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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
When James Allen is getting a shave he asks the barber for a hot towel and when he does this the left side of his face is covered in shaving cream. When the barber returns with the towel the left side of his face has no shaving cream on it. See more »
Do you mind if we stay here awhile, or must you go home?
There are no musts in my life. I'm free, white and twenty-one.
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Absolutely powerhouse film, possibly the finest of the early sound era
"I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" is possibly the finest film of the early sound era. Considering how filmmakers weren't adapt yet to the new medium, its impressive how this film seems to be devoid of much of the awkwardness that usually plagues films from this time. There isn't too much music, but it doesn't slow down the pace or distract the viewer. Also, Mervyn LeRoy's workman direction is quite adequate. Between "Little Caesar" and this, he seemed to become much more comfortable with the new sound medium.
While some of the supporting acting is a bit campy (I realize how many modern viewers don't enjoy pre-method acting), Paul Muni delivers a subdued and absolutely powerhouse performance. Its a shame he never became a bigger star, because as far as I'm concerned he's just as fine as Clark Gable or Gary Cooper. Also, the social message of this film was far ahead of its time in decrying what was a government institution. This was a very progressive film. In addition to the historical significance, the film is just as powerful as when it was initially released. In particular, the ending is a complete knockout (one of the finest closing lines ever for a film). Thankfully, this was made before the Hayes Code, so it includes some interesting (and realistic) depictions of sex. This deserves a ten the whole way, a rating I don't often hand out. (10/10)
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