ONLY LIVE ONCE
DVD. Studio Canal.
Only Live Once – or YOLO if you are a fan of moronic
internet memes – is an interesting, if somewhat flawed proto-noir
from Fritz Lang that asks some interesting questions, but tends
to fudge the answers.
Henry Fonda is ex-con Eddie Taylor, looking to make a fresh start
with girlfriend Joan (Sylvia Sidney) but finding that his past
can’t be left behind. Thrown out of his job and desperate,
he finds himself blamed for a fatal bank robbery. With Joan’s
help, he makes desperate escape bid, which ironically ends with
him gunning down a prison chaplain just as his appeal is successful
and he’s declared innocent. The couple go on the run, but
as any noir fan could tell you, these things rarely end well...
This is an intriguing, often frustrating film. There’s a
point being made about the rehabilitation of released criminals,
and the dangers of capital punishment, where the innocent can
easily pay the ultimate price based on circumstantial evidence.
But the film never quite manages to reach a level of indignation,
instead allowing Eddie to become the very villain he’s been
falsely accused of. And frankly, Fonda makes for such an unsympathetic
lead that you won’t have much sympathy for his plight. Playing
the role rather one-dimensionally, he’s so uncharismatic
that you’ll struggle to understand why nice girl Joan would
throw everything away for him.
All that said, Lang gives the film a gritty look, a steady pace
and a decent atmosphere. It’s far from his best work, or
Noir’s best moment – but it is a significant part
of both, and so worth checking out.
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