You Only Live Once

  • 1937
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Crime

This brooding and powerful tale, which suggests the story of Bonnie and Clyde, is one of Lang's best efforts in Hollywood. Fonda and Sidney are excellent as the average Depression-era couple made into criminals through circumstances and just plain bad luck. Fonda is not the average law-abiding citizen, however; he has committed many robberies in the past...read more

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This brooding and powerful tale, which suggests the story of Bonnie and Clyde, is one of Lang's best efforts in Hollywood. Fonda and Sidney are excellent as the average Depression-era couple made into criminals through circumstances and just plain bad luck. Fonda is not the average

law-abiding citizen, however; he has committed many robberies in the past and has served three prison terms. He vows, however, that he is going straight. He gets a job and marries his patient, long-time sweetheart, Sidney. But his past catches up with him when his landlord turns him and his wife

out of their room after finding out he has a record. Soon after, his employer at the trucking firm fires him. Then Fonda's hat is found at the scene of a bank holdup where a guard has been killed. He is quickly tried and sentenced to death. Once in prison, Fonda resolves to fight back against a

system that offers him no way of surviving. He pretends to be ill and is sent to the prison hospital. There he obtains a gun and uses the prison doctor as a shield to get to the prison yard. The prison chaplain runs to him to say that he has been pardoned but by then Fonda will believe nothing any

authority figure tells him. He thinks the chaplain is trying to hoodwink him into surrendering and, when the priest makes the wrong move, Fonda fires, killing the chaplain. He manages to escape the prison and rejoin wife Sidney. Together they drive toward the Canadian border, trying to get out of

a country that has persecuted and hounded them. They do manage to reach the border but their joy is only momentary. A sharpshooting member of the New York State Police raises his rifle and spots the fugitives through his telescopic sights. He fires several rounds which mortally wound both Fonda

and Sidney. Sidney is first hit and Fonda takes her in his arms, carrying her the last few steps into Canada, freedom, and death for both of them.

This tragedy is distinguished by Lang's meticulous direction and carefully constructed scenes. Fonda gives a terrific performance as the social pariah fighting for his very existence. Sidney's performance is poignant and beautiful. It was once stated that this superb actress had the face of the

Great Depression, and this film is undoubtedly the reason for the sobriquet. There is little mirth in this film loaded with permanent steel-gray skies, and the director's murky, diffused shots suggest a kind of unbearable futility to life. His figures, especially in the prison escape scenes, are

hazy, almost transparent, as mist covers the yard and searchlights reach out for Fonda who moves like a ghost before them. Fonda held Lang in high regard as a director but felt that Lang pushed his actors too hard in his quest to attain perfection, causing, in the 46-day shooting schedule of this

film, his cast and crew to go without sleep and to physically exhaust themselves to achieve the effect he desired. There is a grimness to this film that is often overwhelming, and though it is technically flawless, it offers little hope to the viewer for satisfaction. Justice is not served here,

only irony.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This brooding and powerful tale, which suggests the story of Bonnie and Clyde, is one of Lang's best efforts in Hollywood. Fonda and Sidney are excellent as the average Depression-era couple made into criminals through circumstances and just plain bad luck… (more)

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