Two innocent men are wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The fiance of one of them convinces a police detective of their innocence, and together they try to find the real ...
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Two innocent men are wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The fiance of one of them convinces a police detective of their innocence, and together they try to find the real killer before the men's execution date. Written by
Maureen O'Sullivan and Ralph Bellamy look for a way to save the wrongfully convicted Henry Fonda and Alan Baxter
"Let Us Live" (1939) is a snappy 67 minute noir, photographed by Lucien Ballard, and directed by John Brahm. There's no mistaking it for anything other than noir.
The movie explicitly indicts the criminal justice system. At one point, everyone from the D.A. down to the police chief insists they are doing their jobs. They are acting like perfect bureaucrats, following a narrow legalistic path or job description. But Ralph Bellamy tells them they're ignoring that they're dealing with human beings and specific cases, and following rules doesn't produce justice. Doing that has resulted in placing two innocent men, Henry Fonda and Alan Baxter, on death row. Only strenuous efforts of Fonda's fiancée, Maureen O'Sullivan, and cop Bellamy, solid as always, can possibly save them from a rapidly approaching electrocution. No appeals here that take up months and stretch into years. Stanley Ridges is the unbending D.A. and Henry Kolker is the self-constrained police chief.
Fonda does a nice job transitioning from a self-confident and optimistic cab driver to a man with doubts and finally to bitterness. O'Sullivan is not hysterical but she is extremely frustrated and becomes quite shrill or carried away at the mistaken identification of eye witnesses and the fact that her alibi for Fonda is so easily dismissed as the word of a biased woman who couldn't account for 20 minutes of Fonda's time while she was inside a church. Baxter begins a man behind the depression eight ball and his arrest and conviction only confirms it in his mind. He does get some courage, however, from seeing Fonda challenging the cops on death row as "cowards".
Arbitrary dates and films for when noir began simply do not create firm boundaries. "Let Us Live" is quite far from being the kind of film that's often called proto-noir; it was so classed at the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival. In it, noir images are not just frequent but predominate. The story pulls no punches in criticizing the police and court system. This movie is actually a film noir. The copy I viewed was from an excellent DVD source, whose origin I cannot recollect, with deep blacks and sharp images.
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