Spencer Tracy, Sylvia Sidney, Walter Abel, Walter Brennan,
Lang’s first Hollywood film after fleeing Germany is a vivid social melodrama with many visual elements of Expressionism-turned-noir. Spencer Tracy, a stranger in a small town, is bizarrely charged with kidnapping—implicated by a bag of salted peanuts—and becomes the object of a mob who burn down the jailhouse and, they think, him with it. From his position as a “dead” man he follows the trial of twenty of the town’s citizens for his murder, and as he does so, wronged innocence becomes embittered righteousness—in a word, fury. The opening scenes of Tracy and fiancée Sylvia Sidney are etched in ominous fog, and it never gets any better for them. Like Lang, they become aliens in their own country. The damning dialogue picks up in America where Lang left off in Germany: “In this country,” it is bruited, “people don’t land in jail unless they’re guilty.” Cinema itself is Lang’s closing statement: newsreel footage convicts the murderous mob.