I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy

A World War I veteran’s dreams of becoming a master architect evaporate in the cold light of economic realities. Things get even worse when he’s falsely convicted of a crime and sent to work on a chain gang.

Cool Hand James? A surprisingly brutal and overtly critical pre-Code drama about the penal system, politicians and the Department of 'Corrections'. There's a certain elegant symmetry to the screenplay: James escapes at almost exactly half way through the runtime; his first job out of jail is, of course, doing exactly the same thing as he was doing inside; his (proto-Noir) landlady discovers his secret with almost precisely one-third to go, and blackmails him into another kind of 'prison'; and the consummate bridgebuilder must ultimately destroy a bridge to ensure his freedom. And, needless to say, the film's final line underscores that the penal system has, ironically, turned into him the thief he was unjustly accused of being in the first place…


The studio portrayal of sex and violence in Fugitive... pushes the envelope more than [actor Paul] Muni’s previous Scarface, perhaps because its so casual.

Jeremiah Kipp (Slant Magazine)