Based on a novelization of a true-crime kidnapping story from the ’30s, this is a very noirish film noir with buddies Jerry and Howard (Lloyd Bridges and Frank Lovejoy) teaming up for nefarious activity.
Unemployed Howard is desperate to support pregnant wife Judy (Kathleen Ryan) and his kid Tommy (Donald Smelick). Richard Carlson plays local journalist Gil Stanton, out to capitalize on the crime spree engineered by Jerry. Sheriff Demig is played by Cliff Clark. Two girls with great ’50s names, Hazel and Velma (Katherine Locke and Adele Jergens), sort of insinuate themselves into Howard and Jerry’s circle. That’s a vicious circle for Howard, as his guilt drags him to drinking and partying on the wild side. For some reason–not unusual for the straying husband character in this type of movie–Judy is slow to figure out what’s going on.
A kidnapping deal gone wrong results in a lynch-mob threat–thus the alternate to the classier Faulknerian title. It’s said that the criminals, though they deserve justice, shouldn’t get the unofficial version. There’s some preachy stuff, thanks to a professor Simone (Renso Cesana)–Ok, but what’s college stuff got to do with the underworld, unless you’re studying mythology? Well, those college boys make willing lynchers, that’s what.
Starting with a street preacher going on about “Dive-bombing your way to the devil!” is somehow appropriate. Anyway Howard bums a ride to ‘Santa Sierra.’ He relates to the driver his dismal circumstances. At home, Judy is frazzled by the kid, etc. She think he’s got a job, but no soap.
At the bowling alley he gets upsold on beer, as Stanton looks on. In the alleys, he meets the slick Jerry, who makes up for the slight by spiking his beer. Later on, he goes back to Jerry’s for a real drink. Jerry is studying himself in the mirror like he’s Charles Atlas. Dropping the tidbit that his buddy is in the easy money, Howard responds “Twenty bucks an hour? What’s he do, run a diamond mine?”
No, he fixes poker games, that kind of thing. So, there’s bread for Howard too, if he wouldn’t mind driving a getaway car for some heist jobs. After dithering a bit, Howard’s in. His first step into the underworld involves lying to Judy about why he’s gonna be late.
Arriving home after the heist, Judy’s gone next door to watch TV with Tommy. (This scene is very iconic, in that there’s a big crowd around the set, as TV is still a newish marvel in 1950). Next day, the Stanton’s guest is the professor and his wife. They talk about the ‘crime wave.’ I’m already bored with Doctor Simone–he can’t say two words without making a speech–to the Sheriff, no less.
Now Jerry talks about the big score. But, and we knew this was coming, that will be his last job. Don’t all these newbie crooks say so? Ok, kidnapping time. Jerry forces the victim to drive off from the guy’s place, with Howard following in another car…they stop and both kidnappers tie him up, leaving in their car.
So far so good. At a not-so-remote cottage, they have to hit the dirt as they’re nearly discovered. Jerry’s next move is to roll the guy off a cliff, and then into a pond, the victim will truly sleep with the fishes. Howard is outraged. Back home, Judy’s wondering what’s up. It’s a creepy scene, as the wind is slapping through the window in the middle of the night, while Judy recalls a beautiful dream of their upcoming baby.
Meeting up with Jerry at a diner, we hear the waitress describe a steak sandwich order as “one cow on a slab.” They discuss a ransom note–for $50k. “Velma’s waiting, with a girlfriend” says Jerry. Waiting for what, is the question. Meanwhile the dead guy’s abandoned car is found and IDed. I think the extortion is going to be a no-sell when you’re bargaining for a (now discovered) corpse.
Now we find Velma and Hazel. Clearly Velma is the Jerry of this relationship. They’re cruising as though on a double-date. Howard goes to mail the extortion letter and is button-holed by a new dad, obviously overjoyed, and going on about his son. Initially reluctant to respond, Howard can’t resist reassuring him that all will be well. Clearly, Howard’s mind isn’t where it should be, with his family, and he knows it.
Anyway, the foursome hits a nightspot. The comedian there is obnoxious, and isn’t exactly suiting Howard’s mood. Totally preoccupied, Howard ignores Hazel. Although they dance, he’s too tanked to care about her; when he takes her home, he says nothing, and just walks away. Unexpectedly, he goes back to her place, very late. “You want me to like you, don’t you?” She figures correctly.
The news of the kidnapped guy’s car being found is all over the papers. When Hazel finds the guy’s cufflink in his coat, he confesses the whole thing. Back home, we learn from the neighbors that Howard’s been gone for a couple of days. Judy and the neighbors think he’s ducked out because he’s been layed-off or something.
Meanwhile, Hazel has probably finked on Howard, as his place is ringed by police. A gathering crowd points out that Howard is indeed holed up inside there. Judy comes back, completely aghast. After Howard is carted away, Gil and Simone trade comments about the nature of the kidnapped guy’s death. The headlines refer to “torture” and such; that clearly didn’t happen. Even the sheriff tells Gil “I don’t want to see this town worked up” and chides him for the sensationalist coverage “just take it easy.”
Hazel and Velma show up at police headquarters; Hazel’s sad, Judy is silent. She comes calling at the Stanton’s, trying to get him to go easy on Howard. “He’s not a monster like you call him in the paper.” In a jailhouse letter he confesses all of his crimes “God is coming after me.” Gil finishes reading the letter, and is obviously moved. The professor’s speech is a warning: “violence is a disease…among nations as well as people.” Not that Simone has stopped oversimplifing the case, but, sobered by Judy’s visit, Gil literally wants to stop the (hateful) presses.
With lurid pictures and deliberate false statements, the newsstory has gotten under peoples’ skin. It’s to the point where a crowd starts to form outside the jail. “We’re not going home until we get what we came for!” Insists an onlooker. Even the other prisoners are giving Howard and Jerry dirty looks. The sheriff tries to get the crowd calmed down and urges them to disperse. Instead, they actually sabotage the loudspeaker equipment.
All the other prisoners are let out; Howard more or less gives the sheriff and Gil his last wishes. The deputies fire tear gas into the crowd, but they retaliate with firehouses and then tear the doors down. It’s just a matter of time before the guy’s are doomed. This entire long scene is completely digusting and horrible “That sound!” Says Gil, of the crowd’s yell. Back home, mom tries to comfort Tommy. What can she say? Fortunately, we don’t see the bitter end.
This is so authentic and unrelenting that it’s almost difficult to watch. Nonetheless, I was glued because it was so well-done. All of the performances here are great; good chemistry comes easy when the cast plays people, not just roles. There’s an incredible range of characters too: from the loyal, quietly competent Judy to the hedonistic narcissist Jerry.
As I’ve hinted, the Jerry/Howard relationship is mirrored by Velma/Hazel. Gil’s interesting too; he starts out as just opportunistic, but is sensitive and open enough to wise up. Simone’s character is a sort of thematic red herring. He so blatantly represents an ivory-tower view; discoursing with the level of abstraction necessary to explain societal problems (such as crime) as though offering a solution for the Rubic’s Cube.
The pacing is superb–things happen at a dizzying pace–we see Howard going at full tilt like a caged hamster on a wheel. Yet the camera lingers on scenes enough so that the atmosphere becomes like a character.
One of the best film noirs, Sound of Fury is not only distinctive but hits all the noir motifs (desperation, a fall from respectability, strange characters, creepy atmosphere, moody cinematography, panic, fear, flight, no escape, etc.) in striking fashion.
Farmermouse was content to watch the old-time TV with Tommy, and play with his cap pistols. Ten Lincoln ambulances for this great film. 10/10.