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
Paul Muni was not as impressed with Mervyn LeRoy upon first meeting him in Jack L. Warner's Burbank office. Warner made the introductions, but Muni did not say anything to LeRoy. Instead, he turned to Warner and said, "Is he the director, that kid?" Despite that inauspicious beginning, the director and the star became close friends. When Muni died in 1967, the only two people from the film industry present at his funeral were LeRoy and Muni's agent. See more »
Calendar pages flip several times in the film and it is always the same calendar even though the events of the story unfold over the course of many years. The first calendar flipping should be 1923 or 1924. The next is in 1929/30. The last flipping is likely intended to be 1930/31. In all cases, a 1932 (could be 1904, but due to the date of the film, 1932 is more likely) calendar is used. In two instances, the date flips from December to January and in both instances Jan 1 falls on the wrong day. Instead of using a 1933 calendar for January, they simply used the same 1932 calendar. See more »
Paul Muni's performance in Scarface led him to a long term contract with Warner Brothers and his first film with them was another classic. Unlike Scarface where Muni becomes a gangland boss, he's led almost by accident into a life of crime.
Restless since his service in the World War, Muni leaves his factory job to see the world. On the bum, he gets accidentally drawn into a holdup of a greasy spoon diner by another tramp, Preston Foster. Foster is killed and Muni is left with the rap for a grand total of about $5.00 and change. Today that would be about $35.00 to $40.00 all told.
No first offender status in this state and no one to speak earnestly for him, he gets a 10 year stretch for that holdup. Here's where the themes of I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang come into play. The brutal and callous treatment of the prisoners had never been shown so graphically on the screen before, although at RKO they were doing a film with the same themes in Hell's Highway at the same time.
Muni got an Oscar nomination for playing James Allen in this film, but lost to Charles Laughton for The Private Lives of Henry VIII. Still he gives a riveting performance as a man truly a victim of forces he cannot comprehend.
Overshadowed by Muni and sometimes overlooked unfortunately is Glenda Farrell. She plays a trampy dame with a heart of pure brass who latches on to Muni who marries her when she discovers he's a fugitive, then turns him in when he tries to throw her out. Her part as Muni's unfaithful wife may just have been her career role.
Even though the film is black and white, the fashions are old, prison themes whether it's this one, Brubaker, or The Shawshank Redemption usually have a lot of the same themes and are eternal. This one is a deserved classic and should never be missed when televised.
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