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I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

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Director: Mervyn LeRoy, Mervyn LeRoy
1932 / 93min / 35mm

Back from the war and on the skids, penniless, luckless vet Paul Muni is picked up—not once, but twice—and put to hard labor on Georgia chain gangs. Muni, fresh off of Howard Hawks’s Scarface, gives a measured and deeply moving performance, and the film’s unflinching depiction of the subhuman conditions that prisoners were being subjected to was sufficiently powerful as to lead to a nationwide outcry for reform. (It is widely considered to have contributed to the abolition of the chain gang system in the South.) An angry, anguished film of faces peering from pools of inky shadow, based on the true story of escaped convict Robert E. Burns, who was present on the set as a consultant, and who would be re-arrested after the film’s release.