Friday, January 8, 2010

64. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy
Written By: Howard J. Green, from the memoir by Robert E. Burns
Main Cast: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Edward Ellis

THE GRANDPAPPY OF ALL PRISON MOVIES DOESN'T DISAPOINT

I had heard of, so many times, this film with the very long title, but in all my days of watching movies I had never seen it, that is, until today. I had high hopes for this one going in, and I wasn't wrong, as "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" delivered the goods in more ways than one.

Paul Muni plays James Allen, who's just returning home from World War I with aspirations of being a construction worker. His dreams of wanting to build and create things are quickly dashed as he gives in to his old supervisor and goes back to work at the local factory. However, when his mother realizes how important his dreams are to him, she gives him her blessing to go and pursue his desired occupation. Allen travels all around the country looking for work as a construction worker, getting laid off from several jobs and flat out being told "NO" when asking for work at others. Eventually, he's reduced to a tramp, wandering the streets, without foor or money.

Eventually, Allen meets up with Pete, a man who promises he can get him a hamburger, a very welcome suggestion to Allen's ears. Upon arriving at the hamburger stand, Pete coaxes the proprietor to give him a couple of burgers and when Pete gets a load of the cash register, he can't resist holding the place up. Allen, of course wants nothing to do with this, but when a gun is stuck in his face and he's told to empty the register, he has no choice and when the cops arrive and he's left holding the loot, he's sentenced to ten years in prison, working on the chain gang.

It only takes Allen about a year to devise a scheme to bust out of the joint and when he convinces another inmate to bend his ankle shackles with a sledgehammer, he sees an opportunity to get away. So that's just what he does and despite a hot pursuit complete with guards and their dogs, Allen is home free. Reversing his name to Allen James, so as to give himself a little bit of cover, Allen takes a job in the construction business and moves up the ladder of success pretty rapidly. When he takes an apartment from a woman named Marie, who is immediately attracted to Allen, he makes his first mistake. When Allen doesn't return Marie's affection and feelings, Marie blackmails him with the information that she knows he's an escaped convict and unless he marries her, she'll turn him in.

Basically, for me, this was a no brainer. I love prison flicks and so I knew I'd love this movie. This movie does a really good job of showing the viewer just how difficult it was to be a prisoner on a chain gang and this movie really has a little bit of everything. The suspense that is created when Allen slips off his shackles and takes off running through the southern woods, the romantic scene as Allen and his new gal Helen, sit in his car on a moonlit night and flirt like crazy. The car chase scene, which for it's time was quite elaborate. You can really connect to this character, and you really get a feel for how desperate he gets at certain times in the movie and how badly he wants to be free of his shackles so that he can continue to pursue his dreams. Paul Muni turns in a fantastic performance and makes me quite excited for his upcoming role in "Scarface: The Shame of A Nation", which I'll be reviewing in just a few days. Great movie, and although I haven't seen the other films nominated that year, "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" is rightly deserving of the Best Picture Oscar that it received.

RATING: 10/10 What can I say I'm a sucker for a good prison movie and this one is top notch.

NEXT UP: Trouble In Paradise...I got it from Netflix today, but I'll more than likely save it for tomorrow, so check back then for the review of that one.

January 8, 2010 5:35pm

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