7.4/10
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You Only Live Once (1937)

Passed | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 29 January 1937 (USA)
The public defender's secretary and an ex-convict get married and try to make a life together, but a series of disasters sends their lives spiraling out of control.

Director:

Fritz Lang

Writers:

Gene Towne (screenplay), C. Graham Baker (screenplay) (as Graham Baker)
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Sylvia Sidney ... Joan Graham
Henry Fonda ... Eddie Taylor
Barton MacLane ... Stephen Whitney
Jean Dixon ... Bonnie Graham
William Gargan ... Father Dolan
Jerome Cowan ... Dr. Hill
Charles 'Chic' Sale ... Ethan (as Chic Sale)
Margaret Hamilton ... Hester
Warren Hymer ... Buggsy
Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams ... Roger (as Guinn Williams)
John Wray ... Warden Wheeler
Walter De Palma Walter De Palma ... Monk Mendall
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Storyline

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 <horrigan@eworld.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Here's stark, spell-binding drama...raw, human, fervent...speaking right out -- pulling no punches...a dramatic thunderbolt that will shock you right out of your smugness! See more »

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Film-Noir

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

29 January 1937 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Three Time Loser See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$575,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Final film of Charles (Chic) Sale, who died in November 1936, two months before the film was released. See more »

Quotes

Joan Graham: We may never find happiness
[says Joan during the escape]
Joan Graham: but we have the right to live.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Going Hollywood: The '30s (1984) See more »

Soundtracks

A Thousand Dreams of You
(1936) (uncredited)
Music by Louis Alter
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Eddie and Joan were two good looking people…
14 June 2014 | by SpikeopathSee all my reviews

You Only Live Once is directed by Fritz Lang and written by C. Graham Baker and Gene Towne. It stars Sylvia Sidney, Henry Fonda, Barton MacLane, Jean Dixon and William Gargan. Music is by Alfred Newman and cinematography by Leon Shamroy.

He has been pounding on the door of that execution chamber since the day he was born.

One of Fritz Lang's first American productions is a cracker-jack proto- noir, a leading light (darkly shaded of course) in the sub-genre of fugitive lovers on the lam pictures. Story leans on the legend of Bonnie and Clyde and finds Fonda as three times jailbird Eddie Taylor. After strings are pulled and promises made, Eddie gets released into the arms of his adoring gal, Jo Graham (Sidney). Determined to go straight and settle down with Jo, Eddie finds a society not ready to forgive and forget, worst still, he's old comrades in criminal arms have cooked something up and it's not going to be good news for Eddie. Cue the Romeo & Juliet factor as two lovers love each other so much they will stop at nothing to be together and to try and make the other one happy.

Lang brings his expressionistic bent to the tragi noir tale, drifting fogs, mists and spider web shadows across key scenes. Canted angles feature, reflections in a psychological eye also play their part, while the protection of animals theme – and the continuing frog motif - further strengthens the otherworldly – cum - nightmarish aura that so often permeated Lang's movies. The action scenes are deftly marshalled by the director, with a smoke grenade led robbery and a prison escape particularly worthy of luring you to the end of your seat.

Lang also gets fine performances from his lead actors, Sidney is not done too many favours by the screenplay, where she is saddled with one of those compliant love interest roles, but she brings a quality to her scenes with Fonda that earns respect. Fonda is great in what is a two- fold role, shifting skilfully between a tender lover to an embittered man, he's a triumphant fulcrum for all the various strands that Lang is weaving together. It has been argued that it's a film that's too morally grey, but as film noir lovers will tell you, this is no bad thing, especially when Lang marries up his superb visuals with alienation, fatalism and pessimism.

Historically important to film noir and Lang fans, You Only Live Once is an ambiguous gem. 9/10


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