Black Fury (1935)

 

 

 

Director:     Michael Curtiz. 

Starring:     Paul Muni (Joe Radek), Karen Morley (Anna Novak), William Gargan (Slim), Barton MacLane (McGee), John Qualan (Mike), L. Carrol Naish (Steve), Vince Barnett (Kubanda), Tully Marshal (Poole), Henry O'Neill (Hendricks), Joseph Crehan (Farrell), Mae Marsh (Mrs. Mary Novak), Willard Robertson (Mr. J. J. Welsh), Effie Ellsler (Bubitschka), Wade Boteler (Mulligan), Egon Brecher (Alec Novak), G. Pat Collins (Lefty -- Company Policeman), Ward Bond (Mac -- Company Policeman), Akim Tamiroff (Sokolsky), Purnell Pratt (Henry B. Jenkins), Eddie Shubert (Butch). 

in Pennsylvania an immigrant coal miner finds himself in the middle of a bitter labor dispute between the workers and the mine owners

 

Spoiler Warning:

Pennsylvania coal mine. Living in a simple dwelling are two parents, Mike and Sophie, with their children Chris and a daughter.  They have an immigrant boarder named Joe Radek. The men have to get up early to go to work. 

Joe goes by the house of Anna Novak and calls out for her.  He tells her he has a big surprise for her tonight.  His surprise is going to buy a farm and marry Ann.  Ann doesn't look that enthused about going with Joe.  As the guys go into work they see a notice:  "Federative Mine Workers Special District Meeting, Moravia Hall, Tomorrow Night. 7:30 p.m.." 

The men go down into the dark mines and begin working.  The supervisor Mulligan goes around checking on the men and telling them to work faster and harder.  One of the miners, Croner, is very outspoken in his criticism of the mine and the managers.  He says all management knows is how to keep pushing the men around. Furthermore, part of this business is to have the men work partly for free.  Many of the tasks the workers have to do, they don't get paid for.  For instance, if slate has to be dug out it doesn't earn any money for the men.  Building "timbering" to shore up the walls and roofs earn the workers no money.  And the list of "dead work" goes on and on. 

At lunch Croner speaks out against management saying that management under weighs the amount of coal they dig out.  Then Croner starts criticizing the union for not getting any improvements for the miners. Mike speaks out against Croner for criticizing too much and a fight almost breaks out between Mike and Croner.  Joe arrives just in time to stop prevent the fight.  Joe says he likes everybody and everybody likes him.  He seems to be a real happy-go-lucky kind of fellow  And he says he wants all his co-workers to come to his wedding to Anna Novak. 

At night there is a dance.  Joe arrives in his new car filled with people.  Anna sat next to Joe.  Three Company Policemen show up at the dance.  Sgt. Slim knows Joe and it seems that there's an attraction of Anna to Slim.  Joe invites Slim to his wedding and Slim accepts, but says Joe will have to let him kiss the bride.  When Joe leaves Slim and Anna alone, Slim and Anna go outside to talk.  He goes first, then she goes a little later.  Outside she tells Slim that they have to tell Joe about them because it's not fair to lead him on.  Slim tells her he doesn't want to tell Joe just now, because he's expecting to get a promotion in the company.  He's going to Pittsburgh to check on the promotion and he doesn't want anything untoward to happen when he's gone.  Frankly, it sounds like Joe doesn't really want Anna, but Anna really wants Slim because she sees him as her escape out of this horrible Coal Town.  Anna asks Slim to please take her with him when he goes to Pittsburgh. 

Joe is still inside trying to buy a farm from its owner.  Anna tells Slim that if he doesn't take her with him, she'll never see him again.  Slim tells her to stop saying things like that, and then he tells her she better go inside because it's likely that Joe will be looking for her soon. 

Anna goes inside and learns that Joe is buying a farm and she, as Mrs. Radek, will have also to sign the contract for the farm.  Anna, says oh, no, but Joe doesn't really hear her. 

Joe and Anna dance and he sings to her to the music.  Joe seems completely unaware of Anna's true feelings. 

The next day Anna runs away.  Joe is told the news, but Joe doesn't believe it.  He's given a letter to him from Anna.  Joe can't read.  The man giving him the letter tells Joe that Anna went with that no-good policeman fellow.  Joe doesn't believe it until Mike's daughter reads the letter to him.  Then Joe is just totally surprised, shocked, confused and hurt.  When the farmer and lawyer arrive, Joe goes a little crazy and walks out on everyone. 

Joe goes down to the bar and starts drinking one whiskey after another.  The miners ask Joe if he's going to the union meeting, but Joes is too drunk to attend any meeting. 

In the meeting, Fighting Vice President Johnny Farrell tells the men that they are in trouble. Somebody has been stirring up trouble, but they will find out who the person is, and until then he asks the men not to let anyone talk them into doing anything foolish.  Croner and his supporters now speak up against the existing union.  There seems to be two factions in the room, one for the union and one for starting a new union.   While the dispute goes on, Joe shows up at the meeting.  Joe starts talking in support of fighting for change.

