You Only Live Once (Lang, 1937)

After Fury, Frtiz Lang’s brilliant American debut, he made this crime/romance picture with Henry Fonda and Sylvia Syndey that also deals with unjust punishment, miscommunication, and mistaken identity. Fonda plays a three time loser who finally gets out of prison, marries his waiting sweetheart (the radiant Sydney, sixty years before Mars Attacks!), and slowly realizes that he doesn’t have a shot in hell at keeping a job or earning the respect of the judgemental citizens in his community. Does he turn back to crime in order to make ends meet?

The film cleverly plays with this notion by making the answer ambiguous for a while. However, we learn that he didn’t, but Fonda is arrested anyways for the supposed crime, a bank heist that ended up killing six people, his hat with initials found at the scene. The setup is flimsy, lacking the taut crispness felt throughout every scene in Fury. But the harsh contrast lighting of german expressionism abounds and most scenes within vastly different spaces, ranging from the prison to the home, ensnare the characters with crossing/dissecting lines (prison bars, window frames etc.)

Using entrapped souls as his models, Lang wants to expand on Fury‘s critique of mob justice on a grander scale, this time directly going after institutions (prison, the church) and the inability of these heirarchies to protect us from injustice. Solid work by one of cinema’s greatest artists. P.S. The DVD from Netlfix is a terrible transfer.

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