In The Underworld Story (1950), Mike Reese (Dan Duryea) is a reporter always after the most sensational angle on a juicy story. After getting fired from his big city paper, and blacklisted everywhere else, he lies and pays his way into being the new editor at a small town publication owned by Catherine (Gale Storm). On his first day in the bedroom community, the daughter-in-law of prominent news publisher Stanton (Herbert Marshall) is murdered by his nasty son (Gar Moore), and Mike milks the story to reestablish his name, boost readership and sell exclusives to big outlets. When he smells a groundswell of local support he he flips to “defend” the black servant Molly (Mary Anderson) and turn the matter into a David vs. Goliath battle. Unsurprisingly, Duryea is fabulous through his arc from corrupt opportunist and master exploiter who couldn’t care less about the maid or the truth, to something resembling an idealist when the truth about the Stantons and feelings for Catherine stir his long-dormant decency. Duryea creates a compelling, even likable heel for whom I had hope no matter how shockingly callous and low he got.
This smart story by mystery author Craig Rice and adapted by director Cy Endfield, spreads the guilt of racism, witch hunts, payoffs, secret deals and weather-vane loyalties equally among criminal, suburban, political and corporate elites, and shows the power of the press to shape and guide public opinion and convict any victim. It’s tough and riveting with many highlights besides Duryea’s powerful performance, like Anderson calling Mike a slaver and her steely refusal to plead guilty, Howard da Silva’s smiling jabs at the Stantons’ predicament and pretentiousness even as he blackmails his way into being included in their lush life, and Marshall’s sad disgust at his son’s cold-blooded entitlement.
The Sound of Fury, aka Try and Get Me! (1950) is also directed by Endfield, and similarly addresses the power of the press, this time to whip up an angry mob ready to storm a jailhouse and tear apart a couple of murderers. Howard (Frank Lovejoy, so good as a tortured soul) is at his breaking point: unemployed, desperate for a buck and guilty he brought his pregnant wife Judy (Kathleen Ryan) and boy cross-country into poverty. All that humiliation plus a weak will and bad luck land him in the clutches of charismatic psycho Jerry (Lloyd Bridges), an over-compensating macho cad and textbook manipulator who grooms Howard into an obedient accomplice by making him prove he’s no coward/softie, then hooks him with the easy rewards of “safe” holdups. Between Judy’s joy, a son’s approval and fancy groceries, it’s easy to see why Howard sticks to Jerry while lying about his great new job. Inevitably, Jerry’s violence escalates and one night he trusses and bludgeons their kidnap victim. Wracked with guilt and shame, Howard avoids his home with another pathetic, lonely soul trying to keep up with societal standards, the friend (Katherine Locke) of Jerry’s moll (Adele Jergens). Once apprehended, Howard is resigned to getting get sucked down with Jerry, sees his fate as just punishment, and leaves his wife an explanatory letter and a wish that she and the kids flee all this madness.
This movie was based on the 1947 Jo Pagano novel, in turn based on a 1933 kidnapping and lynching, which inspired the film Fury (1936). The message is strong in this adaptation, right from the opening vignette where a blind sidewalk preacher warns of impending doom before being knocked down by uncaring leaflet-stomping pedestrians. After the brutal murder, the movie goes all Dutch angle to show us Howard’s upended world and night of heavy drinking. Those flourishes, plus the story and good acting by Lovejoy and Bridges get the points across very well, without the redundant character of Italian Professor Vito (Renzo Cesana) who’s visiting the reporter Stanton (Richard Carlson), and whose only function is to serve as lecturing, cautioning voice from Europe. Stanton comes to regret lumping in the more tragic and sympathetic sidekick Howard with the irredeemably evil Jerry, but moralizing and reflection come too late to hold back the crowds that mindlessly rush into the jail for justice. That break-in is long, detailed and horrifying, making a powerful end to this bleak picture of an overwhelmingly cruel and hazardous society.