Directed by Fritz Lang, starring Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney. Maybe only a foreigner could have made this indictment of lynching in a small town. Lang had just arrived from Germany, fleeing the Nazis, and this was his first film in Hollywood. Tracy is suspected of a kidnapping, and for the first half of the movie the tension builds as the usual loudmouths and non-thinkers decide to take the law into their own hands. Watching it, it’s hard to believe at times, but there were over 6000 lynchings (mostly of black men) in the early part of the century, and few people were ever punished for it. This one is about as bad is it gets, with pretty much the whole town joining in, burning the jail when they can’t get to him. He is thought to have died, but he didn’t, and he’s bitter and in hiding. Afterwards, the town sticks together, perjuring themselves on the stand in an effort to set the guilty parties free. A crusading D.A. indicts 22 people, and Tracy gleefully listens to their trial on the radio. And the D.A. has an ace up his sleeve, anticipating the era of the ubiquitous cell phone camera. Oops! You’re on film, asshole! It’s all completely unlikely—I mean the revenge part—and the ending is melodramatic, but unapologetic. He does the “right thing,” but he forgives nothing. Personally, I wouldn’t have cared if all 22 had been hung. This was a case where the intent and the actions were enough.
Early in the film Tracy picks up a stray dog, and the instant he came on scene I cried out, “Toto!” I didn’t think it really was … but yes! The Cairn terrier was actually called Terry. He got $125 a week for working in The Wizard of Oz, after which his trainer renamed him Toto. How much money was that? Well, Munchkins got only $50 a week. Seems trained dogs were harder to come by than dancing little people. The things you can learn online are just amazing, aren’t they?