I’m always delighted to be able to finally see an elusive motion picture I’ve heard about most of my adult life; if it’s a film noir, so much the better. Thus, win/win with the recent Blu-Ray release of the 1950 obscurity TRY AND GET ME, now available through Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment.
Made independently on a low budget for Robert Stillman Productions, with a guaranteed distribution deal from United Artists, TRY AND GET ME is one of those spidery web of hopelessness dramas so far-fetched that it must be based on a true story. And so it is.
The movie revolves around the infamous 1933 Brooke Hart kidnapping/murder case and subsequent horrific vigilante justice, which inspired the 1936 Fritz Lang classic Fury. In fact, the pic, either as an in-joke or homage, was originally entitled The Sound of Fury (I prefer to think it was the former).
Unlike the earlier version, the protagonist is not a totally innocent dupe, but rather (as in the actual case) a pair of thieves looking to up their game. One, Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges at his sleaziest) is a career criminal, the other, Howard Tyler (the always underrated Frank Lovejoy), a poor schnook who couldn’t get a break if a truckload of crutches fell on him.
Tyler, barely getting by, is nevertheless unswervingly championed by his loyal, longing (and needy) wife (Kathleen Ryan) and child (the unfortunately named Donald Smelick). Desperate to work, Tyler travels hours each day trying to pick up any kind of employment. Disillusioned, he enters a bowling alley for some relief and a brewski. And, wham, there it happens. It’s the old, “A fool walks into a bar (well, bowling alley)…” wheeze. Lovejoy gravitates toward loudmouth cool dude Bridges, a self-made entrepreneur, lucky in cards and love. Naturally, Lovejoy is intrigued, and soon the two strike up a conversation, not unlike the Granger/Walker “meet cute” from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
Tyler eventually ends up in Slocum’s hotel room listening to the braggart’s grandiose plans and schemes, eventually realizing that his new bestie is a 100% sociopath. Bridges’ offer of a decent paying gig encompasses being no less than a wheel man for a series of small-time robberies. At first Lovejoy is outraged, but soon is convinced that his plight is society’s fault. He wanted a job, but no one else gives a crap about him, so WTF.
Soon bills are being paid, wifey is happy, and all is good. It’s the new post-war American dream, with a couple of caveats.
Concurrently, the press, portrayed as self-serving journalists with an accent on the yellow, scares the public with local crime-wave articles, penned by a conflicted Richard Carlson. His boss, slimy Art Smith, couldn’t care less, as each issue outsells the last.
Fuel feeds the fire, and small-timer Bridges now wants to up the ante. The something-new-has-been-added incentive is to kidnap a local rich kid (Carl Kent), collect a ransom and live on easy street. Lovejoy is appalled, but essentially blackmailed into assisting, the promise of one last big payoff being a not-so-bad carrot. But did we say that Bridges is a sociopath? Oh, yeah, we did. “No witnesses” is the best solution to prevent capture, and a shocked Lovejoy watches as his partner lovingly slaughters the victim.
The guilt piles up, causing Lovejoy to drift into alcoholism and, finally (dat ole debil moon) insanity.
The public, revved up by the sensational reporting, forms a mob, intent to hunt and extract their own special kind of justice. And since the community is multi-racial…uh-oh, here we go…
In many ways, like Losey’s extraordinary contemporaneous effort The Lawless (also available through Olive Films), TRY AND GET ME melds many progressive ideas (anti-capital punishment, affordable health care, decent pay) into a cohesive and literate narrative (much of it delivered by an admittedly preachy immigrant sociologist, enacted by Renzo Cesana). Based on the The Condemned by Jo Pagano, the script, by Pagano and director Cyril Endfield, is an almost flawless primer on how to write a first-rate movie on a miniscule budget. Of course, it helps immensely that the cast and crew is no Z-movie company. Aside from the excellent thesps already named, the roster of A-1 players includes Adele Jergens, Harry Shannon, Kathleen Locke, Yvette Vickers, Irene Vernon and, in his cinema debut (as a lousy comic) Joe E. Ross. Hot cha! The pic was beautifully photographed on location in Phoenix, AZ, by Guy Roe (who previously photographed Sirk’s exquisite 1946 A Scandal in Paris), and the music score is by the terrific composer Hugo Friedhofer.
Best of all is the tight, suspenseful direction by Endfield. It’s likely his liberal ideas sealed his fate, as this was his next to last work before being blacklisted by HUAC, and forced to seek refuge in the UK (where he remained for most of the rest of his days, not surprisingly a close doppelganger of the aforementioned Losey’s future). They sure tried to get him! Alas, our loss was Britain’s gain. Once ensconced in England, Endfield strutted his considerable stuff by knocking out the first draft for the horror classic Night of the Demon, while embarking on a remarkable series of brilliant movies in which he collaborated with actor Stanley Baker, including 1957’s Hell Drivers and the 1964 classic Zulu.
TRY AND GET ME, under the original Sound of Fury moniker, performed disastrously upon its debut. UA quickly withdrew it, gave it the more exploitative TRY AND GET ME title, and let it loose again amongst the popcorn-munchers, where it bellied-up even worse. The movie was tossed into the Joan of Arc/Ishtar bin, where it essentially remained for more than sixty years, with only enticing pressbook snippets, amazing stills and poster art to whet noir/Endfield fans anxious labiis.
Thankfully, Olive Films has rescued this too-long neglected gem and given it the treatment it deserves. The 35mm elements are in fine shape with Blu-Ray bringing out all the stark black-and-white cinematography in stunning detail. Ditto the mono audio, particularly one grisly moment where the sound of raw steak being pounded in a diner is identical to that of Bridges pummeling Kent’s head with a rock.
So, film noir aficionados, there’s no reason for you to try and get TRY AND GET ME. Simply put, get it! And get it good!
TRY AND GET ME. Black-and-white. Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]. 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment. CAT # OF1195. SRP: $29.95.