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I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

75 customer reviews

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(May 10, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Classic fact-based drama about an innocent man brutally victimized by the Depression-era criminal justice system.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is one of the toughest and most uncompromising movies to ever come out of Hollywood. Paul Muni stars as a regular Joe, just back from World War I, who is unjustly convicted of a crime and sentenced to 10 years of bruisingly unfair treatment on a chain gang. Even a successful escape can't shake the spectre of the chains, nor the amazingly fatalistic twists the screenplay has in store. This picture could only have been made at Warner Bros., where social-justice movies flourished in the 1930s and criticism of judicial systems and prisons was sanctioned. Muni's weird acting style (he was recently off Scarface) somehow fits the film's furious tone, and director Mervyn LeRoy--as in his earlier Little Caesar--was dexterous enough to build the action to an unforgettable ending. It's a film that filters the American Dream through Depression realities and noirish pessimism (with a streak of pre-Code sexual frankness--note the one-night "friend" Muni makes the night of his escape). This one holds up, folks; it's a stunner. --Robert Horton

Special Features

  • Vintage musical short 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang
  • Theatrical trailer

Product Details

  • Actors: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Noel Francis, Preston Foster
  • Directors: Mervyn LeRoy, Roy Mack
  • Writers: A. Dorian Otvos, Brown Holmes, Cyrus Wood, Howard J. Green, Robert E. Burns
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: May 10, 2005
  • Run Time: 92 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0007TKNJ2
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,142 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
"I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" is one of the most respected Depression-era "social conscience" pictures. The story was adapted from Robert Burns' autobiography "I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang", and Burns was an advisor on the film even though he was a wanted man at the time it was made. The film was released to great popular success less than a year after Burns' book was published. The story is essentially true, although some details have been changed. The real Robert Burns was perhaps a little less a victim than his character, James Allen, in the movie, and he was a magazine editor, not an engineer. Allen is a man who is consistently wronged in spite of trying to do right, and Depression-era audiences identified with his victimhood. Robert Burns was a crusader against the inhumanities of chain gangs, on which he was twice forced to serve. Instead of confining its themes to one cause, filmmakers made "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" into a platform for a host of social issues of the time, including unemployment, veterans' rights, the penal system, and the criminal justice system. Although most of the events of the film take place in the 1920s, the economic circumstances depicted in the film have been altered to reflect the hardships of the 1930s, when the film was made.

James Allen (Paul Muni) is a World War I veteran returning home with high hopes of putting the engineering skills he learned in the Army to civilian use. He takes a factory job, but is reluctant to replace the routine of the military with that of the factory. So he travels the country in search of construction work but has trouble making ends meet. One evening, he accompanies an acquaintance to a lunch wagon for a hamburger.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A. L. Spieckerman on February 6, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
I considered Paul Muni amazing in Scarface (and consider that one of the best gangster films ever), but he knocked me on my ... with this performance. I was mesmorized from his speech to his father at the dinner table--explaining his dreams and desires, his frustrations at his mundane life. It's an absolutely incredible film. I'm not sure what I expected, I knew it was a film that was often banned for it's less than glowing portrayal of the chain gang system and especially the unfair justice system.
The Cinematography was especially compelling, it was so incredible to look it that I could care less if they reused the chain gang sets and guards. I loved the passage of time, with the calenders falling away to the beat of sledgehammers. And the final shot elevated the film to an even higher plane of achievment. Extremely gutsy to end the film on the line it ends on as Paul Muni backs into shadow, beautifully done, a perfect ending.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 3, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
Watching I AM A FUGITIVE is an experience. The viewer can't help but get caught up in the ongoing saga of James Allen, a World War I vet who is sent to jail for a crime he didn't commit. Because it was made so long ago, in 1932, you would think that it's age would hurt the film. But in this case, it is just the opposite. Watching this movie is like going back into time and we can almost feel the suffering of James Allen (Paul Muni) as he endures the horrors of a Georgia chain gang. This film has some historical significance as well, for after its release there was a public outcry against the chain gang prison system which was mostly prevelant in the South. As a result, chain gangs soon disappeared. I AM A FUGITIVE hits the viewer with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It stunned the audiences of the 30s with its brutal portrayal of living conditions in Georgia prisons (mild by today's cinema standards). And although Muni's acting gets a bit hammy at times, his portrayal of Allen is a great achievement. And the ending! Besides the emotional punch it delivers, I AM A FUGITIVE is full of truths. And after 65 years, those truths may be even more relevant today than when the film was made. Don't miss it!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Craig Connell on May 1, 2006
Format: DVD
Since the movie ends somewhat abruptly, I was interested in what happened to this character in real life, so I did some research. For those interested, read on:

The man, whose real name was Burns, lived quite awhile in New Jersey, wrote the book with this same title, even smuggled himself into Los Angeles for two weeks to help with the movie, using an assumed name and acting very skittish. He then went back to New Jersey. The state of Georgia, home of these chain gangs, tried to extradite him but New Jersey wouldn't give him up.

Regarding the film........

"Powerful" was a word describing this movie when it came out over 70 years ago, and it still holds true today. It was based on a true story and if injustice bothers you, this film will be disturbing. It certainly was to me, at least the first time I saw it.

I've seen it several times and am always mesmerized by Paul Muni's performance. Just the expressions on his face alone are fascinating. The other members of the cast are so-so, but it's Muni's movie anyway. Great to have it on DVD, too!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Steven Hellerstedt on June 16, 2005
Format: DVD
Good movies tend to make bad history and I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, a great movie, is no exception.

I AM A FUGITIVE is the story of James Allen, a character closely modeled on the real individual named Robert Burns, who, along with two other men, in 1922 robbed an Atlanta grocer of $5.80 Burns was tried, convicted, and sentenced to serve six to ten years of hard labor on a Georgia chain gang. After only a couple of months into his sentence Burns escaped and fled to Chicago, where he found a good measure of success. Burns married into some money and, within a few years, was a respected and somewhat influential member of society. During this time Burns founded and edited the real estate trade magazine, Greater Chicago Magazine.

Then, fate decreed, his life was to change again. Burns fell in love with another woman and asked his wife for a divorce. At this point his wife, who had some knowledge of Burns' troubled past, reported him to authorities. Georgia sued for extradition and, after some negotiations which, according to Burns, included a promise of an early parole, Burns returned to Georgia and her notorious chain gang in July, 1929. Slowly realizing that an early release was unlikely, 14 months into his internment Burns escaped the chain gang for a second time. Fugitive Burns sold his story to True Detective magazine, where it ran as a serial and was soon published as a book, a best-seller, entitled I am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang.

The movie is based on Burns' best-selling book, although in the movie Burns is named James Allen and he's a decorated vet with dreams of becoming an engineer. At every turn the character is buffed, burnished, and elevated by the filmmakers. The guy can't do no wrong in the movie.
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