I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

  • Directors: Mervyn LeRoy
  • Producers: Hal B Wallis
  • Writers: Brown Holmes, Howard J Green
  • Genres: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
  • Actors: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Noel Francis

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 the shadows on the street 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?” James repeats “no” as his answer as he backs away. Finally Helen says, “But you must, Jim. How do you live?” In the film’s final line and shot James replies chillingly, “I steal”, and disappears 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.[2]

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