Archetypal depression-era stars Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney are felicitously teamed in Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once. Fonda plays an ex-convict who can't get a break on the "outside". He marries Sidney, who like her husband is one of life's losers. Framed on a murder rap, Fonda is forced to take it on the lam, with his wife and baby in tow. In trying to avoid capture, Fonda becomes a murderer for real, condemning himself and Sidney to an early demise. Partly based on the legend of Bonnie and Clyde, the Gene Towne-Graham Baker screenplay stacks the deck against its protagonists to such an extent that the audience is virtually forced to hate their various antagonists. As superb as Henry Fonda is in portraying the foredoomed hero, Sylvia Sidney is even better as his wife; her reading of such lines as "We just call him...baby" are enough to shrivel the heart even after six decades.
by Hal Erickson synopsis