A depressing, ambitious picture directed by Fritz Lang shows how quickly can a life spiral out of control, with utterly grievous consequences. A small-time crook named Eddie is out of prison and marries his long-time love. Unable to find work he is constantly miserable and thinks that he left his wife down. On one day, a bank robbery takes place and Eddie is the prime suspect. Sentenced to death, he realizes that there is no other way of escaping his fate than resolving to violence. In the most climatic moment of the film a parole grant arrives at the prison warden's office. However - given the circumstances and his attempt to run away - mentally unstable Eddie doesn't believe the story. He kills the prison chaplain and becomes the real killer-on-the-loose. Along with his beautiful and loving wife and their newborn baby, he decides to run away out of the country and find peace somewhere far away.
You Only Live Once is a visually-striking depiction of one man's attempt at rescuing his own well-being from the disastrous effects of a faulty trail. Henry Fonda gives an incredibly convincing performance as the worn-out, antipathetic protagonist. Sylvia Sidney aspires to be a true Golden-Era star through her touching portrayal of an optimistic yet worried wife.
With its sombre atmosphere and bitter feel of irrepressible hopelessness You Only Live Once marks Fritz Lang's rise to fame during his American period.