24 May 2004 | thurberdrawing
It's More Influential Than You Think
I borrowed the Kino Video release of this from my public library today. I'd never heard of it before and, having just watched it, I can say I'm really amazed this is not a famous movie in the United States. I'm not sure if it's very well-known in England or not. Like another landmark British movie, BLOW-UP, THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE is directed by a foreigner. There is more attention to sound and camera-work than I've noticed in most British movies from the end of the war until about 1956 or so. Warner Brothers gets a huge credit at the start, and I'm wondering if that studio merely distributed it in the United States or if British audiences also saw "Warner Brothers" in huge letters on the screen. It has a lot in common with the Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall movies of the forties, and the screenwriter, Noel Langley, had worked in Hollywood on several movies, notably THE WIZARD OF OZ. So, it's British, but it has American and continental style. I mention Bogart. I should also mention Richard Widmark. Clem and Narcy easily could have been played by those two actors with no change in approach. There's a rooftop scene later echoed in TO CATCH A THIEF and the words "It's Later Than You Think" keep appearing, and I've seen at least two later movies which make use of that. It's scarier than the American gangster movies of the late forties.
Also, the title begs comparison to the 1939 Warner Brothers picture THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL and an early-thirties one called I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG. A typical American gangster movie from the thirties had a World War One vet who sells bootleg liquor during the Great Depression and THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE makes the protagonist a World War Two vet dealing in rationed items such as cigarettes and liquor. There seems to have been a conscious effort, in the making of this movie, to capture the audience American gangster movies had had in Britain. Perhaps there was an effort to get an American audience, too. See it for good acting, wonderful production and, most importantly, unexpected realism. If it's clichéd, it's put together so well as to seem fresh almost sixty years after it was made. And seeing Peter Bull cheered me up.