You Only Live Once Reviews
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.
Fonda, in one of his first starring roles (though Sylvia is top billed), is dynamic playing, in all essence, the good-bad guy, a tough stiff who just can't catch a break in the world, and when he finally does, it's mitigated by ironic circumstances (shrouded in Lang's expressionistic use of fog) leading to murder, and no way out.
Like in "Fury", there's a notion of impending doom and chaos, that no matter which way the characters turn, be it trying to go straight, trying to beat a frame up, or live long enough on the lamb to see your baby born, nothing will work, and I'm sure in 1936, having declined Hitler's invitation to run the German film industry and all it's propaganda efforts, fleeing to France, then America, Lang sympathized with the displaced and unjustly accused, and there's just enough of his home country expressionism to quell the treacly romance with necessary dread.
Lang's American output is problematic, and even this early effort, produced independently by Walter Wanger, was cut down by 20 minutes because of what was thought to be unnecessary violence, but what remains is an occasionally brilliant, occasionally clunky hard luck melodrama, evincing themes of justice, persecution, and the perception of good and bad key to the director's entire canon.