You Only Live Once (1936)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama  |   Run Time - 86 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Like his American debut Fury, Fritz Lang's second American feature traces the fate of a man struggling to clear his name after being accused of a crime he didn't commit. A powerful one-two punch, these films both feature a strong sense of social justice, and suggest that Lang was disturbed by the injustice and intolerance he found in the country he adopted after fleeing Nazi Germany. Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) is an ex-con truck driver, a "three-time loser" whose next crime will send him to jail for life. He is determined to go straight, but finds resistance at every turn. His boss fires him over a minor misunderstanding, and he and his new bride Joan (Sylvia Sidney at her most heart-tugging) are kicked out of a motel on their honeymoon when the proprietor recognizes him from a true crime magazine. Things go from bad to worse when he becomes the chief suspect in an armored car robbery and finds himself back in prison again. After being convicted of the crime, he attempts a jailbreak in a fog-enshrouded scene that is one of Lang's most horrific depictions of the cruel ironies of fate. Throughout the film Lang is careful to withhold from the audience whether or not Eddie actually is guilty, but also makes it absolutely clear where his sympathies lie. Eddie is continually at the mercy not only of the mistakes in his past, but also of an uncaring justice system and a frenzied news media that can't wait to see him convicted. Folded into all of this is the desperate, doomed love he and Joan share. A perfectly constructed thriller with a strong social conscience, You Only Live Once is considered one of Lang's greatest American films.