They Made Me a Fugitive (I Became a Criminal) (1948)
They Made Me a Fugitive (I Became a Criminal) (1948)
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as Clem Morgan
as Mrs. Fenshawe
as Inspector Rockliffe
as Fidgetty Phil
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a grimy brit noir with trevor howard as an ex-raf pilot and black marketeer who falls in with drug smugglers. when he tries to get out, he's framed for murder and goes on the lam looking for the man who can clear his name, with criminals and cops on his trail. some really dark stuff and alot of tough talk, which is fun coming from howard; griffith jones is suitably nasty as crime boss narcy (short for narcissus!) and the very lovely sally gray plays howard's love interest. directed by brazilian-born alberto cavalcanti, most famous for the much imitated ventriloquist's dummy segment in dead of night
THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE is a British production but bears the Warner Brothers logo?which is apropos - for it makes for a swell addition to Warner's prestigious lineup of classic crime dramas. The film was originally released in 1947 and the story takes place in post WWII London - but the spirit and feel of the film is in keeping with Warner's gangster films of the 30's & 40's. THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE is definitely noir? but with that touch of British flair.
The flair comes across in the dialogue - which is quick as well as witty. I can't imagine an american mug having a word like "bohemian" in his vocabulary - but here it is. I also confess I don't have quite the ear for british slang or colloquialisms - so I had to rewind a couple of times in order to try to pick up what was said by the characters. Unfortunately my recording doesn't have captions?but Google was of help - at least I now know what "sherbert" is.
Narcy (Griffith Jones) is a black marketeer who uses a funeral parlor as his "front". Whenever their horse-drawn hearse pulls up and the gang unloads a coffin - the coffin is loaded with illicit goods. Narcy - which is short for Narcissus - decides, in a bit of patriotic fervor, to hire on a former RAF pilot in "Clem" Morgan (Trevor Howard). Clem spent the good part of the war in a Nazi prison camp in which he later escaped. Clem fits in well with Narcy's gang? that is until Clem learns that Narcy is soliciting goods much hotter than cigarettes or booze. Among the contents of one particular coffin - a package of the aforementioned "sherbert".
"There's more 'mazooma' in that there package than you'll see in a month of foggy fridays?", says Narcy in describing the package of "sherbert" to Clem? but "Clem" now wants out of the gang, "I may be a crook, but not THAT kind of a crook"!
From then on, Narcy doesn't trust Clem. Clem know too much about the working of the gang to be set free just like that. Besides, Narcy has his eyes on Clem's pretty girlfriend, Ellen (Eve Ashley). During a nighttime heist of a warehouse - Narcy improvises a plan that implicates Clem in the killing of a "bobbie". The plan works to perfection and Clem is sent to prison - "framed" for a crime he didn't commit.
Unfortunately for Narcy, the situation will only create much resentment and hatred in the two people he managed to double-cross in one fell swoop: Clem, of course?but also Sally (Sally Connor) - the chorus girl Narcy leaves behind when he moved in on Ellen?as they say - there is nothing like a woman scorned! Later, things really become hot for Narcy when word gets out that Clem has again managed to escape prison and is inexorably making his way back to London despite a massive manhunt.
THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE has a wonderful cast from the leads on down.
Trevor Howard and Sally Connor just manages to channel the spirit of Bogie & Bacall in this.
Griffith Jones is deliciously evil and sadistic as the black marketeer, Narcy.
Mary Merrall is entertaining as Aggie, the elderly matriarch of Narcy's gang. She has a quick tongue - especially when she scolds one of the gang members for giving her a bit of lip:
"I hope you never spoke to your mother like that?"
"I never had a mother?"
"Come, come?you must be the son-of-a?something".
There is also a wonderful scene after Clem escapes and seeks food and a change of clothing from a countryside housewife (Vida Hope). The housewife - who has the strange mannerism of a Mrs. Danvers (from Hitchcock's REBECCA) is not afraid of the escaped convict like one would think. She has her own dark motives for wanting to help Clem.
The climax of the film may seem a bit tame despite the wonderful buildup to it. In a way it's almost comical - especially the use of a milk bottle during one moment. The fistfights seem especially tepid (when compared to modern standards) but very much in keeping with the times (see the climactic fight scene in Kurosawa's 1949 film, STRAY DOG - and you'll see what I mean).
The screenplay was written by Noel Langley - who happened to write the screenplay for 2 of my favorite classics: THE WIZARD OF OZ? and my favorite of the Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald vehicles, MAYTIME - about as different a pair of films as you can get from THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE.
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Another British production in the Kino noir box. I do prefer my noir to be made in the U.S.A., but it's not an ironclad requirement. This is otherwise such a sterling example of the genre, and besides, BritNoir does have one distinct advantage: it's not shackled by the Hayes Code. This is a bit more brutal than the average American noir, and ends on a more depressing note. Cavalcanti directs the film wonderfully, full of deep shadows and tight framing and dramatic angles. In one scene, the antagonist (nicely, nastily done by Griffith Jones) is about to beat up his ex. For a moment, his pretty boy face is reflected in a distorted mirror, revealing his gruesome inner nature. Trevor Howard is excellent in the lead, playing more of an anti-hero than his usual charming roles, but still sympathetic. The story is a noir standard -- framed man seeks revenge -- and is done here very well, packing a lot of plot development into its 95 minutes. Terrific movie throughout, very dark and tense and cynical. The dialogue is perhaps not quite as snappy as the best American noir, but there are some pretty good lines.
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