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You Only Live Once
You Only Live Once
Actors: Sylvia Sidney, Henry Fonda, Barton MacLane, Jean Dixon, William Gargan
Director: Fritz Lang
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
UR     2003     1hr 26min

Convicted felon Eddie Taylor (Academy Award-winner Henry Fonda) decides to lead the straight life with his devoted girlfriend, Joan (Sylvia Sidney), who arranges for his early parole. She agrees to marry him, but a bank ro...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Sylvia Sidney, Henry Fonda, Barton MacLane, Jean Dixon, William Gargan
Director: Fritz Lang
Creators: Leon Shamroy, Daniel Mandell, Walter Wanger, C. Graham Baker, Gene Towne
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics
Studio: Image Entertainment
Format: DVD - Black and White
DVD Release Date: 06/24/2003
Original Release Date: 01/29/1937
Theatrical Release Date: 01/29/1937
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 26min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Interesting early Lang social commentary
Steven Hellerstedt | 01/03/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Dark and broodingly pessimistic, Fritz Lang's second Hollywood movie is a love story of sorts. Made in 1937 and set in the present day (ie, the Depression), Lang has favorite actress Sylvia Sidney fall for `three-time loser' Henry Fonda. Sidney is, conveniently, the pretty young secretary of the local public defender, while Fonda is a chronic convict who robs, kidnaps, and murders for the gal he loves. Or something like that - tag lines tend to exaggerate things. In any event, the warden reminds Fonda on the verge of his third release that, if convicted and sentenced again, we throw away the key. This being a Lang movie, justice is flawed, the mobs are vicious, and sour-stomached Fate is inevitable.

In Lang's first American movie, FURY, Spencer Tracy played an innocent man falsely accused and `lynched' - not with a rope, but the jail he was being held in was bombed and burned to the ground. Mobs are tough in Lang's movies, and anyone with a rap sheet is going to get the extreme short end of the stick. Fonda, we learn, was more or less corrupted by the system. His initial crime had to do with a fight he got into with someone pulling the legs off a frog. See? He was a good guy, once. All that crime stuff is in the past, though, and with pretty young Sidney at his side his prospects look rosy, indeed.

Such is the set-up, a march to domestic happiness primed to get all gummed up by a society averse to extending a hand to a jailbird. Again like FURY, the first half of this film builds us up to a happy and triumphant conclusion, only to change direction at midpoint and proceed down a darker and more hostile path. Employees don't give jailbirds a second chance, whether or not they have a new bride and mortgage to be paid. What's an ex-con to do?

Like many of Lang's movies, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE pits his hero against society and its flawed engines of justice. Fonda isn't an innocent, but he's recognizably one-of-us, and to that extent you're emotionally involved in his fate. Also like FURY, YOLO is neatly divided into two section after something really bad happens and Sidney and Fonda embark on a Bonnie and Clyde like odyssey.

I had a few minor problems with this picture. I found an arrest of Fonda, and what happened after, implausible. I won't reveal what it was, but I had big problems with what the System did with Fonda after they met him for the fourth time. If you're going to make socially conscious movies you have to portray society accurately and believably. Any deviation calls into question the entire story, and this one, in my opinion, has a deviation you can drive a truck through.

That said, this is an above-average movie. Lang had a terrible reputation with male actors - Tracy loathed him and vowed never to work with him again - but he coaxes a nicely nuanced performance from Fonda, a broad arc that take him from toned-down bashful (his comfort zone stuff) to a couple of scenes where he acts Cagney-tough and looks strikingly like John Dillinger. The ending is a downer, corny and expressionistic. Forgetting the less-than-credible preceding events, Sidney and Fonda's second-half run is exciting and works quite well. Sylvia Sidney, an underrated actress then and pretty much forgotten today, has a bright vulnerability to her that suits the movie.
Moving Depiction of Selfless Love under Bleak Circumstances.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 04/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

""You Only Live Once" is a fatalistic proto-noir film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Henry Fonda as Eddie Taylor, a "three-time loser", thrice convicted of crimes involving robbery. One more misstep will get him a death sentence. But Eddie is confident that won't happen. His ladylove Joan (Sylvia Sidney) has waited 3 years for Eddie to be released from prison, and when he sees her waiting outside the prison gates, Eddie is committed to starting a new life with Joan at his side. The couple get married; Eddie takes a job driving trucks; and for a while they are blissfully happy. But when Eddie loses his job and someone plants his hat at the scene of a local bank robbery, Eddie is blamed and loses all control of his destiny.

