Noirvember Review: ‘Try and Get Me!’
Every November fans of classic cinema celebrate one of the great genres of filmdom, the film noir. These beloved films ensure fans get their fill of; gritty streets, tough detectives, dark alleys, mysterious femme fatales, seedy bars, villainous gangsters, and a unique moody style. This month I will be looking at some of the great noir films of all time for what has been dubbed Noirvember.
In 1933 Brooke Hart, a young socialite from a wealthy family was murdered in an extortion attempt. The crime sparked an outrage which led to violence in the streets and ended with the last public lynching in California history. This crime and the ensuing chaos inspired one of the bleakest film noirs I have ever seen. Granted the worldview of noir in general is pessimistic and world weary, but this film takes things to another level. Released in 1950 the criminally underrated Try and Get Me! takes a hard look at the relationship between crime and the media as well as what could drive an innocent person to a life of evil.
Howard Tyler only wants to provide for his family, but every attempt at a job hunt ends in the same rejection. With a growing son and his wife experiencing a complicated pregnancy he turns desperate. Enter the flashy stick-up man Jerry, gamely played by Lloyd Bridges, who happens to need a getaway driver. Seeing this as the only job available to him, the beleaguered family accepts and the two get to work every night robbing businesses in the area. Newspaper reporter Gil Stanton and his editor begin to notice this string developing but, Gil is unconcerned about a series simple armed robberies. However, his boss knows crime sells papers and dangles a bonus in front of him to hype up the crime wave which is hitting their community. Jerry is thrilled to see his notoriety growing thanks to the press and takes this as a sign to move on to a bigger crime. With Howard as his reluctant accomplice they kidnap the son of a wealthy family claiming they are going to hold him for ransom, instead Jerry murders the young man. Ravaged by guilt Howard confesses to the crime and is arrested. turning on his former employer. This is normally the end of the story, but thanks to the media sensationalism the public wants blood. A vigilante mob is able to overpower the sheriff and get the two criminals in order to hand out their own punishment for the crimes.
The final scene of this film is just as haunting now as it was when this movie was released. The sheriff and the two newspapermen who threw the public into a fever pitch, sit in somber silence as the distant crowd rambles on. From outside we hear one loud cheer then shortly thereafter another and we know that mob justice has been served. Mind you this is right after seeing Howard’s wife give false comfort to her son who has woken up screaming as he somehow knows nothing will be the same again. In the end neither one of our protagonists won and their loss holds grave ramifications for those in their lives. The true sad part is that neither one of them were bad guys per say, just two men who sacrificed their morals for financial gain. Howard Tyler’s post-war dreams of suburbs and picket fences in California with his wife have ended with them in a shanty town as he struggles for work. When crime is the only work he can find, that is what he is forced to reluctantly do. Gil is a reporter who wants to maintain integrity but the lure of big dollars can change any man’s mind. All it would take is for him to do something as seemingly innocent as ensuring that a crimewave is featured on the front page. We absolutely feel for both men and wonder if we would have done the same in their shoes.
Originally Try and Get Me! was set to have the more lurid and fitting title Sound of Fury. But the powers that be decided to go with the pulpier and more commercial title. As mentioned earlier, the source material of this film was inspired by a true life event where two men who murdered a prominent California socialite and were lynched by the mob, while the governor at the time praised the people for taking matters into their own hands. It is for this reason I am quite fond of one character in particular in this film Dr. Simone. Onscreen, the Italian scientist is in the movie as a friend of Gil, but he plays the crucial role of the outsider providing intellectual commentary on America’ culture of violence.
Director Cy Endfield was a veteran of Orson Welles’ famed Mercury Players where he popped on the legendary filmmaker’s radar by entertaining him with magic tricks. Previous to this film, Endfield directed the Underworld Story with noir favorite Dan Duryea. This hard boiled flick was a critical hit, and led to him getting the director’s chair on this film which he considered his masterpiece. He held nothing back in Try and Get Me!, it is a hard-hitting and often uncomfortable film which provides insightful commentary on; violence, crime, and media exploitation of both. Sadly it was not long after this film that Cy Endfield found himself on the infamous Hollywood Blacklist. As such he had to leave the United States and continue his career in Great Britain. Across the pond, he would continue making films, most notably the war epic Zulu, and when possible would collaborate with fellow blacklisted film professionals from the United States to ensure they kept working.
This is truly an underrated film which will no doubt stick with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Eddie Muller, the founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation and the host of Noir Alley, famously said that those who look to classic films as comfort will not find it here. By the end of this film you may feel like you have taken a gunshot to the emotional gut. Personally, after my first viewing of Try and Get Me! I could only sit on the couch and stare at my TV for a few moments. Film noir is a style of film not particularly known for happy endings but this one hits on a different, and more brutal, level. A film exploring exactly why someone would go into a life of crime is a favorite of the film noir era, but Try and Get Me! adds an extra element by looking at the age-old tale of the media exploiting this for bottom-line profits.