After returning home from World War I, James Allen, played to the teeth by theater veteran Paul Muni, dreams of becoming an engineeer but instead can only find employment in a shoe factory. After leaving this job, Allen becomes a penniless vagabond, unable even to hawk his war medals. But when Allen witnesses another man commit a crime, he is mistakenly committed to 10 years on a Georgia chain gang, where he is cruelly beaten by the sadistic guards. With the help of a fellow inmate, Allen escapes to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer. Unfortunately, the awful past lies in wait, preparing to return Allen to misery. I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG was one of the first talkies to foment for social change and justice. At the same time, the purity of the script and the actors' performances give it a place among the most depressing films ever made. In spite of its dour message, the film was a huge box-office success, won an Oscar for Best Picture, and continues to be revered to this day.
Description by Warner Home Video:
Classic fact-based drama about an innocent man brutally victimized by the Depression-era criminal justice system.
Paul Muni stars as James Allen, a pathetic victim of legal injustice in this classic drama from famed director-producer Mervy LeRoy. The unwitting fall guy for a crime he only witnesses, Allen is forced to toil on a chain gang and then to live a life on the lam after he escapes. Based on Robert E. Burns's autobiographical story, this is still an incredibly powerful movie, with a provocative story and memorable performances.
Prison / Prisoners |
True Story |
Theatrical release: November 10, 1932.
I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1991.
Upon its release, the film embarrassed government officials in Georgia so much that they banned it throughout the state. They also forbid creators Mervyn LeRoy and Jack Warner from ever entering the state. At the same time, audiences across the country were so aghast that a social movement began to amend the cruelty of the Georgia penal system, an effort that quickly proved successful.
A method actor, Paul Muni refused to use body doubles, preferring to engage in the backbreaking hard-labor shots himself.