I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) - Rotten Tomatoes

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

Warner Bros.' hard-hitting chain-gang movie was a faithful adaptation of the similarly titled autobiography of Robert Elliot Burns. Paul Muni plays World War I veteran James Allen, whose plans of becoming a master architect evaporate in the cold light of economic realities. Flat broke, Allen is forced to pawn his war medals, which have become a glut on the market. When Allen is innocently involved in a restaurant holdup, the police don't buy his story that the robber (Preston S. Foster) had forced him to clean out the cash register, and Allen is sentenced to ten years on a chain gang. The brutal scenes that follow make the later chain-gang movie Cool Hand Luke (1967) look like a picnic in the country. Unable to stand any more, Allen escapes and heads to Chicago. Using an alias, he builds a new life for himself and within five years is the respected president of a bridge-building firm. His landlady (Glenda Farrell), learning about his past, forces Allen to marry her. When he falls in love with another girl (Helen Vinson) and asks for a divorce, his wife turns him over to the authorities. The real-life Robert Elliot Burns was still a fugitive when he wrote his exposť of the chain-gang system; the publication of Burns' book led to the abolishment of that system and an erasure of Burns' sentence.more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Classics
Directed By: ,
Written By: Sheridan Gibney, Brown Holmes, Howard J. Green
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 10, 2005
Vitaphone Corporation


Paul Muni
as James Allen
Edward McNamara
as Second Warden
Edward J. McNamara
as Second Warden
John Wray
as Nordine
Douglass Dumbrille
as District Attorney
Edward Ellis
as Bomber Wells
Hale Hamilton
as Rev. Robert Clinton ...
Willard Robertson
as Prison Commissioner
Louise Carter
as Mrs. Allen
Sheila Terry
as Allen's Secretary
Edward J. Le Saint
as Chairman, Chamber of...
Douglas Dumbrille
as District Attorney
Charles B. Middleton
as Train Conductor
Jack LaRue
as Ackerman
Charles Sellon
as Hot Dog Stand Owner
Erville Alderson
as Chief of Police
Lew Kelly
as Mike, Proprietor of...
Everett Brown
as Sebastian T. Yale
George Cooper
as Vaudevillian
Walter Long
as Blacksmith
Frederick Burton
as Georgia Prison Offic...
Irving Bacon
as Barber Bill
Lee Shumway
as Arresting Officer
J. Frank Glendon
as Arresting Officer
Dennis O'Keefe
as Dance Extra
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

Critic Reviews for I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

All Critics (21) | Top Critics (3)

Based on a true story, its style is simple, direct, forceful -- even after more than six decades.

Full Review… | February 10, 2012
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is a picture with guts. It grips with its stark realism and packs lots of punch.

Full Review… | October 18, 2008
Top Critic

Muni gives a brilliant performance as a regular guy wrongly convicted of murder and subjected to the hardships and beatings of a dehumanising chain gang regime.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

A moody, nasty-minded crime movie full of rage and anchored by some deep, moody visuals.

Full Review… | May 13, 2014
Antagony & Ecstasy

There's enough here to make I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang worthwhile, but its problems are deep enough to keep it a long way from sniffing greatness.

Full Review… | February 27, 2010
Film and Felt

The film suggests the denial of the common worker, whose service to industry is only as worthy as his social status.

Full Review… | February 2, 2010
Bright Lights Film Journal

Audience Reviews for I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

Hot off the wheels from Howard Hawks' 1932 Scarface, Paul Muni gives a much more focused and compelling performance as the titular fugitive. The story is based on true events, and the injustices it evokes on the big screen infuriate accordingly. The female roles are (unfortunately) secondary to all other plot elements, but the film still warrants a viewing if but for the political uproar it brought about after exposing the chain gang system.

Kristijonas Fussman
Kristijonas Fussman

Super Reviewer

If you're not interested in the volatile performance of Paul Muni, the violence of a 30's chaingang, or a morally obscured storyline, then watch this film for its historical and cultural aspects. This film caused an uproar during the heyday of the Hays Code for its portrayal of chain gangs as abusive and negligent means of torture, which at the time was the preferred course of punishment in America. Muni is the original Andy Dufresne, innocent of his conviction, yet forced into hard labor, finally being prodded to escape. The only difference between Andy and James Allen (Muni), being the nature of the escapes, one leading to redemption, another forcing an honest man into a life of crime in order to escape the tragic circumstances of a deadly prison sentence. Besides that, Muni, one of the great stage and screen actors of his time, blew me away with his emotional variance. A gem among Hollywood treasure.

Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

One of the greatest and most famous of the social imperative films of the pre-Hayes Code 1930's, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang depicts a man's decade long battle to attain the unattainable, peace. A truly fantastic Paul Muni plays James Allen, a returning WWI vet who gets wrongfully arrested and sentenced to ten years hard labor at an abhorrent southern work camp. There he -- and 1930's audiences -- witnessed the atrocities of the chain gang institution in the American south. And that was the point -- to expose its cruelty and incite reform. For all its cynicism, this Mervyn Leroy classic is still an absorbing and exciting portrait of one man's hell: from combat to prison to fugitive life, and then finally to the shadowy, soul-sucked, madness that comes with a life fraught with such hardship. Muni's tour-de-force induces not only sympathy, but anger toward the heartless miscarriages of justice that condemn Allen throughout the film. I was by turns enthralled, enlightened, heartbroken, and frustrated by his journey from start to finish. Leroy's 1932 film is a fiery indictment of the chain gang hypocrisy that often lacks subtlety, but never power.

Bob O'Reilly

Super Reviewer

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