I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang ★★★★½

The Third Summer of Scam

So I wanted to use I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang as another shot at trying to notice if I could see anything about this Pre-Code period that made it notably racier or more adult than what followed, and I think I see it now.

I'm not sure how anybody could *not* see it during that long lingering pan down Glenda Farrell's figure after Paul Muni becomes the titular escapee. There's also the occasional but very bracing violence and suggestive dialogue in there that even I couldn't miss.

That said, it wasn't too long before I was interested in other things here. Wow, this really is a tough film. Poor Muni comes back from the hell of the first World War but has picked up a skill he thinks he can use. So he goes after the American Dream, finds himself in the middle of a hold-up, and cops 10 years on a chain gang. Then he escapes but that's just the start of his problems!

It's kind of amazing just how much LeRoy has to say here. Quite aside from the commentary on post-WWI America (a subject I'm interested in seeing a lot more films about), it's also got some really incisive things to say about the criminal justice system - and even at the social and racial divisions in America that seemed to be leftovers from as far back as the Civil War. It's a really fascinating mix.

The end message couldn't be any clearer, but you forget the character narrative here as well, which is also very smartly done and revolves around a tremendous performance from Muni. Thoroughly enjoyed Edward Ellis as his chain gang partner-in-crime as well, one of the many bright lights in a superb cast operating at ridiculously good levels. Really almost faultless, just a stunning piece of work.

🇵🇱 Steve G liked this review