AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Black Fury
Alternate Title: Black Hell
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
Release Date:   18 May 1935
Production Date:   began 20 Oct 1934
Duration (in mins):   90, 95 or 97
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Paul Muni (Joe Radek)  
    Karen Morley (Anna Novak)  
    William Gargan (Slim [Johnson])  
    Barton MacLane (McGee)  
    John Qualen (Mike [Shemanski])  
    J. Carrol Naish (Steve [Croner])  
    Vince Barnett (Kubanda)  
    Tully Marshall ([Tommy] Poole)  
    Henry O'Neill ([John W.] Hendricks)  
    Joe Crehan ([Johnny] Farrell)  
    Mae Marsh (Mrs. Novak)  
    Sarah Haden (Sophie Shemanski)  
    Willard Robertson (J. J. Welsh)  
    Effie Ellsler (Bubitchka)  
    Wade Boteler (Mulligan)  
    Egon Brecher (Alec Novak)  
    George Pat Collins (Lefty)  
    Ward Bond (Mac)  
    Akim Tamiroff (Sokolsky)  
    Purnell Pratt (Henry B. Jenkins)  
    Eddie Shubert (Butch)  
    George Offerman Jr. (Pete Novak)  
    John M. Bleifer (Ivan)  
    Harry Hastings (Mose)  
    Harry Tyler (Johnny)  
    Mitchell Ingraham (Lawyer)  
    Herbert Heywood (Bartender)  
    Samuel S. Hinds (Judge)  
    Katherine Clare Ward (Mrs. Clancy)  
    Pedro Regas (Tony)  
    Patrick Moriarity (Bill)  
    Harry Curdins (Louie)  
    Nick Copeland (Waiter)  
    Mary Russell (Lefty's girl)  
    Claire McDowell (Nurse)  
    Christian Rub (Miner)  
    Ferike Boros (Wife)  
    Dick French (Orderly)  
    William H. Turner (Watchman)  
    Addison Richards (Government man)  
    Don Brodie (Newsreel man)  
    June Eberling (Tessie Novak)  
    Edith Fellows (Agnes Shemanski)  
    Bobby Nelson (Johnny Novak)  
    Wally Albright Jr. (Willie Novak)  
    Dorothy Gray (Mary)  
    Charles C. Wilson (Welch)  
    Mickey Rentschler (Chris Shemanski)  

Summary: Joe Radek, a simple, well-liked, Eastern European immigrant, is in love with Anna Novak. He dreams of quitting his job as a miner, buying a farm, and marrying Anna. Anna likes Joe, but longs for a different life, and runs away with Slim Johnson. Joe falls apart, gets drunk, and during a union meeting joins a dissenter named Steve Croner in a rebellion against the coal company. Joe's good friend Mike Shemanski, the local union leader, unsuccessfully begs Joe to trust the union. Joe is fired and the company brings in a private police force, headed by a thug named McGee. The union is forced to strike, scabs are sent in to work the mine, and Croner, who turns out to be a company agent, leaves town. One night, McGee and his police pick a fight with Mike; Joe comes to his rescue, but it is too late. McGee kills Mike and Joe is seriously wounded. In the hospital, Anna visits Joe and asks his forgiveness. At first he refuses her offer for support, but after a change of heart, he leaves the hospital and, with Anna's help, enters the mine, threatening to dynamite the shaft if the company doesn't negotiate with the union. McGee goes in after Joe, but after a brutal fight, McGee becomes Joe's hostage. Finally, after days of holding his position, the company agrees to Joe's terms. A federal investigation proves that the coal company instigated the strike, and Joe and Anna are redeemed in the eyes of the townspeople. 

