music friday: elton john

losing it at the movies: the fury (brian de palma, 1978)

The third in a series, "Losing It at the Movies," which is explained here.

Here is how I began my post on Dressed to Kill:

Pauline Kael ... was an early and regular champion of De Palma's work ... in my mind, the best example of this is perhaps her review of The Fury, where she favorably compares De Palma to Peckinpah, Hitchcock, Spielberg, Welles, and Scorsese. ["One can imagine Welles, Peckinpah, Scorsese, and Spielberg still stunned, bowing to the ground, choking with laughter."] David Thomson, on the other hand, compares De Palma to Leni Riefenstahl. It may be De Palma's great achievement that both Kael and Thomson's comparisons make some sense.

After Kael died, Thomson wrote about watching The Fury with her:

As it happens, I did sit next to Pauline once in that dark. It was in a Manhattan screening room, and the occasion was Brian De Palma's "The Fury," a picture starring Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving and John Cassavetes. It exists, trust me.

The seat beside me was occupied only at the last moment, after the lights had gone down, by a diminutive woman who made some fuss getting settled and finding her notebook. Well, 15 or so minutes later, I was nudged out of De Palma's film (this was not too difficult) by a sound coming from somewhere next to me. It was scratchy and raspy, but there were little sighs and moans accompanying it. You may find this allusion fanciful, but it was rather like sitting next to Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tiggywinkle as she beat the little garments of her laundry.

Pauline (for it was she) was writing up a storm in the dark, with a sharp pencil on the notebook pages. That was the rasping. I watched in wonder as her head bobbed up from the page to the screen, and back again, too intent to miss anything, and apparently writing down not just the dialogue but a kind of running shooting script. And the noises she was making -- the tiny hedgehog squeaks and raptures -- were part of a nearly writhing rapport with the film up there on the screen. She was in love with it. She was, nearly, making love to it....

I thought "The Fury" was spectacular nonsense. History may be on my side, but that doesn't really matter. Pauline was putting out for De Palma because she believed in him.

Still, as the lights came up, I couldn't resist saying, "I can't wait to read your review."

"Didn't you like it?" she asked, less in dismay than incredulity.

I admitted not (I felt like a father telling his daughter the guy's a jerk), and our friendship died there. But I kept her example in my head, and I've never forgotten the sound of that sharp pencil slashing at paper. For me, that was The Fury.

In 5001 Nights at the Movies, Kael wrote of The Fury:

Brian De Palma’s visionary, science-fiction thriller is the reverse side of the coin of Spielberg’s Close Encounters. With Spielberg, what happens is so much better than you dared hope that you have to laugh; with De Palma, it’s so much worse than you feared that you have to laugh. The ... film is so visually compelling that a viewer seems to have entered a mythic night world; no Hitchcock thriller was ever so intense, went so far, or had so many “classic” sequences.

I like The Fury, which has a loony quality that adds to its enjoyment. De Palma is busy enough in the movie that it's pretty easy to ignore the stupid plot holes. The acting is generally good ... John Cassavetes is in Rosemary's Baby Bad Guy mode, Kirk Douglas does his usual overacting, Amy Irving does what she can. Fiona Lewis from the legendary Drum is also featured. Daryl Hannah makes her debut in one scene, as does Jim Belushi in a blink-and-you'll-miss it cameo (I blinked). Dennis Franz turns up in one of his very first movies.

John Williams deserves a special shout out. He had been around for a bit ... Jaws came out in 1975, Star Wars and Close Encounters in '76 ... in retrospect, you can already hear the classic Williams sound in those movies, which was solidified later with Indiana Jones, E.T., and the Jurassic Park movies. But the music in The Fury is unlike his usual. He calls on the Hitchcock of the Bernard Herrmann era. This is not a surprise ... De Palma was known to copy Hitchcock slavishly at times, and you have to figure he told Williams what he wanted. But it's so different from what we have since come to expect from John Williams. It's an excellent score.

Meanwhile, there was Kael, as effusive as ever. Referring to the death of Cassavates' character, she wrote, "This finale ... is the greatest finish for any villain ever." Pauline did have a way with exaggerated loves.

Here are some Brian De Palma films I have seen, with my ratings on a scale of 10:


The Untouchables

Casualties of War

Dressed to Kill



The Fury

Blow Out

Femme Fatale


Mission to Mars


The Black Dahlia