The Fury (1978)

Director: Brian De Palma

Starring: Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning, Amy Irving, Fiona Lewis, Andrew Stevens

Once again, director Brian De Palma gives us a story about a girl with extraordinary mental powers. This time, Amy Irving is not the one trying to help the girl. She IS the girl who can kill you with her thoughts if she’s not careful. “The Fury,” as “Carrie” did before with Piper Laurie, sees the return of an actress from years of retirement (Carrie Snodgress), as well as the debuts of several future stars (Dennis Franz, Daryl Hannah, James Belushi and Laura Innes). Both movies were based on novels (this one by John Farris, who also wrote the screenplay). Also, De Palma once again finds a way to emphasize his status as an Alfred Hitchcock fan, this time through the film’s soundtrack. By some stroke of luck, De Palma was able to obtain the services of John Williams, fresh off the success of “Star Wars,” to compose a score that is quite clearly meant as an homage to “Vertigo.” Any other similarities between the two De Palma films are minute. The plots themselves are quite different. While “Carrie” is a cautionary tale against bullying, “The Fury” is more like an early Marvel Comics movie.

This movie gets a rather large boost from its established stars, Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes. Douglas’s character, Peter Sandza, is on a personal journey known as the “hero’s quest.” To use Western terminology, he’s the White Hat (or White Hair, thanks to a disguise involving a can of shoe polish). His son, Robin, has the gift of ESP. A person like Robin could be useful to whatever government or organization obtains his services, especially during a time of constant suspicion and fear like the Cold War. This is a fact not lost on Ben Childress (John Cassavetes), a friend of Peter’s. Childress betrays his friend, establishing himself as the Black Hat (dressing in black in all his subsequent scenes), but not before having his left arm rendered useless by a machine gun blast from Peter, who must go into hiding as Childress kidnaps his son. Eleven months pass. A young girl named Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving) discovers that she, like Robin, is gifted with psychic abilities. But, like Rogue of “X-Men,” she finds much to her horror that harm can come to those whom she touches. Gillian also gradually learns of a psychic connection between herself and Robin. This link is the lead that Peter has been longing for in his efforts to find his son. It all leads to a bittersweet reunion, and a (literally) explosive finale.

Late in his career, much of Kirk Douglas’s roles appear to be those for which he was simply collecting a paycheck, particularly the bloody awful “Saturn 3.” Still, there’s no doubting the man’s status as a legend. Here, I am reminded of Liam Neeson’s hero character from “Taken.” He’s old and grey, but he can still outsmart you, and kill you if need be. There is admittedly a bit of silliness to “The Fury,” and most of it takes place in the extended sequences where Peter is being chased by Childress’s men. There is one section of this that I do like, however, and it comes as Peter jumps into an unmarked police car and enlists the two officers’ aid in evading the hitmen. The driver of the vehicle is, of course, Dennis Franz, who shows up again in a few other De Palma films, to my delight. Amy Irving is splendid as Gillian. Even as her powers continue to grow, Irving’s character is just as confused and in the dark about what’s going on as we are.

Out of everyone, the real treat here is John Cassavetes. Always great at playing shady characters (particularly in “Rosemary’s Baby,” where I first saw him), Cassavetes is full-blown evil in “The Fury,” and he’s simply amazing. As Childress, he works under the pretense of trying to prop up the United States as the only power in the world with an ESPer as its weapon, but I get the impression that he would use Robin, Gillian or whomever else as the means to gain global domination for himself alone. That’s the kind of evil which has no place in this world or any other. It’s the kind of evil that you’ll stand up and cheer for its swift demise. I hate the fact that Cassavetes was taken from us at such an early age (died in 1989 before his 60th birthday). We could still be seeing new work from him to this day, whether from in front of or behind the camera.

As for “The Fury” itself, it’s not De Palma’s best effort, nor is it anywhere close to his worst. I personally would rank it fifth out of the ones I’ve seen. But if you’re looking for a movie you just want to have fun with, and don’t care at all about the illogic of the ESP stuff, “The Fury” should provide a solid two hours of quality entertainment. You might even be able to find a hidden meaning behind the fact that the film’s final shot is repeated from thirteen different angles.

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