The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains

  • 1987
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Biography, Docudrama

Daniel Mann's cable-TV retread of the 1932 Warner Brothers' classic I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, which was inspired by real-life events that led to the abolition of chain gangs, gives freer rein to violence but lacks the punch and immediacy of its inspiration. Unable to readjust to everyday American life after serving in WWI, Robert Elliot Burns...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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Daniel Mann's cable-TV retread of the 1932 Warner Brothers' classic I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, which was inspired by real-life events that led to the abolition of chain gangs, gives freer rein to violence but lacks the punch and immediacy of its inspiration.

Unable to readjust to everyday American life after serving in WWI, Robert Elliot Burns (Val Kilmer) has trouble finding work and controlling his temper. One of the nation's forgotten men, the bellicose Burns can't abide authority figures. At the end of his rope, Burns hops a freight train in hopes of shielding his family from, stopping only to explain matters to his brother, Vincent (James Keach). But instead of finding freedom in the Deep South, Burns falls in with a bad companion named Flagg (Clancy Brown); not only does the hobo trick Burns into participating in a grocery store robbery, but he also leaves Burns behind to take the rap. Though Burns protests his innocence, he winds up on a Georgia chain gang, where Warden Hardy (Charles Durning) and his chief guard, Boss Trump (William Sanderson), make it their business to break the back-talking Yankee's spirit. Determined to escape, Burns persuades another convict to loosen his ankle grip. Burns hightails it up North and is befriended by a lonely Chicago widow, Emily Pacheco (Sonia Braga). Out of gratitude, Burns marries his landlady, who bitches about the long work hours he spends establishing a city-guide magazine. When Burns takes a fancy to a younger woman and requests a divorce, the spurned Emily contacts the police. Although he fights extradition, Burns lands back in the clutches of Warden Hardy. This time, Hardy intends to make sure Burns doesn't survive his sentence. The other prisoners fear for their lives, so Burns may not be able to find a way to escape a second time.

Although the film is a fervent indictment of social injustice, it relies on sloganizing simplicity to depict the way the real-life Burns' experiences effected a major change in American penal law. The cast captures the economic frustration of the hard times, but only the ferocious Braga transcends the production's preachiness – she's a knock out.

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  • Released: 1987
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Daniel Mann's cable-TV retread of the 1932 Warner Brothers' classic I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, which was inspired by real-life events that led to the abolition of chain gangs, gives freer rein to violence but lacks the punch and immediacy of its in… (more)

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