You Only Live Once
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Convicted felon Eddie Taylor (Academy Award-winner Henry Fonda) decides to lead the straight life with his devoted girlfriend, Joan (Sylvia Sidney), who arranges for his early parole. She agrees to marry him, but a bank robbert gone bad points accusing fingers at the innocent Eddie. Taking Joan on the lam, Eddie is caught in a cat and mouse chase with the law closing in just a few steps behind them! This haunting and beautifully stylish gem from master director Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M) was the first of his remarkable film noir classics including The Big Heat and Clash by Night. Hard-hitting and unforgettable, this exciting tale of crime and revenge inspired countless "criminal lovers on the run" classics like Bonnie and Clyde and The Getaway but remains the final word in searing, tragic and romantic suspense!
Depression-era Hollywood produced a slew of movies about sympathetic criminals victimized by an unfeeling society. No other has the power of Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once, the director's second American film and a masterpiece of fatalism. Henry Fonda is the convict released to a new life (encouraged to go straight, he growls, "I will if they let me"--not a hopeful note); Sylvia Sidney is his new bride, convinced of his essential goodness. Their homely dreams are crushed by a hostile world, which Lang's scrupulously controlled direction turns into a series of dead ends. In particular, the last half of the picture--a prison break and cross-country ramble inspired by Bonnie and Clyde--is an exceptionally intense downward spiral, swift with predestined momentum. While Fonda and Sidney are unforgettable in their echt-Thirties forms, Lang is the star, proving the director of M and Metropolis had lost none of his edge. --Robert Horton
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I give "You Only Live Once" such a high rating for its affecting performances. The characters' anguish and frustration are palpable and completely empathetic. Henry Fonda's best moments are after Eddie has lost his job and cannot find another one. His struggle to persevere through financial pressures and temptation to return to a life of crime come through in every gesture and line of dialogue. Even greater is Eddie's crushing feeling that he is failing his wife.
Sylvia Sidney contributes the most moving performance. Joan's values change over the course of the film, as she goes from being an optimistic, affectionate working girl to disillusionment with the institutions and moral certainties she once took for granted. In fact, Joan's change is so radical that she becomes disillusioned with the whole idea of doing the "right thing". "We have a right to live," she says. And she commits herself to do anything it takes. Her love for Eddie is also among the most convincing I've seen in a movie. She loves him with all her being and can hardly live with the idea that Eddie's sacrifice for her may have brought his troubles. The scenes of Eddie and Joan together on the run convey a loving partnership that makes the story tragic. All the while, Joan's boss, Public Defender Stephen Whitney (Burton MacLane), has worked tirelessly to defend Eddie for the crimes he did commit and those he didn't, apparently because he is in love with Joan. So even though the course of "You Only Live Once" is dark, it contains some of the most convincing representations of selfless romantic love I have seen.
The DVD (Image Entertainment 2003 release): This isn't a restored print of the film. The image has white specks on it, although not enough to interfere with the enjoyment of the film. The disc doesn't have any features except for scene selections, which you find by pressing your "menu" button. There is no main menu to speak of.
So when they decide to get marry, the public opinion has taken by storm the primacy of the justice based on his past. As a matter of fact, he decides to reform himself thanks to a decent job, but the happiness is very brief. He is fired and then he is forced to leave the room the same night of his honey-moon. He returns to his ex employer and begs for being forgiven but obtains a rotund "no" as answer. That fact is the last drop that fills his patience and so the destiny introduces its silent arms in this horrid episode. Blamed by a heist he was not involved, he comes back to prison, convinced by his wife based in his innocence. But meanwhile the clock establishes the day of the execution.
And so (like an anticipated Hitchcock), the essential evidence comes a little bit late, and he becomes a murderer.
Once again, Lang appoints the finger establishing what's right and what's wrong and how the redemption of an ex con is simply an utopia.
A tragic movie that reveals a supreme tour de force performance of Fonda. Watch how Lang makes a marvelous shot in the minute 7:43, that anticipates to Gregg Toland in "Citizen Kane."
Maybe that had been the reason Hitchcock chose him in "The wrong man" twenty years later. Don't miss this jewel of the Noir Film.
The print on the Image DVD is fairly good. It shows quite a lot of wear and tear, but seems complete. There may be many scratches, but the black and white photography still looks stunning with good detail and clarity. The soundtrack unfortunately has a great deal of hiss and crackle. Occasionally this makes the dialogue quite hard to hear. Nevertheless the film is still perfectly watchable and the flaws present in the print and soundtrack did not spoil my enjoyment of what remains an excellent film. The DVD has no extras.