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I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 8,143 users  
Reviews: 299 user | 38 critic

Wrongly convicted James Allen serves in the intolerable conditions of a southern chain gang, which later comes back to haunt him.

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Title: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 3 wins. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Glenda Farrell ...
Marie
Helen Vinson ...
Noel Francis ...
Preston Foster ...
...
Barney Sykes
Berton Churchill ...
The Judge
Edward Ellis ...
Bomber Wells
David Landau ...
The Warden
Hale Hamilton ...
Rev. Allen
...
Alice
Louise Carter ...
Mother
Willard Robertson ...
Prison Board Chairman
Robert McWade ...
Attorney
Robert Warwick ...
Fuller
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Storyline

Having returned from fighting in World War I, James Allen doesn't want to settle into a humdrum life and decides to set off to find his fortune. He travels the length and breadth of America, working as a skilled tradesman in the construction industry. When times get tough however, he finds himself living in a shelter where an acquaintance suggests they go out for a hamburger. What the friend really has in mind is to rob the diner and Allen soon finds himself working on a chain gang with a long jail sentence. Allen manages to escape however and heads to Chicago where over several years he slowly but surely works his way up the ladder to become one of the most respected construction engineers in the city. His past catches up with him and despite protestations from civic leaders and his many friends in Chicago, he finds himself again on the chain gang. Escaping for a second time, he accepts that to survive, he must lead a life of crime. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Six sticks of dynamite that blasted his way to freedom... and awoke America's conscience!

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Film-Noir

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

19 November 1932 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

I Am a Fugitive  »

Box Office

Budget:

$195,845 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

(Turner library print)

Sound Mix:

(original release)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Atlanta, Georgia - Monday, October 10, 1939: Action bought by Vivian Stanley, a member of the Prison Commission of the State of Georgia, against Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., Vitagraph, Inc. and local exhibitors, Wilby and Holden, was won by the defendants when a verdict was rendered in the latter's favor in the Superior Court of Fulton County here. Plaintiff brought the suits trial of which commenced some three weeks ago, for $100,000 charging libel because of the content of the (1932)Warner feature, "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang." See more »

Goofs

Calendar pages flip several times in the film and it is always the same calendar even though the events of the story unfold over the course of many years. The first calendar flipping should be 1923 or 1924. The next is in 1929/30. The last flipping is likely intended to be 1930/31. In all cases, a 1932 (could be 1904, but due to the date of the film, 1932 is more likely) calendar is used. In two instances, the date flips from December to January and in both instances Jan 1 falls on the wrong day. Instead of using a 1933 calendar for January, they simply used the same 1932 calendar. See more »

Quotes

[last lines]
Helen: How do you live?
James Allen: I steal.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Sanford and Son: Rated X (1973) See more »

Soundtracks

The Darktown Strutters' Ball
(1917) (uncredited)
Music by Shelton Brooks
Played when Jim meets up with Barney
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A true classic AND a brave indictment. Excellent!!!
1 August 2002 | by (Awestruck, NYC) – See all my reviews

Without a doubt, this is one of the finest films I have seen. Paul Muni's performance is so good, it's practically indescribable. I thought he was extremely believable as the unduly accused and convicted James Allen. This story will rip your heart out, and rightly so. The film is very well done in every way, down to the smallest detail (best example of this: the disgusting looking prison food – if you can call it that). The use of newspaper headlines is extremely effective, as well as the very realistic scenes in the prison and work yard, and the whole environment in which Allen must live. The viewer can almost feel Allen's pain as the other inmate hammers away at his leg chains to give him a glimpse of hope toward freedom. However, even the scenes of Allen's life on the outside still evoke a sense of foreboding. This is a very powerful film.

I saw it as part of the Essentials series on Turner Classic Movies, and Robert Osborne said that the real-life protagonist on whom this film is based acted as a consultant. Since he was still on the run, however, he was not credited. The whole situation is so sad, and this sadness and feeling of oppression hang over the film with such realism, that sometimes it is as though you are watching Allen's life caught on videotape, instead of a motion picture. It is extremely gripping and downbeat, with a killer ending. The fact that it's a true story just adds to the pervasive feeling of doom. Way ahead of its time, and a brave picture to make in its indictment of the justice system. WOW.

TWO FAVORITE MOMENTS: 1) Allen looking directly at the policeman in the barbershop with a determined, steely glare, as if suddenly realizing that he will not be recognized, and simply defying the cop to recognize him. The barber doesn't recognize him either, even though the cop and barber have just been describing Allen. This scene, I am sure, meant to emphasize the incompetence of the police and justice system, without using any words to do so. Fantastically done. I am in awe.

2) Chain gang inmate Barney Sykes (played by supreme character actor Allen Jenkins), finally released from jail, is offered a ride from the prison staff, who are carting the coffin of a dead inmate off the grounds. Very matter-of-factly, as though he has done this before (and thus demonstrating the de-humanizing effects of prison life) Sykes hops up onto the back of the truck and sits right on the coffin. Upon seeing this out the window, the other inmates ruminate on the fact that there are only two ways to leave the chain gang – `get let out, or die out.'

I will not give the ending away, but if it doesn't move you to tears, I don't know what will. Haunting.

My ONLY (minor) problem with the film is that all of the ladies in Allen's life look so similar, I could barely tell them apart!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!! See it.


20 of 24 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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