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REVIEW OF 'I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG' W/ PAUL MUNI

Lobby Card of the Paul Muni Chain Gang Classic YEAR: 1932
A visual masterpiece with Film Noir elements despite being a decade shy of that particular "genre" and/or style of edgy crime thrillers led by a flawed yet sympathetic hero (turned anti-hero)...

In this case it's James Allen played by Paul Muni, who, as an edgy everyman, is discontented after WW1 and winds up caught between three dames: one good (Helen Vinson) and two bad (first Noel Francis and especially Glenda Farrell)...

And the most Noir-esque is the Wrong Man element — falsely accused of a theft that put him into the titular CHAIN GANG to begin with (later hilariously parodied in Woody Allen's TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN: from a guard whipping what the audience can only see is a prisoner's shadow, right down to a muscular black prisoner helping loosen the shackles so our man can go free)...

Guard at his post
His inevitable escape from the rock-breaking exterior... sprinting through the woods to breathing through swamp bamboo and then blending into the big city... has fast-paced directorial elements that would be used, intentionally-inspired or otherwise, in the following years' blockbuster KING KONG — the camera moving perfectly with the sprinting character in both a horizontal and straight-on exterior dolly track pan. Either way, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG is a groundbreaking vehicle for, if anything else, setting the stage of the quintessential action flick...

While originally intended for James Cagney, the brooding, tragic, lanky figure of Paul Muni makes more sense, providing the swarthy SCARFACE actor (who a young Robert Forster strongly resembles) a much deeper, more fleshed-out character balancing pathos and hard-driven desperation. And perhaps the most important element involves the use of past/present-time grammar: It's I AM A FUGITIVE as opposed to I WAS A FUGITIVE...

Chain Gang Rates: ****
And although a genuine classic, CHAIN GANG is far from perfect: Normal for this era of post-silent/new-talkies and the subtle, timeless Muni aside, other performances are either stiff, stagey or completely absurd...

Meanwhile, the entire premise is flimsy since the robbed diner's owner/hold-up victim witnesses the armed man barking even more threatening orders with his gun mostly pointed at Muni's Allen — then being forcing to grab the cash from the register, which in a few seconds he's caught holding onto after the real villain gets shot and killed by police. But despite this living, and thereafter absurdly forgotten witness, the judge hands our man a ten-year sentence. This is the movie we paid for, after all. And another head-shaker is when Allen decides to trust the same tyrannical brutal southern warden into leaving the lawyer-protected freedom of big city Chicago in order to...

This is not Sasquatch, it's Paul Muni escaping
Well that's what becomes of the movie's otherwise compelling, multi-tier second act involving the sprung captive who's so free you eventually forget he's on the run — all the while, using a different name, running a construction site from the inside/out...

Which is what he'd originally planned during the post WWI prologue (including several minutes on a returning benign battleship), getting lectured by a creepy, overacting priest while more politely manipulated by his dotting mother — to return to a safe-seat factory, stuck within the cozy yet boring confides of a limited paper-filing desk-job, staring dreamily onto the construction work-field where he'd much rather be...

Another gig lost while the next scene's map fades into the tractor
After which, some of the best moments occur in quick scenarios — traveling throughout the East Coast (as a map fades in and out of the background), looking for work and finding a few short-lived gigs along the road to nowhere...

And while the entire movie works fine as a whole — like this traveling montage, it's even more interesting in spurts...

Every sequence has its own beginning, middle and end despite the literal end having no definite closure, which is where the aforementioned I AM A FUGITIVE becomes clear: For this is not a narrated, after-thought memoir, but an ongoing perdition of repose as the ultimate Film Noir lesson is to not rush things, and most of all, never take shortcuts.
The newspaper front page expository piece that enters us into the third yet not so final act
This shot of Paul Muni walking with time/location device faded in was later used in his movie BORDERTOWN
This is what the diner owner/witness saw: Paul Muni's James being just as innocent as he is... Ugh!
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