Sunday, March 08, 2015

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is a 1932 crime drama starring Paul Muni. A tragic tale of the failures of the justice system. I found it unexpectedly hard to watch.

via Daily Motion:

Bright Lights Film Journal has an article that includes this: "Fugitive is read today as a Depression-era critique of an oppressive system. The film suggests the denial of the common worker, whose service to industry is only as worthy as his social status." DVD Talk says, "Seen in 1932 or today, the film has a powerful emotional effect on audiences - James Allen is a lightning rod for social frustration. Paul Muni explodes with rage upon hearing that his pardon has been denied, a moment that still sets one back in one's seat. Muni looks ready to start a revolution."

Slant Magazine gives it 3 out of 4 stars and says the film
was instrumental in swaying public opinion. The inhumanity and soul-crushing horrors of slave labor in the penal system, where the gruesome punishment didn't fit the crime, is neatly interwoven into a highly gripping plot that still holds up today. It feels more like an uncompromising prison film than a message movie, so its frequent heavy-handedness seems more like unabashed pulp rather than sanctimony.
Empire Online says,
The most powerful of Warner Brothers’ early 1930s ‘social problem’ films, this indictment of organised cruelty remains potent, hard-hitting melodrama. Adapted from the autobiography of escapee Robert E. Burns, it skates about some specifics, never naming the state which claps the hero into grand guignol prison camps (the book was called I Am a Fugitive From a Georgia Chain Gang) but is eye-openingly frank for a film of its vintage.
Time Out says, "Some of the social commentary now seems a little heavy-handed, but the film still packs a hefty punch." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 100%.


  1. I imagine this stirred up some controversy when it opened.


    1. It was based on a true story and resulted in the man it was based on having a successful appeal. The warden who was the inspiration for the warden in this movie sued the studio. The movie certainly did bring some public attention to the system.