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   YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (1937) 

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CAST
Henry Fonda
Sylvia Sydney
Barton MacLane
Jean Dixon
William Gargan
Jerome Cowan
Charles Sale
Margaret Hamilton
John Wray

DIRECTED BY
Fritz Lang

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 86 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Crime/Romance


Fonda brings his usual righteous anger to his role as Eddie Taylor, an ex-convict trying to go straight for love. His first few days out of the slammer and in the arms of his new wife Joan (Sidney) are pure heaven. What he fails to anticipate is that decent society wants no part of a career criminal, leaving him in a rather precarious and desperate situation. His plans for a normal life – house, wife, kids – are dashed when he's fired from his new job and made worse when he's arrested for perpetrating a crime he swears he didn't commit. Joan persuades Eddie to turn himself in, believing that he won't fry if he's innocent. As we all know, the judiciary system is far from perfect and Eddie loses all hope in justice and Joan when he's convicted and sentenced to die.

Unable to live without Eddie's love, Joan plans to take her own life, as his is extinguished. Fortunately for them both, Eddie fails to go quietly. With a little help from his jailbird friends, he escapes from sudden death, ignores the glimmer of hope handed to him and winds up in an even worse predicament than the one he left behind. Only this time, he has Joan by his side and a reason to fight for his freedom. Their love knows no bounds as they struggle to stay one step ahead of the authorities while protecting the new life growing inside Joan. They become convenient scapegoats for every crime in the area, garnering a fearsome reputation that's undeserved and unknown to them.

Once the baby is born, they make a final push for the Canadian border with the help of Joan's sister Bonnie (Dixon) and ex-boss Stephen Whitney (MacLane). In desperation, they attempt to convince her to save herself and the baby, but she refuses. Her place is at Eddie's side, no matter what happens. He's her whole world, which comes tumbling down when the police finally catch up with them. Without the intense performances of Fonda and Sidney, this film would have long since been forgotten. The potent connection between these two actors will make your heart break with despair. There's no way they're going to get out of this film alive, no matter how much you'll hope otherwise.


"I cheered the first time I got out. They jammed it right back down my throat."

In the early days of Hollywood, crime doesn't go unpunished regardless of the motive. As pulpy as the plot sometimes becomes, both Sidney and Fonda downplay the melodrama, relying on honest emotion to send their point home, which keeps their characters likable and believable. Joan is a smart girl, who could have any man, yet there's something about Eddie she just can't resist. She's the only one who sees his potential and he's the only person who makes her happy. The film leads you on to believe that their love, which is pure and good, will save them from a terrible end. Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn't really care how much they care for each other. The powers that be just want them caught and punished. As good as Eddie is to Joan, he's not exactly a model citizen and is pretty much to blame for the troubles in his life. He doesn't really try very hard to go straight and quickly hides behind his bitterness and anger at "the man" for keeping him down.

The film never takes sides, allowing Eddie to make his own choices and therefore suffer the consequences. What happens may not be fair, but that's life. He's never contributed to society, so why should society give him a break? During his escape attempt, he has the chance to truly set himself free. All he has to do is trust the very men who were about to end his life. He believes, like all of us would, that they are lying in an attempt to recapture him. His anger and bitterness practically melt the screen. This sequence is brilliantly shot and acted, filled with impending doom since it quickly becomes clear that Eddie is, yet again, going to make the wrong decision. Despite his actions, we feel bad for him because he's equally horrified at the outcome. Like many in this world, he got started down the wrong path and just can't seem to find a way off it.

At first, Joan appears to be his salvation, but the story isn't that simple. Love doesn't conquer all. If anything, it forces Joan to suffer the same fate. Eddie is never let off the hook because he doesn't deserve to be. Fonda's finely-tuned performance turns a generic tough guy role into a complex character you root for despite your better judgment. Lang and company add style and suspense to the story with evocative cinematography, eye-catching art direction and well-paced editing. The play of light and shadow gives the film a distinctly gritty look and brings every emotion into sharp focus, reflecting the harsh reality facing these characters. Though far from happy, the ending is satisfying because it's honest. Like THELMA AND LOUISE, they leave this life on their own terms, even though the price is higher than many of us would like to pay. YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE is an early cinema treat with a touching story that's just as viable in our current "Three Strikes" world.



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