I give "You Only Live Once" such a high rating for its affecting performances. The characters' anguish and frustration are palpable and completely empathetic. Henry Fonda's best moments are after Eddie has lost his job and cannot find another one. His struggle to persevere through financial pressures and temptation to return to a life of crime come through in every gesture and line of dialogue. Even greater is Eddie's crushing feeling that he is failing his wife.

Sylvia Sidney contributes the most moving performance. Joan's values change over the course of the film, as she goes from being an optimistic, affectionate working girl to disillusionment with the institutions and moral certainties she once took for granted. In fact, Joan's change is so radical that she becomes disillusioned with the whole idea of doing the "right thing". "We have a right to live," she says. And she commits herself to do anything it takes. Her love for Eddie is also among the most convincing I've seen in a movie. She loves him with all her being and can hardly live with the idea that Eddie's sacrifice for her may have brought his troubles. The scenes of Eddie and Joan together on the run convey a loving partnership that makes the story tragic. All the while, Joan's boss, Public Defender Stephen Whitney (Burton MacLane), has worked tirelessly to defend Eddie for the crimes he did commit and those he didn't, apparently because he is in love with Joan. So even though the course of "You Only Live Once" is dark, it contains some of the most convincing representations of selfless romantic love I have seen.

The DVD (Image Entertainment 2003 release): This isn't a restored print of the film. The image has white specks on it, although not enough to interfere with the enjoyment of the film. The disc doesn't have any features except for scene selections, which you find by pressing your "menu" button. There is no main menu to speak of."
Fine Later Lang
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 07/05/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Fritz Lang's best films were already behind him when he arrived in Hollywood. He would not surpass the films he made in Germany, but his American films are almost always worth seeing and sometimes approach greatness. You Only Live Once is one such film. The story concerns sympathetic criminal Eddie (Henry Fonda) trying to go straight and the woman who has stayed by him, legal secretary Joan (Sylvia Sidney). Lang makes the audience root for Eddie, who is not a typical snarling thirties gangster, but a basically decent man who through bad luck and bad choices has found himself in a desperate situation. Fonda is perfect for this role, and gives a fine performance. Sidney is equally good as a woman fighting against friends, family and circumstances to stay with the man she loves. It is her performance which makes the film a terrific romance as well as a fine thriller. The print on the Image DVD is fairly good. It shows quite a lot of wear and tear, but seems complete. There may be many scratches, but the black and white photography still looks stunning with good detail and clarity. The soundtrack unfortunately has a great deal of hiss and crackle. Occasionally this makes the dialogue quite hard to hear. Nevertheless the film is still perfectly watchable and the flaws present in the print and soundtrack did not spoil my enjoyment of what remains an excellent film. The DVD has no extras."
Gripping Fritz Lang Drama
algabal | 12/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"You Only Live Once is a dark little Fritz Lang drama from 1937. It's the story of Eddie Taylor, a man falsely accused of committing a heinous bank robbery (a crime which we believe he committed until a crucial moment later in the film), and his devoted wife Joan, with whom he goes on the run for several weeks in an attempt to go to the border (they never do reach the border, do they?). What makes this such a wonderful film are the subtleties, the grocer at the beginning complaining about the police officer stealing an apple a day from his stand, the sublime scene where Eddie and Joan stand by a frog-pond and Eddie recalls how his first 'rap' came after attacking a boy who had cruelly maimed and tortured a frog, the conversation between two prison cooks preparing Eddie's last meal about how a chicken was slaughtered to feed a man who is himself about to be slaughtered... The society we're presented with here is a dark one indeed, one that is nearly devoid of any compassion or justice. The priest, Father Dolan, provides the moral voice of the film. But in an ironic and grim plot twist, Eddie and he secure each others' deaths. Kudos especially to Henry Fonda, who delivers a convincing, and subtly shaded, performance as Eddie. Sylvia Sidney is good too, especially in a minor scene where she smashes the window of a drug store to obtain some medicine for Eddie. This is a very good film, and at around 87 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Don't pass up this early, gripping classic from Fritz Lang."