Fritz Lang slips between Hitler’s increasingly long fingers--and finds more fascists in his new home, Main St. burnt down, American faces eager as hyenas to see something wounded and trapped that they can gorge on. Fury turns Spencer Tracy into someone worth watching--despite the wild look in his eye, and the hunger he also indulges, until his fiancée blurts out, “You’re lynching me!” Lang pounces on the brutes--who have followed him here as though he were the criminal--and wrestles a noose around their necks.
At the core of this small-town putsch is the urge toward death--a dish Freud serves cold in Civilization and Its Discontents, Thanatos isolating the self and destroying others. The Id becomes a public spectacle, an ich, an “it,” the thing itself, coiling around the skull like a snake. And Lang spares no feelings: the faces as the jail burns down are all witches and madhouse inmates, grinning in the smoke, wolfing down a hot dog, holding up the baby. They no longer care that they had set out to kill a monster: They’re having too much fun being the monsters--after all, what’s left to lose? They killed his dog, and whatever vestiges of decency they thought worth keeping.
Tracy’s Joe Wilson presses on--and like the crowd, he no longer cares that he had wanted the truth; all he loves is vengeance, and his little eyes grow round as he licks his lips over the souls he’ll eat. Any rescue of his own soul becomes incidental; all I can think of is Lang’s vivisection, the sickness frothing from the incision.