Cinema Odeon > 21:00


Fritz Lang


Monday 31/08/2020


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Henry Fonda’s appearance in the 1934 Broadway revue New Faces made Hollywood take notice, and he landed a substantial contract with newly independent producer Walter Wanger amid rumors that the political comedy The President Vanishes would be his first film. But then he returned to the stage and starred in another Broadway hit which was quickly adapted into his actual screen debut: The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935). Over the next few years Wanger, a formidable New Deal Liberal, orchestrated Fonda’s music, and by 1937 their first movement was complete: directed by Fritz Lang in full artistic control (thanks to Wanger), You Only Live Once presents him and Sylvia Sidney as a couple on the run enmeshed in a dragnet of social forces and fate.
The shivers created by the film run through James Baldwin’s great 1976 memoir of moviegoing, The Devil Finds Work: “By the time of You Only Live Once, Lang had found his American feet. He never succeeded quite so brilliantly again. The premise of You Only Live Once is that Eddie Taylor is an ex-convict who wants to go ‘straight’: but the society will not allow him to live down, or redeem, his criminal past. […] However one may wish to defend oneself against Lang’s indictment of the small, faceless people, always available for any public ceremony and absent forever from any private one, who are society, one is left defenseless before his study of the result, which is the isolation and the doom of the lovers. […] There is a marvellous small moment in the flophouse, with Fonda pacing the room the way he paced the cell, and pausing at the window to listen to the Salvation Army Band outside, singing, If you love your mother, meet her in the skies. I cannot imagine any native-born white American daring to use, so laconically, a banality so nearly comic in order to capture so deep a distress. The genuine indignation which informs this film is a quality which was very shortly to disappear out of the American cinema, and severely to be menaced in American life. In a way, we were all niggers in the Thirties. […] There is that moment in the film, in prison, when Fonda whispers to Sidney, through jailhouse glass, ‘Get me a gun’. Sidney says, ‘I can’t get you a gun. You’ll kill somebody!’ and Fonda says, ‘What do you think they’re going to do to me?’. I understood that: it was a real question. I was living with that question”.

Alexander Horwath

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Gene Towne, Graham Baker. F.: Leon Shamroy. M.: Daniel Mandell. Scgf.: Alexander Toluboff. Mus.: Alfred Newman. Int.: Sylvia Sidney (Joan Graham), Henry Fonda (Eddie Taylor), Barton MacLane (Stephen Whitney), Jean Dixon (Bonnie Graham), William Gargan (padre Dolan), Jerome Cowan (dottor Hill), Charles ‘Chic’ Sale (Ethan), Margaret Hamilton (Hester), Warren Hymer (Buggsy). Prod.: Walter Wanger Productions. DCP. Bn.