I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang Reviews

Page 1 of 10
Antonius Block
Super Reviewer
½ October 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.
December 9, 2015
Another "gangster" classic benefits from the pre-production code standards and good direction. Not to mention a capable cast.
November 12, 2015
Paul Muni is sensational. A masterpiece !
October 12, 2015
A great tale of injustice and its consequences.

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.
August 24, 2015
1932! Stunningly good.
March 26, 2015
Despite it's age, the grandfather of prison movies is as hard hitting as it ever was thanks to some surprisingly brutal and unrelenting drama and Paul Muni's powerful lead performance.
February 24, 2015
Classic drama about a war hero who comes home to try and start a new life, ends up a drifter, and gets caught up in a robbery and thrown into a Georgia Chain Gang, where he is roughed up and beaten by the guards. He escapes and makes himself a success in Chicago, only to get found out and forced back into the Chain Gang. Paul Muni is excellent in the lead role, and the film is entertaining and doesn't hold back. Classic picture.
January 23, 2015
The acting is not the greatest and the film's scope demanded much longer running time, but with very engaging story, solid characters, dark approach, iconic conclusion, important issues raised and some excellent dramatic sequences, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is like Shawshank Redemption but with greater emphasis on prison escape. It is nothing spectacular, but is one of the most entertaining and purely fun pictures from the thirties.
December 12, 2014
Considering when this film was made, it is stunning. An early Cool Hand Luke if you will, but more mature. Muni is superb.
September 11, 2014
The first thing you'll notice about the film is the ability of the leading man, Paul Muni. He commands a very captivating presence that allows his character to become completely believable. In the first half of the film, Paul Muni makes his character one deserving of both sympathy and respect. It was very easy to feel for this character, and this allows James Allen to have an unparalleled character progression. He changes very drastically, but for the most part it happens so gradually that you don't realize the starkness of his transformation until the very final scene. Paul Muni takes his character from an upstanding citizen to a delusional vagrant that you cant help but feel pity and a genuine sorrow for. His skill as an actor creates one of the most shocking and dramatic endings in a film that I personally have ever seen.

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.
½ August 12, 2014
This movie still works after all these years. Riveting portrayal and unexpected ending.
March 30, 2014
The title says it all: Paul Muni is wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to the chain gang, an incredibly brutal and unfair form of punishment, from which he subsequently escapes. Using skills he learned in the army during WWI, he builds himself a career as a civil engineer and rises to prominence - until he is betrayed (as is, of course, inevitable). After a creaky start, director Mervyn Le Roy keeps things hopping along, laying out the clichés that would mark all future depictions of the chain gang, including musically. Warner Brothers subsequently built their image on this kind of social problem picture, crusading against injustice, and was sued by the state of Georgia for the effort. A tough and gritty '30s prison flick.
December 27, 2013
1972's The Godfather Is My Fourth Favorite Film.
Super Reviewer
½ October 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.
September 19, 2013
The film that launched Paul Muni to super stardom its a fantastic film that was quite intense in its portrayal of prison Chain Gang lifestyle.

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.
½ August 3, 2013
I can see how this was a big deal for its time, but with a lot of other "SOCIALLY IMPORTANT PICTURES!!!!!!!," it's dated irreparably from its time. Cinematically, though, I can see its importance as a blueprint for later movies to follow. Paul Muni was considered one of the finest actors of his era, but his style of acting and mugging for the camera is quite hammy and exaggerated now.
Super Reviewer
July 19, 2013
It's a returning war vet story and a prison/chain gang story. One of my favorites, Paul Muni, is James Allen. When he arrives home from WWI he doesn't want to be pressured into the same humdrum life he led before being in the military. The army changes a man. He travels from Boston to New Orleans to Michigan to St. Louis looking for construction jobs. He goes to get a burger with a guy he meets at a homeless shelter and is convicted of being an accomplice in the robbery of the diner. It's a hard adjustment to make being shackled to a chain gang and having to ask permission to even wide the sweat from his own face. He witnesses the brutal treatment by the guards. He makes a couple friends like Bomber (Ellis). James Allen can't yield to this life of being treated like a slave or like an animal and he is quite intelligent, so he makes plans to escape. Somehow even with reading the synopsis beforehand, I didn't expect that Allen would live six successful years doing what he wanted to do in Chicago. He goes by the name Allen James. A man with two first names can do that. The state of Missouri, the governor, and the prison board are intent on revenge for the embarrassment of having a prisoner escape successfully. Allen has a lawyer, who plays by the book, and his brother, who's a minister tries to help out, but the state is not playing fair. He finds himself back on the chain gang. The camera work and production work are done well. All the characters come alive with a naturalistic script based on Robert E. Burns true life story.
July 7, 2013
Amazing performance from Paul Muni !!!!
July 4, 2013
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) -- [8.0] -- A man is wrongly convicted and sentenced to a brutal chain gang in this gripping tragedy from Mervyn LeRoy. Paul Muni ("Scarface," "Life of Emile Zola") stars as the innocent man who succeeds in a daring escape and becomes a well-respected member of society before the law catches up with him. State extradition laws offer him some sanctuary, but Muni is tricked into voluntarily returning to the labor camp with the hope of wiping his record clean. Once there, all hope of a promised pardon vanishes and he's forced to plot his second deadly escape. "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang" plays it deadly serious rather than indulging in any melodrama, honoring the true life story on which it's based. Muni, one of the greatest actors form the '30s, is terrific here. Glenda Farrell is also good as his conniving wife who blackmails him for all he's worth, and so is Edward Ellis as one of Muni's fellow prisoners. Aside from being a well-told story, the film also directly led to the abolishing of the chain gang system and the pardoning of Robert Burns, the man Muni's character is based on.
May 29, 2013
In less than 90 minutes, we are told the epic life story of fugitive James Allen. I love these types of movies and this one was everything I could expect it to be and more.
Page 1 of 10