Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932)


A hysterical and uncannily gripping exposé of the injustices of the then-contemporary judicial and prison systems, with a down-and-out Paul Muni inadvertently getting involved in a stick-up and sent to the chain gang. He is mangled by demonic prison wardens until he escapes, reforms and gets stuck in another kind of prison, with a shrill, nymphomaniac harpy blackmailing him into marriage.

Although socially conscious, the sermonising gets heavy-handed and more than a tad exploitative. But whatever compulsion or catharsis is involved in watching a sympathetic, upstanding man's fortunes veer from worse to agonising, this movie gets it. And it ends on a famously haunting note.

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