A great deal of film noir strongly hints at a current of post-war anxiety lurking in the American psyche, but Cy Endfield's Try and Get Me! (aka The Sound of Fury) practically shouts about that anxiety from the rooftops. This is a movie that opens with a street preacher screaming at the top of his lungs: “WHY DO YOU DO THE THINGS YOU DO? WHY?!” This is a mad, panic-stricken film that takes a hard look at America and sees a country being eaten alive by desperation, greed and mindless violence. It packs a real punch, even if it makes some exasperatingly clumsy creative decisions.
After that fiery prologue, the film shifts into a familiar noir set-up. Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy, The Hitch-Hiker) is a California man who's been struggling to find steady work, and his wife Judy (Kathleen Ryan, Christopher Columbus) is beginning to grow anxious about their financial situation. Eventually, Howard gets a lucrative offer from the silver-tongued Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges, Sea Hunt), a professional thief who needs a getaway car driver. Howard reluctantly agrees, telling his wife that he's gotten a job “working the night shift.” Howard attempts to enjoy his newfound wealth, but his guilty conscience drives him to alcoholism. Eventually, an attempted kidnapping that goes south leads to both Howard and Jerry getting thrown in jail.
Here, the film pivots into different thematic territory, offering an examination of American bloodlust and the role the media plays in stoking it. Local journalist Gil Stanton (Richard Carlson, King Solomon's Mines) is assigned to cover the story, and while his initial reports are both lurid and harsh (essentially condemning Howard before the case even goes to trial), his tone begins to shift after he meets Judy and begins to get a clearer picture of the economic struggles that drove Howard to do the things he did. However, the paper he works for has no interest in softening Howard's public image, and the stories grow wilder and nastier.
Given the era in which the film was made, it's clear that Endfield (working from a screenplay by Jo Pagano) was commenting on more than America's sensationalist crime reporting. There are fairly blatant parallels between this story and the anti-Communist fearmongering taking place in America at the time, and it's clear that Endfield feels a certain measure of resentfulness towards the masses that eagerly accept the propaganda they've been handed without question. Perhaps the message was a little too obvious: the year after the film's release, Endfield was named as a Communist at a HUAC hearing, forcing the director to move to Britain and start working under various pseudonyms.
Indeed, Endfield wants to make sure that you know exactly what he's saying, which is simultaneously the film's biggest strength and weakness. While it's refreshing to see a movie from the early '50s tackling its subject matter so bluntly (the riot that occupies much of the third act is startlingly brutal considering the film's age), Endfield can't resist the urge to spell everything out for you. He largely does this via Dr. Simone (Renzo Cesana, Stromboli), an Italian sociologist who pops up every few minutes or so to offer some earnest observations about modern society. These scenes are so laughably heavy-handed that they might as well come with bright, flashing subtitles reading “MORAL OF THE STORY.” Dr. Simone even manages to trample all over the film's otherwise-strong ending, as his disembodied voice offers some parting thoughts over the closing shot.
That fumble aside, Try and Get Me! is certainly a worthwhile and distinctive slice of noir. Endfield's direction is stylish and energetic (dig those Dutch angles!), the performances are compelling (particularly Bridges as the sneering villain and Ryan in the scenes where she's forced to confront some painful truths about her family) and the film's ideas – even when handled poorly – are still resonant (modern viewers may very well think of Donald Trump rather than Joe McCarthy when examining the film's portrait of an angry, easily-manipulated American public). It earns its exclamation point.
Try and Get Me!
Rating: ★★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Year: 1950