I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang Reviews
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.
A law-abiding man, James Allen (played by Paul Muni), is falsely convicted of a crime and sentenced to ten years hard labour on a chain gang. After a time he escapes, but his troubles aren't over yet...
Great, gritty drama. The inhumane treatment of the criminals is very plausible and frustrating and you can't help but support them in their plight. The effects of the injustice and inhumanity on them, and James Allen in particular, is palpable and sad.
Solid performance by Paul Muni in the lead role. Good supporting cast too.
Muni's performance is bolstered by a very moving script and an excellent director, but what had to be most important was an impeccable sound design. This film was able to take a relatively new innovation for the film industry and create a superb array of ambient sounds that you cant help but notice. It was so excellent that even now, nearing a century later, I was still shocked by the amount that it added to the film. Muni is so often surrounded by unfamiliar and daunting noises when he's introduced to the chain gang. The rattling of the chains, the pounding of the hammers against the rocks, the barking and whining of the hounds on his tail during his escape. I actually believed I was feeling exactly what James Allen must have been feeling. This really couldn't have been achieved just a few years earlier if the film had been made as a silent film.
If you have an appreciation for cinema, this is a film you just can't ignore. It's a genuine piece of movie history. I cant believe I hadn't even heard of it before today. I don't think I'll ever forget this one, and I cant recommend it enough.
He just lights up the screen Paul Muni & is utterly convincing as the good guy wrongfully accused. Filled with some snappy dialogue it's an essential early 1930's masterpiece.
It's a hard nosed film that is a true classic in every sense, also a very well made film considering it was made in the early days of talkies.