Noir Nook: Ripped From the Headlines – Try and Get Me (1950)
This is an unpleasant post about an unpleasant movie based on an unpleasant, real-life incident.
With luck, this post will be the worst thing about the new year. It’s uphill from here, y’all!
The movie? United Artists’ 1950s feature Try and Get Me (originally released The Sound of Fury), starring Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, Kathleen Ryan, and Richard Carlson. In a nutshell, it centers on Howard Tyler (Lovejoy), an unemployed family man who, desperate for a way to support his pregnant wife and young son, allows himself to be lured by an acquaintance, Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges), into a life of crime. At first, limited to a string of petty robberies, the two eventually escalate their endeavors to the big time – kidnapping the son of a wealthy local businessman. But like many a best-laid plan, this one goes awry when their victim ends up dead, and Howard is increasingly tortured by the role he played. And when the law catches up with the men, their troubles really begin. Spurred by a series of articles penned by a crusading journalist, the community is whipped into a frenzy of vigilantism that concludes with the mob lynching of Tyler and Slocum. It’s a harrowing, hard-to-stomach tale from start to finish, an especially grim noir made all the more disturbing by the fact that it was based on an actual occurrence.
Directed by Cy Endfield, the film was adapted from the 1947 novel The Condemned, by Jo Pagano, who also wrote the screenplay. Pagano based his tale on the 1933 kidnapping of Brooke Hart, the 22-year-old heir of the L. Hart & Son’s department store, one of the most successful businesses in San Jose, California. Brooke disappeared on November 9, 1933; later that night, his family received a call that Brooke had been kidnapped and would be returned upon payment of $40,000. Just a week later, through the combined efforts of several law enforcement agencies, and the use of call tracking, the kidnappers – Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes – were apprehended. Before long, the men confessed that they had killed Brooke Hart – and that by the time they’d placed their first ransom call to the family, Brooke was already dead.
With Thurmond and Holmes detained in jail, the public’s anger over the crime began to grow, fueled in part by a front-page editorial in a San Jose newspaper that called for “mob violence” and labeled the men as “human devils.” When a mob began to form outside the jail, Holmes’s attorney sought to have the National Guard employed to ward against a possible lynching, but California governor James Rolph refused, even vowing to “pardon the lynchers.” The volatile atmosphere reached a fever pitch when Brooke Hart’s badly decomposed body was found near the San Mateo Bridge. Press reports varied widely on the number of people crowded around the jail, ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 men, women, and children. On the night of November 26th, the mob fashioned a battering ram from a long pipe, stormed the jail, dragged the men to a nearby park, and hanged them both. (A few people were eventually arrested for the lynching, but none were convicted, and a lawsuit filed against the governor by Holmes’s family was dropped in 1934 when Rolph suffered a fatal heart attack.)
Try and Get Me was actually the second motion picture that was inspired by this incident; the first, Fury, starred Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney and was released in 1936. If you’ve never seen Try and Get Me, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. You can find it on YouTube. It’s not easy to watch (and if you’re like me, you may never want to see it a second time!), but it’s worth it. Trust me.
Just keep the lights on.
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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