Tuesday, 10 July 2007

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1933)

“I’m a fugitive from a Chain Gang” is the story of a war veteran (WWI) down on his luck that accidentally is caught in the middle of a robbery, and thought to be an accomplice. He is condemned to ten years hard labour in a chain gang. Managing to escape, he reinvents himself as a successful engineer but is found out and blackmailed into marriage by an unscrupulous woman. The ending is one of the darkest, most depressing, most original and most powerful ever to come out of Hollywood.

The film blew my mind away. I watched it in a permanent state of uneasiness, literally on the edge of my seat. One of the key factors was certainly Paul Muni’s flawless Oscar nominated performance. It is the first film of his I ever saw, and he has definitely make an impression on me. His portrayal of the fall, rise, second fall and subsequent alienation of the character is undoubtedly one of the great screen performances of all time. Amazingly, he lost the Oscar for Charles Laughton in “The Private Life of Henry VIII”… Oh well, then and now…

But a not-so-small part of the film’s success is an amazing, unsentimental script, yet capable of moving and disturbing, and a strong director at the helm. The film was so shocking at the time, in the way that it portrait the dehumanization of the character, that started a reform of the American penal system. This is 1930’s Hollywood cinema at its best.

If you believe that a film can be more than just mere entertainment, then I strongly recommend this film if you can catch it, either on screen or on DVD. There’s a Region 1 release and in Region 2 is released at least in France.

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