Warner Bros was often thought of as the studio with a social conscience in the 1930s, and this film was one of the main reasons why. A movie as grim as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang was hardly a sure bet at the box office, then or now: based on the memoirs of a man who was still a wanted fugitive from a Georgia work gang, it represented a brave and potentially dangerous attack on a corrupt penal system that created more criminals than it cured. Director Mervyn LeRoy made his work camps (conveniently located in an unnamed state) as dirty, back-breaking, and soul-destroying as the screen would permit in 1932, and many prison films made later under more lenient circumstances were not nearly as brutally effective. Just as significant, Le Roy and screenwriters Howard J. Green, Brown Holmes, and Sheridan Gibney indicted the shabby treatment of America's returning veterans after World War I and damned a society that would put an innocent man behind bars and turn him into a criminal. LeRoy had an ideal leading man in Paul Muni, who made James Allen decent but flawed, making clear that, but for fortune, this story could happen to anyone.
by Mark Deming review