Croner is a saboteur.  He calls over to Pittsburgh to speak with big shot Mr. Henry B. Jenkins. Croner says:  "Well, Chief, it's in the bag.  The meeting wound up in a brawl and I got them split wide open.  Sure, it's a push-over.  And here's what makes it perfect.  Listen.  I got a dumb hunyak named Radek all set to do the dirty work, only he don't know it."  Jenkins is undermining the coal mining unions in the area.  He tells his associate that there is a couple hundred thousand dollars in it if he succeeds.  The money will come from the coal owners.

The next morning Croner tells Joe that if he wants to get his Anna back, he's got to be a big shot.  And Joe will be a big shot because they are going to build a union that will actually help the miners and Joe will be the head of the union.  Some of the rebel miners come to talk with Croner and Joe.  They say the owners won't let them go to work because they don't have an approved button allowing them to work.    To get in the men need a FMW union button. 

Joe tells the men that he will get into work.  They follow him as he goes down to the entrance gate.  Joe demands to be let in, but they won't let him go in.  And if Joe doesn't stop it, there are the company policeman ready to pounce on him and take him away.  Mike grabs Joe and pushes him away from the gate and the cops.  He tells Joe to wise up or he's going to get into even more trouble than he's already in.  The cops come along and push Mike out of their way.  They want to deal with this Joe the Troublemaker.  They push him onto the ground and now Joe is ready to fight them with his fists, but five workers grab Joe and take him away from the cops. 

Joe tells the men to let him go.  They tell him he can't do this alone, but Joe insists if he can't get in the front gate, he'll go through the back gate.  Now Croner likes this strategy and he encourages all the men to follow Joe to the back.  Joe and the rebels attack the union workers in the back with stones and big clubs.  The rebels now push their way into the mine itself.  They beat down any man trying to resist them. 

In his office, John W. Hendricks, Vice President of Coal Associates, Inc., reads Jenkins' letter about how real labor trouble is headed his way.  Jenkins offers to supply the coal businesses not only with skilled mining workers, but also with trained policemen to buttress the mining police forces.  This sounds good to Hendricks and he gets support from two other important coal businessmen.  He says they will hire this Jenkins fellow and his detective agency. 

Croner now gives a speech to the miners nominating Joe to be the first president of the new mining union.  Everyone agrees to make Joe the president, despite Joe's protests that he's no good at giving speeches.

Joe gets drunk again.  He goes to Anna's house, forgetting that she is not there.  He then goes to Mike's house to sleep.  He thinks Mike is going to be happy that Joe is the new president of the union, but Mike is definitely not pleased.  He tells his wife that he's going to bed. After Mike leaves, Joe talks to Mike's wife.  She tells him what's really going on.  Sophie tells him that Mike believes that Croner fellow is just using Joe and making a real fool of him.  Joe kind of blows this off and says he'll go speak to Mike.  Sophie warns Joe that Mike is so mad that he doesn't want Joe boarding with them any more.  Mike told her that if Joe likes that Croner so much, then Joe should just go live with Croner. 

Joe is upset, but he decides he better move out.  He starts to go into the house to get his things, but Mike has already packed all of Joe's things and they are on the porch for Mike to pick up.  Joe gets his things and says goodbye to Sophie. 

The newspapers have headlines about the labor unrest and the split union in Coal Town. The local mine closes. 

The court decides that the mining union broke the contract with the mining employers and, therefore, the contract is no longer valid. 

Hendricks signs with the Jenkins' detective company.  It sounds like Jenkins and his associate McGee want to knock some heads, but Hendricks tells them the company will not tolerate the use of violence against the mine workers. 

Now Joe's in trouble.  Croner has left Coal Town without paying what he owes his landlady.  And now the workers want Joe to tell them where Croner went.  Joe doesn't know, but the men don't believe that.  They put more pressure on Joe.  Moreover, the men want Joe to tell them their next step, but Joe doesn't know.  He was counting on Croner to tell him what was coming next.  And to top if all off, here comes the scabs to replace the rebels.  And the scabs are followed by dozens of company policemen.  The miners start to charge the police and the police on horseback start knocking miners over their heads.  Tear gas is used. 

People are forced to move out of the company houses.  Joe has no clue of what to do.  He hangs out in the bar.  Some of the men confront him, and instead of fighting them, Joe just walks out like a zombie.  He walks down the street.  Mike passes him by, stops for a couple of seconds, and then just keeps on walking. A policemen assaults a woman in the bar ad she runs outside.  The policeman comes after the girl and she screams for help.  Mike tries to tell the policeman to leave the girl alone, but it just makes things worse, at least for Mike, as the policeman starts pounding Mike.  Mikes pushes the cop into a telephone pole that has a piece of metal stuck in it.  The policeman gives out with a wail saying that the miner stabbed him. 

The other policemen chase after Mike.  They catch Mike and start beating him up.  It turns out that the bad cop was just scratched on his right arm.  Someone tells Joe that the cops are beating up Mike.  Joe starts running toward the policemen.  Joe tries to intervene, but he's overpowered and knocked out.  Mike dies from the beating. The policemen tell McGee that it looks like the fellow kicked the bucket. McGee's only comment is:  "So what!"

