Fury set the bar high for tank movies, but there's a few things you probably didn't know about the WWII drama starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf. Compisite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
David Ayer’s 2014 World War II drama, Fury, follows an American tank crew in the twilight weeks of the Allied campaign in Europe. Grinding across the German countryside in an M4 Sherman tank (call sign: “Fury”), the five-man crew fights its way toward the war’s end, encountering desperate resistance from the remnants of the Nazi army.
While the movie provides a unique perspective on the Third Reich in its death throes, it is the stunning depictions of tank warfare that make Fury stand apart from other WWII movies. Replete with mesmerizing shots of green and red tracers slicing through the air, and entire battle scenes viewed from the claustrophobic vantage point of a Sherman’s steel belly, the film captures the brutal chaos of mechanized combat and helps us understand why American tankers in Europe had a life expectancy of just six weeks.
As Russian tanks continue to be decimated in Ukraine and the US Marine Corps ditches its heavy armor, the future of tanks appears uncertain. Now is a good time to revisit a film that paints a clear and vivid picture of mechanized warfare in its heyday. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Fury.
Michael Peña's wooden cross found its way into another big-budget movie a year later. Screenshot from Fury.
Michael Peña plays Gordo, Fury’s Spanish-speaking driver. Not only did the then-38-year-old actor spend nearly two months learning to drive Shermans, but he also did all of his own stunt driving during filming. During shots of Gordo driving the 33-ton tank, a wooden crucifix can be seen dangling next to the driver’s seat. In one scene, Gordo touches and prays with the talisman before going into combat. Peña actually took the prop after shooting and used it a year later in The Martian. It’s the same cross his character leaves on Mars toward the end of that film.
Shia LaBeouf is well-known for his eccentricities, but to get into the mindset of a World War II tanker, he dialed up his craziness to new levels. In addition to fighting with fellow cast member Scott Eastwood for spitting tobacco juice onto their tank (which, though it was scripted, LaBeouf felt was disrespectful), and refusing to bathe during filming, LaBeouf resorted to self-mutilation in order to transform himself into the character of Boyd "Bible" Swan, Fury’s Christian zealot. LaBeouf was apparently unsatisfied with the makeup department, so he cut his own cheek with a razor and pulled out his own tooth. Why? Because acting.
Logan Lerman apparently had lasting trauma from his role as Norman. Screenshot from Fury.
In the movie, Logan Lerman plays Norman, the new guy on the tank crew, who wants nothing to do with the war but is forced to fight by his battle-hardened comrades. In order to get Norman mentally prepared for the combat to come, the other crew members berate him and force him to shoot a German prisoner. It doesn’t take long before Norman is gunning down German infantry and yelling, “Fucking Nazis, fuck you!”
In order to make Lerman feel like an innocent replacement hurled into the darkest depths of war, the other actors reportedly tortured him, just as their characters did. Ayer, the director, would reportedly tell the cast to physically and verbally abuse one another and to learn as much about each other as possible in order to devise deeply personal insults. The impact of such ruthless bullying took a toll on Lerman, who said after the film’s release: “It left some scars and some wounds maybe I’m still healing from.” War is hell, eh?
Audie Murphy's exploits in WWII were even crazier than Wardaddy's final stand in Fury. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
At the film’s climax, Brad Pitt’s character, Wardaddy, stands on the back of his disabled tank, gunning down wave after wave of attacking Germans. He survives machine gun fire and Panzerfausts, only to ultimately be taken down by a lone sniper who shoots Wardaddy in the chest. Although watching Pitt mow down dozens of Germans with a Ma Deuce makes for a good climax, the scene seems way over the top. However, the actual event on which that scene was based is even more unbelievable.
In 1945, 2nd Lt. Audie Murphy’s infantry company was attacked by two companies of German infantry reinforced by tanks while moving across open fields near Holtzwihr, France. An American tank destroyer was disabled by German artillery, setting the vehicle ablaze. Murphy, like Wardaddy, ordered his men to retreat to a safer defensive position while he remained at the burning tank destroyer to single-handedly repulse the enemy advance.
Murphy directed counterartillery strikes on the assaulting Germans and then proceeded to lay down the scunion with his rifle and the disabled tank destroyer’s .50-caliber machine gun for more than an hour. He is credited with stopping some 250 enemy soldiers and six German tanks before running out of ammunition. Murphy — despite having been wounded in the leg — rallied his men and returned to the disabled tank destroyer, where they successfully ended the enemy attack. For his actions, Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor. In addition, Murphy was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts.
The Deputy Mayor of Leipzig and his wife and daughter, who committed suicide in the Neues Rathaus as American troops were entering the city on 20 April 1945. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
There’s a scene in the film where Wardaddy and Norman come across a family of Germans who appear to have killed themselves inside their home. The scene was drawn from the wave of mass suicides that swept across Germany in 1945. More specifically, it is a recreation of a famous photograph of Ernst Kurt Lisso, the deputy mayor of Leipzig, along with his wife and daughter after they committed suicide with cyanide.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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