BR: Sound and the Fury, The
Label: Twilight Time/ Region: All / Released: September, 2012
Synopsis: A young woman is forced to make adult decisions when a relationship with a carny handyman and the arrival of her long-lost mother further destabilizes her life with a domineering uncle.
Special Features: Isolated stereo music track / Colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment
After the critical & box office success of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Hollywood seemed to realize it was worth gambling on risqué literary properties set in the steamy South, further testing the limits of the Production Code which by 1959 had become antiquated.
The Sound and the Fury didn’t offer any new challenges for the existing moral police – Elia Kazan’s film version of Williams’ Baby Doll (1956) already exploited the issues with a young girl’s raw sexual awakening within a an entourage of sleazy older men – and in fact Hollywood had already made film versions of several Faulkner short stories and novels, including the rape / trial drama The Story of Temple Drake (1933), racism & murder in Intruder in the Dust (1949), and the smoldering sexual tension in The Long, Hot Summer [M] (1958).
Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr.’s Fury screenplay feels like a streamlined adaptation that balances vestiges of Faulkner’s often impenetrable prose with the sweaty atmosphere of the South, and hints of forbidden sexual longings.
Martin Ritt’s film is ostensibly a compact saga about Quentin Compson (Joanne Woodward), a little hellion determined to drive her ‘uncle’ Jason Compson (Yul Brynner, with hair!) crazy for obsessively controlling every aspect of her life since her mother Caddy (Margaret Leighton) abandoned her shortly after birth. For all intents and purposes, Mama Caddy is dead, and the Compson family is a near-disaster, yet survives because of Jason’s ‘furious’ determination to live frugally, and force Quentin – the family’s only viable heir – to become a responsible member of society. Her brother Ben (Jack Warden) has remained an intellectually stunted mute, and harbors his own ‘fury’ towards Quentin because he believes her birth killer their mother.
The family’s world is twisted around when Quentin falls for a carny beefcake (Stuart Whitman) and seems destined to follow her mother’s own career of whoring her wares for excitement instead of family responsibility, but Jason’s interference is emboldened by the sudden return of Caddy, delusional in her determination to raise Quentin right & proper in spite of never being a part of her life.
Worked into this conflagration is Jason’s position as the adopted son of the Compson patriarch, and the film’s greatest (and unresolved) cheat: a secret passion that resides between Jason and Quentin – the young girl he raised, and apparently shares a small nugget of passion.
The ambiguity of this faux romance – blatantly teased in the film’s cheating campaign art of Brynner and Woodward locking lips – makes their uncle-daughter relationship a little ‘fuzzy’: at the end of the film we know Jason will continue to strive to improve the family’s social & economic standings while Quentin continues to learn valuable life lessons, but as to any romantic episodes, that’s apparently left to the audience’s (prurient?) imagination.
Even with the script’s murky elements, Fury maintains a momentum, and it is fascinating to watch the ensemble cast tackle their roles. Leighton is very strong as reckless Caddy, while Woodward makes her shrill character compelling (although neither the performance nor script really define her age as a high school brat or young adult on the cusp of adulthood and womanhood. This might be a deliberate ploy to mask the actress’ real age – 29 – as well as having played a school teacher a year earlier in Long Hot Summer).
Whitman’s physicality and natural acting skills give the straight hunk Charlie Busch a bit more depth and humility, and the actor’s intro scene – climbing like an acrobat bare-chested to the top of an amusement ride – is a perfectly choreographed tease for audiences, as well as Quentin, who catches his sweaty brawn from the ground.
The film’s most novel casting choice is Brynner as Jason, a Southerner who apparently has European roots, traceable in his accent and that of his mother (Francoise Rosay). Brynner isn’t ideal for the role – he’s often too stiff, and the script offers his character few moments to reveal his sly sense of humour – but in later scenes with Woodward, Brynner’s version of Jason becomes almost two-dimensional.
Perhaps the film’s strongest element is Alex North’s score, written in a modernist style, yet evoking the characters and the Southern environment without any classic Hollywood scoring clichés. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray includes a stereo score track (with some bookend studio chatter from the recording sessions), and the opening cue is a perfect example of North’s gift for evoking tension, and drawing out the complex relationships of on- and off-screen characters. It’s a long, meaty cue that’s also filled with great kinetic energy in what’s a straightforward montage of a worried servant waking up the household with bad suspicions about a missing Quentin.
Pity there isn’t a commentary track, as Fury is the second of two Jerry Wald productions that featured the same director, screenwriters, composer, and co-star Woodward. There must be making-of tales between Fury and The Long Hot Summer which would offer a glimpse into Hollywood’s fixation with troubled families in insular towns, be they in the South, or more snotty environs like Peyton Place (1957), another glossy Fox picture produced by Wald.
Julie Kirgo’s liner notes provide some background into the film’s production and the savage response by critics who were apparently outraged by the severe distillation of Faulkner’s novel. Charles G. Clarke’s cinematography impeccably crafts the illusion of the South within the confines of the Fox backlot, but fans of the studio’s fifties films will likely notice some familiar sets – notably the Compson’s general store, which seems to be a pastiche of wooden facades from the fabric shop in Desirée [M] (1954) and the general store in Woman Obsessed [M] (1959).
Kirgo also makes a valid point in the need to appreciate Fury for being its own thing: sometimes the key to making a workable film from an impossible literary work is to go radical (meaning: simplify the plot and refocus on a specific set of characters). Fury’s brilliant director, superior writers, strong cast, and composer created a cinematic oddity, but it’s a compelling creature that’s aged rather well.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review