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Fury (1936) was Fritz Lang’s first American feature film after fleeing Nazi Germany. The film is a not so subtle indictment by Lang of the German people’s embrace of Hitler. The willingness of the citizens of the small town of Strand to adopt a mob mentality mirrors the panic and desperation that allowed Hitler to rise to power. Spencer Tracy’s closing monologue reads easily as Lang’s own denouncement of Nazism.

Fury was a natural choice for Lang’s first Hollywood feature. Its themes of mistaken identity, vigilanteism and general social consciousness fit nicely with many of the themes and concerns of Lang’s earlier German features such as Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933) and M (1931). Fritz Lang didn’t flee Nazi Germany as early as some filmmakers and one can see his growing disdain and distrust for the regime evolve in his movies. The aptly titled Fury represents the pinnacle of that revulsion when it was absolutely necessary for Lang to break from Germany. Lang’s hesitance to abandon the Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft is reflected in the Spencer Tracy character’s own reluctance to forsake his own vendetta. Ultimately both Lang and Tracy’s character Joe Wilson opt to be a part of humanity but only after witnessing the darkest parts of themselves.

Tracy’s performance in Fury as Joe Wilson is one of the best of his career. At the start of the film Wilson is just an every day “Joe” in love with his dream girl Katherine Grant (Sylvia Sidney). They’re too poor to marry but Wilson is working on opening a gas station with his brothers. After putting Katherine on a train he encounters a stray dog (Toto in The Wizard Of Oz) whom he adopts and names Rainbow. As the lovers correspond, Lang gives the viewer a montage of the most idyllic scenes that epitomize the American Dream.

The tone and purpose of Fury changes when Wilson is arrested as a suspect in a kidnapping case while en route to see Katherine and marry. While she waits for him, a mob forms and attacks the jail where he’s held. When word reaches Katherine that Wilson is likely to be lynched she frantically hitchhikes to the town of Strand, arriving only to see her beloved engulfed in flames. This chain of events is told in a series of rapid, action motivated cuts that creates a kinetic energy. The faces of the mob, contorted with rage and violence, recall the horrified looks in Metropolis (1927).

Wilson doesn’t die in the fire. He escapes, hiding the fact that he is alive from Katherine and the public. He has become a bitter vengeful man. All of Tracy’s bumbling body language has been replaced with a cold stiffness as if Wilson were living with rigor mortis. Fury becomes a courtroom drama, following the trial of twenty-two members of the mob that supposedly killed Wilson. Wilson himself follows the proceedings via the radio, wringing his hands with delight. Luckily for the defendants, Katherine finds Wilson and he has a change of heart.

The shifts in narrative and tone in Fury are fluid in Fritz Lang’s expert hands. As the plausibility of the plot fades it is hardly noticeable because by that point the viewer is enthralled by Lang’s expressionist images and the performances of Tracy and Sidney. Fury, as the title suggests, packs a punch. The film successfully maneuvers the audience from detesting the blind rage of the lynch mod to embracing the steely resolve of Wilson’s vengeance. In the final moments of the film when Wilson addresses the mob, Lang pulls the rug out from under the viewer, revealing that their empathy for Wilson’s vendetta was really no different from emphasizing with the mob itself.

In the years since its release Fury has lost none of its dramatic potency or political relevancy. Unlike the more popular The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Fury feels very much apart of contemporary American political discourse rather than merely a chapter in the nation’s collective history. The intrinsic human weakness that allows mobs to form is ever present and is what makes Fury such a powerful cinematic experience. One could even argue that it reads better as an allegory for the United States Capitol attack of January 6th, 2021 than as Fritz Lang’s denouncement of Nazism.