I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

Critics Consensus

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95%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 22

91%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 3,165
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Movie Info

Wrongfully convicted for a hold-up, a war vet sentenced to a chain gang escapes and builds a new, respectable existence, only to realize he can never be free of his past. This classic, still-powerful reality-based indictment of the Depression-era prison system is the peak of Warner's 1930s school of social realism.

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Cast

Paul Muni
as James Allen
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 Allen
Willard Robertson
as Prison Commissioner
Louise Carter
as Mrs. Allen
Sheila Terry
as Allen's Secretary
Edward J. Le Saint
as Chairman, Chamber of Commerce
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 Diner
Everett Brown
as Sebastian T. Yale
George Cooper
as Vaudevillian
Walter Long
as Blacksmith
Frederick Burton
as Georgia Prison Official
Irving Bacon
as Barber Bill
Lee Shumway
as Arresting Officer
J. Frank Glendon
as Arresting Officer
Dennis O'Keefe
as Dance Extra
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Critic Reviews for I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (3)

Audience Reviews for I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

  • Oct 23, 2016
    Early on while watching 'I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang', you feel it will have real substance and a meaning not often seen in movies from this time period. It starts with a vet returning from WWI disillusioned with the prospect of being a factory worker for the rest of his life, and his mother supporting him in his vision to become an engineer (quipping he needs to 'find himself', which I found to be about 30 years ahead of its time). The movie transitions into a harsh prison film after the man unwittingly becomes an accomplice to a holdup, and in exposing the cruelty of the chain gang system, it gained great notoriety. Director Mervyn LeRoy tells the story with a perfect sense of pace, as well as balance - the film is tough and gritty, but never gratuitous. When the man escapes prison, it's clear he has physical relations with a couple of women, but in what must have shocked conservatives at the time, appears honorable in being honest and telling one of them that they both know "it wasn't love". And in the larger sense, this is what the film turns on its head - conventional notions of honor, and justice. The main point made is that those who run a prison system which metes out cruel and unusual punishment are indeed as bad as those they imprison (or worse!). We hear the age-old argument for harsh punishment from a prison official at a parole hearing - that it not only serves justice, but deters crime and also helps reform prisoners - and this argument is not challenged, at least verbally, by any other character - and yet while watching, we feel and know it to be wrong. Modern studies have shown it to be wrong, and yet the argument persists. LeRoy doesn't hit us over the head with this though, he just shows us the truth - and it was very interesting to find out afterwards that the film was quite true to a real-life story, and banned in the state of Georgia. I also found it refreshing that the African-American convicts are shown as strong and dignified, at one point segregated and looking into the camera with somber, intelligent eyes. I have to also say that Paul Muni is fantastic in the lead role, and more than worthy of his Academy Award nomination. He seems to me to be an early form of James Dean or Marlon Brando, and delivers a great performance. His last line in the film is haunting, and reminds us that we should be asking, what are the ultimate goals of the prison system? Pretty impressive for 1932, and without a doubt, a landmark film.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 22, 2013
    Muni put together some truly great roles and this is one of the better ones. It is likely that this served as an inspiration for Oh Brother Where Art Thou many decades later. Apparently this is based on the true story of Robert Burns. If so, it is understandable why the chain gang system was abolished for good.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 13, 2013
    The film's historical importance is noteworthy (On top of the criticism of the chain-gangs, it also chronicles the displacement and disillusionment of WWI Veterans) as is the great performance of Paul Muni.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 11, 2013
    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 F Super Reviewer

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