British hunter Thorndike vacationing in Bavaria has Hitler in his gun sight. He is captured, beaten, left for dead, and escapes back to London where he is hounded by German agents and aided by a young woman.
An altruistic department-store owner hires ex-convicts in order to give them a second chance at life. Unfortunately, one of the convicts he hires recruits two of his fellow ex-convicts in a plan to rob the store.
Joan is the secretary to the public defender in a large city. She is in love with a career criminal named Eddie, and she believes that he is a basically good person who just had some tough breaks. She uses her influence to get him released early, and he tries to go straight after marrying her, but things don't work out, and they both go on the lam. Written by
Tim Horrigan <email@example.com>
The spiraling plot is terrific, filmed and acted beautifully!
You Only Live Once (1937)
Ah, to see such a simple, moving, constantly changing drama with a criminal undertone (or overtone) is a treat. This isn't quite from the Warner Brother heyday in the early 1930s, where the form was established and made dark and really fast. But this is pre-film noir, strictly speaking, forming a bridge between the two worlds. In fact, like Stagecoach two years later, this is a daring William Wanger production, going out on a limb, and using brilliant German director Fritz Lang for an essentially American drama.
The innocent man fighting for his life, the loving woman who will do anything to help, the evil or doubtfully trustworthy authorities of every kind, the kindly defense lawyer, and the priest, all are archetypes used before but mixed together with brilliance. If there is a clunky moment or two, there is just one or two, and the whole thing is mostly bracing and quite beautiful. It's also a fairy tale, of sorts, the kind of moral fable where you sort of know the ending but don't mind because it's point is so beautiful.
Henry Fonda is here presaging his famous "breakout" roles in "Jezebel," "Young Mr. Lincoln," and "Grapes of Wrath," and his love-interest, Sylvia Sidney, is known for a role she had just finished in "Sabotage." Both are spot on perfect. And as their involvement goes through some surprises, it turns into a kind of "They Live by Night," which you should also see. The whole idea of two people in love against the world, which doesn't understand them, is as poignant and lasting as it gets, and Lang, whatever his usual dark sentiments, lets this part of it shine through, too.
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