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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William S. Hart
William S. Hart,
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A prosecuting attorney commences his summing-up : the defendant is his son whose pitiful fate led him to murder ; he left his mother he got pregnant and the unwed poor thing had to fight against a hostile world .
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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
According to The New York Times review, the title of Joseph F. Dinneen's story was "Murder in Massachusetts," but it was not mentioned in the credits because of a vague threat by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which did not wish any implication of inefficiency of its police, prosecutor or court system. The story was based on the fact that two taxicab drivers were identified by seven of eight witnesses as two of the three men who murdered a man during a 1934 theater robbery in Lynn, Massachusetts. Their trial was in progress for two weeks when the real killers were captured in New York City and confessed; the taxicab drivers were released and two of the three criminals were eventually executed. See more »
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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