You Only Live Once (1937)

“He robbed … kidnapped … he murdered … Because of the love of one woman!” An unrelentingly bleak crime drama from Fritz Lang that features solid performances all around, You Only Live Once stars Henry Fonda as ex-con “Eddie Taylor,” who desires to lead a straight life but can’t seem to catch a decent break once he leaves the Big House. For example, he gets unfairly fired on just the first day of his trucking job by his unforgiving boss and his rejection by society leads Eddie to believe that returning to crime will be the only way for him to survive on the streets. The only thing Eddie’s really got going for him is the unconditional love of the public defender’s secretary, “Joan Graham” (Sylvia Sidney), whom he promptly marries. Spoiler alert! After Eddie is wrongly convicted of a wild armored truck robbery that leaves six people dead (his hat is found at the scene), he gets sentenced to the electric chair. Eddie manages to escape on the eve of his execution but murders the prison chaplain, “Father Dolan” (William Gargan), in the process. Ironically, Eddie was about to be pardoned for the crime since the body of the actual bank robber was found in his getaway car at the bottom of a lake. Eddie and Joan flee to Canada (she gives birth to a baby boy along the way!) but are ambushed by the police near the border. The supporting cast includes Barton MacLane as public defender “Stephen Whitney,” Jean Dixon, Charles Sale, Margaret Hamilton and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams. The DVD cover reads, “The film that paved the way for Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers.” You Only Live Once was Lang’s second Hollywood film after Fury (1936), which also starred Sidney and Spencer Tracy.

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