Production Company: First National Productions Corp. (Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.)
Distribution Company: First National Pictures, Inc.  
  The Vitaphone Corp.  
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
  Frank McDonald (Dial dir)
  Russ Saunders (Asst dir)
  Carroll Sax (Second asst dir)
Producer: Jack L. Warner (Exec prod)
  Hal B. Wallis (Exec prod)
  Robert Lord (Supv)
Writer: Abem Finkel (Scr)
  Carl Erickson (Scr)
Photography: Byron Haskin (Photog)
  Ted Hayes (Asst cam)
Art Direction: John Hughes (Art dir)
Film Editor: Thomas Richards (Ed)
Costumes: Dan Brown (Wardrobe man)
  Hugh Blair (Asst wardrobe man)
  Mary Dery (Wardrobe woman)
Music: Leo F. Forbstein (Vitaphone Orch cond)
Make Up: Emily Moore (Hair)
Production Misc: Frank Mattison (Unit mgr)
  Harry Barnhouse (Grip)
  Emmet Emmerson (Props)
  Fred Applegate (Script asst)
  Charles Alexander (Gaffer)
  John Ellis (Still photog)
Stand In: Harry Raven (Stand in)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the short story "Jan Volkanik" by Judge M. A. Musmanno and the play Bohunk by Harry R. Irving (publication and production undetermined).
Authors: Harry R. Irving
  Judge M. A. Musmanno

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
First National Pictures, Inc. 24/4/1935 dd/mm/yyyy LP5494

PCA NO: 579
Physical Properties: Sd:

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Social
Subjects (Major): Coal miners
  Strikes and lockouts
  Trade unions
Subjects (Minor): Labor violence

Note: The film's working title was Black Hell . A second unit shot footage in Pennsylvania for the film and a full-scale mine shaft was dug on the Warner Ranch in Calabasas, CA. Scenes were also shot on the stages at the Burbank studio and at the old Warner lot on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. According to a news item in DV , a complaint against the movie was brought by an east coast coal mine operators group. MPPDA President Will H. Hays was asked to stop the production because it dealt with "certain capital-labor relations which the complainants consider against the best public policy at this time." The MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library contains a letter from J. D. Battle, the executive secretary of the National Coal Association to the Hays office, expressing his concern that the film would prove harmful to the coal industry, and claiming that bad conditions had been eliminated and that the industry currently enjoyed good relations with its workers. Modern sources report New York censorship board demands that the scene depicting the brutal murder of Mike Shemanski be cut, but files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicate that they passed it without objection.
       The scene was based on an actual strike case in which John Barkowski, a coal miner, was murdered by three company policemen. MPPDA files reveal that the entire film was banned in Chicago, Guatamala, Spain, Peru, Venezuela and Trinidad, and several other states and countries demanded cuts in the scenes portraying police brutality, Mike's murder, and the mine explosion. The film was passed without objection in Pennsylvannia, which might have been expected to raise the most objections because of its dependence on the coal industry. Some objections were raised because Joe's criminal activities in setting off explosions in the mine remain unpunished, but Director of Studio Relations for AMPP Joseph Breen addressed this problem in a letter to Hays stating, "Joe is not a criminal. Rather is he an infuriated, stupid fellow gone temporarily mad because of his high emotionalism. ... [W]hile the audience is certain to understand the forces which motivated Joe to commit the criminal act, there is not likely to be any disposition to sympathize with his crime." Breen requested that some of the dialogue refer to the fact "that while the miners may not have ideal working conditions, nevertheless working conditions of the coal industry have vastly improved and are getting better all the time." The studio was also asked to strengthen the fact that Croner is promoting strife as an agent of a firm of professional strikebreakers masquerading as coal and iron police, to develop the love story and to delete any suggestion that Anna is pregnant when she runs away with Slim. In a letter to Jack L. Warner, Breen notes that care should be taken in showing "serious conflict between employer and employee" as censor boards throughout the country were cutting similar scenes from newsreels. The fact that the strike is settled by the NRA was considered a mitigating factor in the strike story.
       John Qualen, variously billed as John M. Qualen is here billed as John T. Qualen. Paul Muni received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance in the film. Modern sources credit Perc Westmore for makeup. According to modern sources, Bohunk was an unproduced play. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   20 Oct 34   p. 2.
Daily Variety   25 Oct 34   p. 1.
Daily Variety   22 Nov 34   p. 1.
Daily Variety   26 Mar 35   p. 3.
Film Daily   28 Mar 35   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Oct 34   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Mar 35   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Apr 35   p. 2.
Motion Picture Daily   26 Mar 35   p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald   19 Jan 35   p. 67.
Motion Picture Herald   3 Apr 35   p. 50.
New York Times   11 Apr 35   p. 27.
Variety   17 Apr 35   p. 14.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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