I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
- This article is about the 1932 movie. For the book, see I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!
|I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang|
|Directed by||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis|
|Written by||Robert E. Burns|
|Screenplay by||Howard J. Green
|Based on||I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!|
|Music by||Bernhard Kaun
Leo F. Forbstein
|Edited by||William Holmes|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.
Associated Artists Productions (1956 re-release)
|Release dates||November 10, 1932|
|Running time||93 minutes|
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) is a Pre-Code crime/drama film starring Paul Muni as a wrongfully convicted convict on a chain gang who escapes to Chicago. 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! that was serialised in True Detective magazine. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy.
The true life story of Robert Elliot Burns, on which I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is based, was later recreated in the television movie, The Man Who Broke a 1,000 Chains (1987), starring Val Kilmer.
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 his war experience makes him restless. His family feels he should be grateful for a tedious job as an office clerk, and when he announces that he wants to become an engineer, they react with outrage. He leaves home to find work on any sort of project, but unskilled labor is plentiful and it's hard for him to find a job. Wandering and sinking into poverty, 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 repeatedly shakes his head in 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, unseen in the darkness, replies, "I steal." The line is among the most famous closing lines in American film.:25 LeRoy later claimed that the idea for James' retreat into darkness came to him when a fuse blew on the set, but in fact it was written into the script.:36
- Paul Muni as James Allen
- Glenda Farrell as Marie Woods
- Helen Vinson as Helen
- Noel Francis as Linda
- Preston Foster as Pete
- Allen Jenkins as Convict Barney Sykes
- Berton Churchill as The Judge
- Edward Ellis as Convict Bomber Wells
- David Landau as The Warden
- Hale Hamilton as Reverend Robert Allen
- Sally Blane as Alice
- Louise Carter as Mother Allen
- Willard Robertson as Prison Board Chairman
- Robert McWade as Attorney F.E. Ramsey
- Robert Warwick as Fuller
- William Le Maire as The Texan
Impact on American society
Audiences in the United States who saw the film began to question the legitimacy of the United States legal system, and in January 1933 the film's protagonist, Robert Elliot Burns, who was still imprisoned in New Jersey, and a number of other chain gang prisoners nationwide in the United States were able to appeal and were released. In January 1933, Georgia chain gang warden J. Harold Hardy, who was also made into a character in the film, sued the studio for displaying "vicious, brutal and false attacks" against him in the film. All of this legal wrangling came to nothing, but the state of Georgia remained relentless in its attempts to recapture Robert Elliot Burns, while director Mervyn LeRoy and Jack Warner were barred from entering the state of Georgia for years. Upon finally trekking to the peach state to help John Wayne direct The Green Berets in 1968, LeRoy said in his autobiography that the Georgians were full of "good old Southern hospitality and there wasn't a lynch rope in sight."
Awards and nominations
Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Paul Muni
- Best Picture
- Best Sound, Recording – Nathan Levinson (sound director)
National Board Review Award:
- 1932 – Best Picture
- 1991 – National Film Registry
- "Screen Notes". New York Times. 10 November 1932.
- Marr, John. "True Detective, R.I.P.". Stim.com.
- McGee, Scott (2014). "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang". Turner Classic Movies. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- O'Connor, John E. "Introduction: Warners Finds Its Social Conscience." I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. Ed. John E. O'Connor University of Wisconsin Press, 2005
- "States & Cities: Fugitive". Time. Dec 26, 1932. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
- "States & Cities: Fugitive Free". Time. Jan 2, 1933. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
- "Milestones, Jan. 16, 1933". Time. 1933-01-16. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
- "The 6th Academy Awards (1934) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-08-07.
- Burns, Robert E. (1932). I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 978-0-8203-1943-8.
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- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang at the American Film Institute Catalog
- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang at the Internet Movie Database
- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang at Rotten Tomatoes
- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang at AllMovie
- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang at the TCM Movie Database