Monday, March 04, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Try and Get Me (1950) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

It was another great evening of movies tonight at the UCLA Festival of Preservation. Last Friday evening's sold-out screening of GUN CRAZY (1950) was followed up with a large audience tonight for two rare film noir titles introduced by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation.

Muller presented beautifully restored 35mm prints of TRY AND GET ME (1950), also known by the title THE SOUND OF FURY, and REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947) (reviewed here). UCLA's restoration of TRY AND GET ME was partly funded by the 2011 For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon in which I was honored to participate.

As Muller explained before the film, TRY AND GET ME was based on a true incident which occurred in San Jose, California, in 1933. He was reticent to say a great deal about the plot so the audience could approach the film "cold"; I'll attempt to be fairly vague as well, though I'll say a bit more in regard to the storyline. For a much more detailed plot synopsis, please visit Glenn Erickson's 2009 column on the film at DVD Savant.

Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy) is out of work and having a difficult time supporting his pregnant wife Judy (Kathleen Ryan of CAPTAIN BOYCOTT) and son Tommy (Donald Smelick). A chance meeting with Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges) at a bowling alley leads to Howard agreeing to act as Jerry's driver when he knocks over some local stores. Judy thinks Howard is working the night shift and is thrilled to have plentiful groceries and new clothes.

Jerry's criminal plans escalate beyond stickups, and one night Howard finds himself in far deeper than he planned, as he is complicit when Jerry reveals himself to be a cold-blooded sociopath. After Howard's life spins completely out of control, the film ultimately becomes a cautionary tale musing on the responsibility of the press and the causes of crime and mob violence.

TRY AND GET ME was a very intense film; indeed, in the above-referenced review Glenn Erickson describes it as a "social horror movie," which is "not recommended for everybody," while the UCLA program calls it "startlingly dark." A mid-film crime sequence is absolutely brutal and disturbing to watch -- I'm not sure I'll ever look at Lloyd Bridges quite the same way again! -- and the final scenes are fairly gut-wrenching as well. I can't precisely say I enjoyed the movie, yet I am glad to have experienced it. It was a unique, thought-provoking movie which looked and felt quite unlike other films of the era, and it's distinguished by some fine performances.

Lloyd Bridges is particularly notable as the controlling, sexually ambiguous crook who kills without conscience or second thoughts, but crumbles when his own life is threatened, save for a last bit of false bravado. It's fascinating watching him take charge of Howard from the moment they meet, ordering Howard to hand him this or that.

I tend to associate Frank Lovejoy with confident "everyman" type roles, but here he's just an "everyman," so worn down by the lack of funds that he's willing to be in the control of a take-charge guy with access to money, even if it's by illicit means.

Another favorite, Richard Carlson, is effective as Gil Stanton, a newspaper reporter who initially cashes in at the behest of his publisher (Art Smith), sensationalizing the local crimes, but comes to regret it. Though Carlson's reporter is, for the most part, a nice and thoughtful guy, there's a certain smarmy (to quote Eddie Muller's comment to me) aspect to his portrayal, which makes it believable that he'd engage in writing tabloid-style stories.

I especially liked Irish actress Kathleen Ryan as Howard's gentle wife. A scene where she describes having had a dream where her baby was already born was very touching -- and perhaps particularly relatable to women who have had the same experience. Her soft Irish lilt is never explained, but since the family is originally from Boston one makes the jump to assume she had roots in a recently arrived Irish family there.

Katherine Locke and Adele Jergens play two women who spend an evening out with Jerry and Howard. The Virginia Mayo-esque Jergens is striking -- she was also seen that year in ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) -- but it's Locke who is truly memorable as a shy woman looking for a man. Unaware of Howard's true background, she clearly hopes Howard will prove to be The One, and she's willing to excuse a lot of strange or boorish behavior as long as the dream lives. I especially liked her acting in a scene where she dares to kiss the exhausted, oblivious Howard. Locke was in just a handful of films and died in 1995; she was married to Norman Corwin, who passed on in 2011 at the age of 101.