Joe is in the hospital with his head bandaged up. Mike's wife comes to see Joe in the hospital.  Joe feels guilty because he now realizes that Mike was trying his best to keep him out of trouble, but Joe wasn't listening to Mike, but only to the bastard Croner. 

Anna Novak comes back.  Her relatives welcome her back.  They also tell Anna that Joe is in the hospital following the policemen killing Mike.  The news really upsets Anna.  The oldest girl, Tessie Novak, says that they all blame Joe because he's the one that started all this trouble.  She adds that she hopes that Joe Radeck dies. 

Anna goes to the hospital to see Joe.  She says hello, but he turns his head away from me.  She comments that she knows Joe hates her for what she did to him.  Anna says she just had to come back to see Joe and she wants to help him.  Joe acts like he could care less about her.  She leaves.

Joe hears that the men are talking about giving up the strike and going back to work.  He sits up in bed and says that Mike now would not want the strikers to go back to work.  "It my fault.  I got to fix.  Sure, fix for Mike."  The hospital staff hover around Joe trying to calm him down. 

Later, a nurse discovers that Joe has left the hospital.    Joe has the strange idea that he will blow up the mine rather than let the men go back to work, and he doesn't care what happens to him.  Anna follows Joe, but she can't change his mind.  So she decides to help him. 

Meanwhile, the union conducts a vote.  Most of the votes are to go back to work.

With all the dynamite set in place, Joe tells Anna to go tell Mr. Welch what Joe is doing.  Anna says goodbye and kisses Joe, then takes off to talk to Mr. Welch.  The police run into Anna and they want to know what's she doing down near the mine.  She tells them to take her to see Mr. Welch.  At about this time, Joe starts setting  off explosions in the mine.  This brings out all the people of the town to see what's going on.   

Mr. Welch and some of the men are ready to go down into the mine, but Anna tells Welch that he can't go down there because Joe has rigged the mine with lots of dynamite.  He will blow up the whole mine if they try to stop Joe without giving into the miner's original demands. Welch uses the telephone to contact Joe in the mine.  He says if Joe doesn't come up, they will come down the shaft and drag him out.  Joe tells Welch that he's not going to do that and he will show him why.  Joes blows up the shaft and the tower over it. 

McGee starts shooting tear gas into the mine.  Joe telephones Welch to tell him to stop with the tear gas or he's going to blow the whole mine up.  Welch now decides to come in through the back door.  When they leave Anna telephones Joe and tells him what Welch is planning to do. 

The back way is partially blocked, but McGee manages to get in by crawling over top of the fallen rocks.  Joe warns him not to come in, but McGee is filled with bloodlust.  He shoots at Joe so Joe detonates another explosion at the back.  That seals off the back way and knocks over McGee.  McGee gets up and starts after Joe again, who has run down the rails.  McGee comes looking for him and Joe hides up in the timbering.  When McGee comes close Joe jumps on him.  McGee is a tough guy, but Joe is stronger.  He gets McGee in a choke hold and asks the "policeman" why did McGee kill his friend Mike?  McGee flips Joe over and the real fight begins.  Joe finally hits McGee so hard that McGee falls onto the rails and hits his head on a rail.  Joe then puts handcuffs on McGee. 

The local paper has the headline:  "Miners Siege in Fifth Day".  Other headlines are:  "Efforts to Dislodge Radek Fail" and "Strikers Rally Around Radek".  The workers hold a large demonstration in support of Radek. 

A new headline:  "Washington Steps in to Settle Coal Strike".  And Washington uncovers the truth about how the strike got started in the first place.  The workers and management were both fooled by a crooked "detective" agency to the benefit of the agency only.  And now they will be arresting and prosecuting those parasites to the fullest extent of the law. 

The acting head of the union now calls Joe and tells him he can come up, because the union has won.  Joe doesn't trust them, so he tells them to send Anna down to tell him what happened.  The mine leader asks Joe to get that dynamite out of there and then they'll send Anna down.  Joe agrees to do that. 

Joe lets them know he's ready by blowing the mining whistle.  Now Anna comes down.  She starts crying and hugging Joe saying:  "You did it!"

Joe, McGee and Anna now come up and are greeted by hordes of newspapermen.  McGee is arrested for the murder of miner Mike.  And now the miners lift Joe and Anna onto their shoulders and carry them around.  Joe and Anna are reunited and now Joe can buy that farm and raise pigs and children 

 

Good move about how management and the union were both tricked into a labor dispute by an outside instigator hoping to make a bundle of money by supplying scabs and thugs for management at a high cost.  A very good mining man is drawn into the web of deceit to play the patsy.  The instigator raises the good man up and then lets him crash.  And the good man loses his girl too.  And then the patsy comes up with a very dangerous plan.  Paul Muni is grate as the big strong, good natured fellow who is easily duped.  Karen Morley as his girl friend does a good job. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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