Black Fury (1935) – by Andre Sennwald (New York Times Review – April 11, 1035)

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Hollywood, with all its taboos and commercial inhibitions, makes a trenchant contribution to the sociological drama in “Black Fury,” which arrived at the Strand Theatre yesterday. Magnificently performed by Paul Muni, it comes up taut against the censorial safety belts and tells a stirring tale of industrial war in the coal fields.

Some of us cannot help regretting the film’s insistent use of the whitewash brush, which enables its sponsors to be in several editorial places at the same time. But when we realize that “Black Fury” was regarded by the State Censor Board as an inflammatory social document and that it has been banned in several sectors, we ought to understand that Warner Brothers exhibited almost a reckless air of courage in producing the picture at all.

Far from being radical, “Black Fury” is a rousing defense of the conservative viewpoint in labor-employer relations. Emphasizing the tragic consequences of a walk-out, it strives to show that the half-a-loaf principle of orthodox unionism not only makes for better living conditions among the miners, but also prevents the bloody warfare which results when the vicious coal and iron police are unloosed among desperate men whose families are without food and shelter. The target of its pounding assault is the racketeering strike-breaking agency which deliberately splits a peaceful union so that it can subsequently sell its police and scab services to the helpless operator.

Mr. Muni is the ignorant and jovial Hunky miner, Joe Radek, whose popularity with his comrades causes him to be singled out as the dupe of the strike-breaking gangsters. Joe is an innocent among the wolves. Having lost his girl, he drowns his sorrows in the whisky bottle. Without understanding the issues involved, he makes a drunken appearance at a union meeting at the psychological moment to cause a split between the conservative and the radical factions.

During the subsequent strike, Joe’s best friend is brutally murdered by the coal and iron police, and the poor fellow suddenly understands the enormity of his sin. The helpless miners are anxious to return to work on the company’s terms, which means that they have lost the Shalerville agreement that the union leaders have struggled so hard to win for them.

Joe thereupon barricades himself in the mine and conducts a one-man strike, insisting that he will destroy himself and the entire property unless the company restores the agreement. After a protracted siege, during which the police are unable to dislodge him, the operators give in, allowing the miners to go back to work with all the privileges which they enjoyed before the strike.

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