Questions the film raises about the role of the media remain relevant today. That said, the movie becomes a bit preachy at times, with Gil's professor friend (Renzo Cesana) regularly warning him about his coverage and its effect on society, while also questioning the societal reasons for crime. There must be a middle ground between the professor seemingly excusing criminal conduct due to "environment" on the one hand and out-of-control mob violence in retribution for crime on the other! And fortunately I think our society has usually found it.

The film's small-town setting and set design was extremely well done. One of the most notable scenes for me, from a visual and cultural standpoint, was a sequence where several neighbors in Howard's run-down neighborhood were gathered together in a darkened living room watching the neighbor's TV. Although Howard and his wife live in a detached home, their dirt poor existence was reminiscent of the stark tenement in THE WINDOW (1949).

I think my biggest problem with the film, other than its sheer darkness, was my frustration with Howard. In some films, such as GUN CRAZY, one can buy characters doing Bad Things and just enjoy going along for the ride.

In this case, however, the innate intelligence that is part of Lovejoy's persona makes one think Howard should have been way too smart to make the choices he did. How did he think he would sustain his new "income" long term, and how would he explain it to his wife if he suddenly came into big money? Did he think she'd never find out about his lack of a real job, given that they lived in a small town? If he loved his family so much he'd steal for them, did he not also love them enough to consider what would happen to them if he were caught?

I found it a little hard to buy Howard's desperation completely shutting off his brain -- especially as it was certainly functioning adequately as he suffered intense remorse and mental agony later in the film.

The movie was directed by Cy Endfield and filmed in black and white by Guy Roe. According to Eddie Muller, the final scenes were shot in Mesa, Arizona. Jo Pagano's screenplay was based on his book THE CONDEMNED. The running time was 85 minutes.

TRY AND GET ME had a release by Republic on VHS but is still awaiting a DVD release. It's available for streaming on Netflix under the title THE SOUND OF FURY.

Southern Californians interested in seeing the restored 35mm print will soon have another opportunity at the 15th Annual Noir City Hollywood festival next month. While it's not an easy film to watch, it's certainly worthwhile, as I hope is conveyed above, and I recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to see it as it was meant to be seen.

For more, here's Marilyn Ferdinand's review at Ferdy on Films of her experience seeing the film at Noir City San Francisco. Marilyn was one of the organizers of the For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon. She writes: "From working with the Film Noir Foundation on the blogathon, I knew this film pushed the warning needle far into nasty. However, I was not adequately prepared for its visual and narrative power, or the nakedly emotional performances of Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, and Kathleen Ryan...one of the darkest — and best — noir films I have ever seen."

Prior to the screenings it was great to have the chance to say hello to the lovely Kim of GlamAmor and enjoy a short chat with Eddie Muller. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Mr. Muller and film noir at Noir City Hollywood in April!

In the meantime, more noir is coming to the UCLA Festival of Preservation this Sunday, March 10th, and Monday, March 11th.

Update: Related post: Tonight's Movie: The Lawless (1950).

April 5th Update: I've posted additional thoughts on seeing the film a second time at the Noir City Film Festival.

12 Comments:

Blogger barrylane said...

This is a genuine leftist tract as are most film noir productions. But, this thing is so out front about it. Bridges and Enfield, Enfield especially are or were extremists of the kind now found on university campuses. Bridges merely a social democrat but the other guy a communist and that means a person who has bought into the Stalinist regime. While it may be said that they didn't know the opposite view is also true: They should have known.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Marilyn said...

