Try and Get Me! (1950)

Film Title: Try and Get Me!tryandgetme

Year: 1950

Studio: Robert Stillman Productions/United Artists

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Genre: Film Noir

Starring:

  • Frank Lovejoy
  • Lloyd Bridges
  • Kathleen Ryan
  • Richard Carlson

Review

Try and Get Me (aka The Sound of Fury) is largely considered by film noir enthusiasts to be an underrated and somewhat overlooked title. There is a consensus among viewers that the film is anti-American. While there is a strong underlying social commentary present, the film seems to attack the establishment itself rather than the United States as a whole. Granted, the two may be loosely synonymous; and knowing the roots of noir as a cynical outlet for the dystopian society in which people were forced to live, it’s conceivable this film was a proverbial middle finger to the system.

Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy) and his wife Judy (Kathleen Ryan) are the average American couple trying to make ends meet. Howard has been out of work, and the financial repercussions of having no income has not only forced he and his family to live on the edge of poverty, but delivered a massive blow to his ego in the process. Judy is as supportive as possible, but Howard is tired and fed up, and can think of nothing but lashing out angrily when Judy finally breaks down emotionally. Heading out for a drink, Howard quickly crosses paths with Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges) at a neighborhood bowling alley. Jerry is a fast-talking, sharply-dressed playboy who appears to think the world of himself. The two men strike up a conversation, in which Jerry hints at a job opportunity for Howard. With nothing to lose and nowhere to go, Howard follows Jerry home to learn more about the possibilities.

Jerry can sense Howard’s desperation, and pours the charm on thick to make himself look financially and intellectually superior, complimenting himself as he changes into an expensive suit. Howard presses Jerry for more information about the job opening, which he soon learns involves being a getaway driver for Jerry’s nightly crime sprees around town. Howard initially backs away, but relents with thoughts of finally making some money, even if he has to make it dishonestly.

The first few jobs result in fast cash for Howard, which allows him to spoil his wife and son under the pretense of having found employment. Howard’s renewed sense of stability causes him to continue aiding Jerry in multiple heists. But when Jerry goes for the big score and kidnaps a rich heir, eventually killing him, Howard is suddenly running for his life.

Try and Get Me is like many noir films, and at the same time, completely different. The constant theme radiating through the plot is: nice guys finish last. True, that in and of itself is quintessential noir. But where this film strays from the archetype is how it depicts the rest of society, on the “right side of the law.” Jerry and Howard are the criminals; Jerry is the real criminal and Howard could be considered a victim, but still a criminal by accessory. Yet, the people with whom the innocent public might closely identify, the cops and the press, are criminals in their own right. As a matter of fact, the public is also nothing but a flock of criminals, though their crimes are hidden under the guise of normalcy.

As the public becomes aware of the murder, they glue themselves to the words of newspaper columnist Gil Stanton (Richard Carlson), the mouthpiece delivering every juicy bit to their waiting eyes and ears. Gil’s motivation is to sell papers, oblivious to the emotional toll his column may be having on Howard’s family, as well as the victim’s family. Grisly details about the murder simply mean a bigger headline and a more dramatic buildup to what promises to be the trial of the century. It isn’t until Jerry and Howard have been captured and jailed that Gil realizes how hypocritical it is kill a man in print while chastising him for killing physically.

The point made in Try and Get Me is that people are bloodthirsty, not just those who would kill, rob or steal, but everyone else as well. The fabric of society dictates that there is right and there is wrong, and when a man is unanimously considered “wrong,” all actions against him are “right,” including legal proceedings and vigilante mobs. Additionally, there is a strong message that ordinary, decent people are forcibly thrust into acts they would otherwise shun, simply because there is no alternative in a broken society. This concept is ubiquitous even today, where the economy crash has led some people to rob stores and steal money just to survive.

Interestingly enough, this film is based on the true story of department store heir Brooke Hart, who was kidnapped and murdered in November 1933. Fritz Lang’s 1936 film Fury was the first to tell Hart’s story, though Try and Get Me is based on Jo Pagano’s novel The Condemned (Pagano also wrote the screenplay for this film), while Fury is based on Mob Rule by Norman Krasna (which drew inspiration from both the Brooke Hart murder and the Lindbergh kidnapping).

On Video

Try and Get Me is inexplicably unavailable on home video, that is, in any modern format. There is an old, creaky Republic VHS release floating around, though copies are not easily accessible and those that are tend to be priced high. The only alternative is to stream it via Amazon Instant Video. But for the love of God, why is there no DVD release? Talk about criminal…

Conclusion

This is not considered a noir staple, unless you ask the experts. Bosley Crowther’s original 1951 New York Times review didn’t cast the film in the most favorable light, commenting “What Jo Pagano is trying to say in this brooding film, which he himself has adapted from his own novel, ‘The Condemned,’ is that violence is a disease, caused by moral and social collapse, and that men should avoid it stoutly, turning to reason instead. This is a decent thesis and it should be constructively advanced. But, unfortunately, the arguments are so doleful and negative in this film that they offer no demonstration of correction or even hope.” For the time, Crowther’s words probably made sense, when there was no awareness that Try and Get Me was a “film noir.” Had Crowther known, he would have surely been wise enough to know that, in noir, hope doesn’t really exist.

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