Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang" with Paul Muni and Preston Foster (1932)

This is the movie made from the true account, “I Am A Fugitive From A Georgia Chain Gang”; written by Robert E. Burns; of his experience after coming home from the First World War. Arrested for a crime he did not commit, he escaped the notorious chain gang, becoming a renowned architect in the process. But his success came to an abrupt end when his ex-wife turned him in as a fugitive.  At that point he was promised  his full freedom if he would return to Georgia to serve a token 90 day sentence. His acceptance of that offer necessitated a second escape in the 1930's. He would  then live in hiding, residing in New Jersey,  until his pardon by Georgia in 1945.
The only difference between the movie and the real life story is the ending. The movie was made in 1932, a full 13 years before he would be pardoned.  In reality, the character of James Allen, played by Paul Muni, is the author Robert Burns. The name change was for the purpose of dramatization; as if the story of a man wrongfully imprisoned at hard labor needs to be dramatized.
This is the mother of all chain gang movies, including “Cool Hand Luke”. The escape scene in that film, in which Luke takes the road crews dump truck, using the back as a bulletproof shield, is taken from this film.
Rich with some of the finest character actors of the time, this film is a true classic. It underscores the brutality of the old Chain Gang system, in which men were treated no better than slaves, often hired out to perform work for which money was being paid to corrupt prison officials.  This film still has it all, even after 80 years.  And, in many ways the film is still relevant, given the increase in "contract" private prisons over the last few years.
On June 10, 2011  I reviewed the book “I Am A Fugitive From the Georgia Chain Gang”  by Robert E. Burns. You can view that post here;

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