I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Independent Films, Film Profiles
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is a pre-Code 1932 crime/drama film in which Paul Muni stars as a wrongfully accused escapee from a chain gang. The film was written by Howard J. Green and Brown Holmes from Robert Elliott Burns's autobiography, I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy.The film was controversial on its release because of its subject matter (it was banned in Georgia) and contributed to the elimination of forced labor in the penal system in the United States.In 1991, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".Sergeant James Allen (Paul Muni) returns to civilian life after World War I but has a hard time finding work. He accidentally becomes caught up in a robbery and is sentenced to ten years on a brutal Southern chain gang.He escapes and makes his way to Chicago, where he becomes a success in the construction business. He becomes involved with the proprietor of his boardinghouse, Marie Woods (Glenda Farrell), who discovers his secret and blackmails him into an unhappy marriage. He then meets and falls in love with Helen (Helen Vinson). When he asks his wife for a divorce, she betrays him to the authorities. He is offered a pardon if he will turn himself in; Allen accepts, only to find that it was just a ruse. He escapes once again.In the end, Allen visits Helen in her darkened house and tells her he is leaving forever. She asks, "Can't you tell me where you're going? Will you write? Do you need any money? But you must, Jim. How do you live?" In the chilling final line and shot, James replies ominously, "I steal" and backs away, disappearing into the dark. The composition and lighting of the final scene, considered to be one of the best in film history, was reportedly accidental. The lights on the set supposedly either failed or were turned off earlier than intended. The studio liked what it saw and kept the ending.
Year of Production: 1932
Length: 93 min.
Country: United States
- Mervyn LeRoy
- Hal B. Wallis
- Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Noel Francis