Laura - Great review! I didn't have the problems with Howard that you did. Perhaps Lovejoy was too intelligent to play the part, but that only added to the tragedy. His experiences of WWII surely damaged him, and add the financial worries of new baby and the nonexistent job market, and you have a disaster from a disordered mind.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Wonderful review, Laura!
A harrowing film to watch. I'm a fan of both Frank Lovejoy and Lloyd Bridges. Both do so well, though I agree maybe Frank wasn't the best casting for that role.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Marilyn, I like that, "a disaster from a disordered mind." Thank you for stopping by and also for your review of the film from the San Francisco Noir City Festival -- and most of all thanks to you, the Siren, and everyone who worked on the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon two years back!

Appreciate everyone's varied perspectives. The film provides many angles to consider and discuss. It's interesting, I have almost enjoyed thinking over and discussing the film after the fact more than actually watching it -- really glad I saw it, much food for thought, but wow, it was, as Vienna says, "harrowing."

Best wishes,
Laura

1:43 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

Barrylane, if you want to see a film noir with a really heavy-handed leftist message try JIGSAW (1949). One of the worst movies I've ever seen.

I don't think most true film noirs are especially political - the social message noirs are more often than not just crime thrillers with a heavy-handed political agenda. Social message films are a major pet hate of mine.

6:40 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Re: Jigsaw. I have seen it And agreed. Not only a socio-political point of view I don't much like but clearly, with multiple directors working for free on a love-child of a project, the result is at least somewhat incoherent. As for leftist-noirs--have another look. These are anti-social films in which the message comes up short and soft for purposes of distribution. But, it is there. An attack on the American Dream. Too bad for me because that is exactly what I admire most in our country.

9:30 AM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

@barrylane. Yes I do agree that there is a subtle leftist message in much film noir. As for the attacks on the American Dream, that kind of knee-jerk anti-Americanism has long been the favourite pastime of American intellectuals. It's one of the reasons I dislike intellectuals so much. Sadly that kind of hatred of one's own country is just as common in Australia, where I live.

At least the anti-Americanism of film noir was fairly subtle, which is more than can be said for Hollywood today.

2:04 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

If I were in Australia I would buy you a drink. With pleasure.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Don Ross said...

I’m Don Ross (nee Donald Smelick). “Try and Get Me” wasn’t shot in Mesa it was shot in Phoenix and Hollywood. I played Frank Lovejoy’s kid. For instance, the scene of me banging on a chair while my parents argued behind me was shot in Hollywood. I was with my real parents at the filming of the jail scene which was shot in Phoenix. We were in the jail complex of the county courthouse watching the shoot. Lloyd Bridges didn’t break character between take after take as he paced the cell sweating and shouting. Frank Lovejoy was the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. The original name, “The Sound of Fury” was changed as it was very similar to another film in release at the time. 

10:03 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Don!

How terrific to get firsthand information straight from a cast member. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your memories about the location and key actors. It's fascinating to hear how Lloyd Bridges approached his performance in that shattering scene.

As a big fan of Frank Lovejoy I especially appreciate you sharing what a nice guy he was. It's always wonderful to hear something so positive about how an admired actor conducts himself off the screen.

Thank you again!

Best wishes,
Laura

11:06 AM  
Blogger Don Ross said...

Thanks for the nice things you said Laura. I have a vey strong memory of Lovejoy because he treated me as a fellow actor. I was sitting on the concrete floor of the sound stage in Hollywood watching them dress the kitchen set. Lovejoy came over and sat on the cold floor beside me. I was 11 or 12, I didn’t know who he was, I was only told he was famous. He didn’t treat me as a kid asking dumb questions like what grade I was in or what kind of bike I had. For a few minutes he treated me as a fellow actor. He asked what work I’d done (some stage work) and where I wanted to go in the future as an actor. But he did all this in a friendly way, actor to actor. When he was called to set some crew came over and asked if I knew who he was. I had no idea.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That is such a special memory of Frank Lovejoy! And it's especially illuminating as he's an actor about whom comparatively little has been written, despite his prolific career. Having that kind of insight into the type of person he was from someone who interacted with him is wonderful. I appreciate you sharing your memories here very much!

Best wishes,
Laura

7:12 PM  

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