgent, I'd say it's more like something essential.

Olive Films has given us a beautiful transfer of this movie — apparently Martin Scorsese was in possession of the only existing print — with all its remarkable textures (both physical and emotional), but also offering optional English subtitles as well! (Look fast for the lovely Yvette Vickers as an extra in the nightclub.)

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