Review: You Can’t Get Away with Murder

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You Can’t Get Away with Murder is a pre-film noir from 1939 directed by Lewis Seiler.  This film is based on a play by Lewis E. Lawes that originally opened in 1937.  Lewis is an interesting story, he was the Warden of Sing Sing from 1920 through 1941. He took the stories of his inmates and used them for a radio show, books and plays, some of those stories turned into a number of films in the 1930’s, this being one. Lawes used some of his proceeds from his entertainment ventures to improve the prison.

This film stars an up and coming star that would be become a pretty big deal in the years to come, Humphrey Bogart. Bogart does what he does best here, he is a gangster who is tough as they come and pretty smart too.

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This story starts with Frank Wilson,played by Bogart, taking Johnnie Stone under his wing. Johnnie is a young impressionable kid from the neighborhood who looks up to Wilson. Johnnie is played by Billy Halop from the Dead End Kids. Johnnie’s sister is Madge, played by Gale Page, who wants to get Johnnie on the straight and narrow. Madge is dating a cop, played by Harvey Stephens, who is also trying to help with Johnnie.

Johnnie and Wilson hold up a gas station and get away with it. When they get back to town they meet up again. When Johnnie steals the cop’s gun one night when the cop is out with his sister, he ends up giving it to Wilson. Wilson robs a pawn shop, when a struggle ensues Wilson shoots the owner with the cop’s gun. He leaves the gun to frame the cop, but Johnnie knows the truth. Wilson turns himself and Johnnie in for the gas station robbery to take the hit off of the murder. While the duo is in Sing Sing, the cop is convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

Can Wilson keep Johnnie quiet about the murder? Will Johnnie be able to tell the truth and save his sister’s boyfriend?

Look for Henry Travers as Pops, the prison librarian and Johnnie’s friend while in Sing Sing. Travers would join Bogart again the next year in High Sierra, playing Pa. I would guess Travers may have been type cast.

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This film is very noir in story if not style, with Johnnie being stuck in the middle, basically innocent and in way over his head. With out giving away any spoilers, let’s just say Johnnie may be doomed from the beginning like all good film noir protagonists. Bogart of course adds to the noir feel of the film as well. This will not make any top ten Bogart film lists, but if you are a fan you will enjoy this film. This is a good B movie film noir, even if it was made a year too early. A short film worth your time.

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Review: Fury

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Fritz Lang’s first film in Hollywood from 1936, won him instant praise, with a number of award nominations. As Lang is one of the best film noir directors, he is also one of the most influential pre-film noir directors.  This film is no exception. A dark story with some interesting cinematography make this film as close to a film noir as you get before 1940.

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The film stars Sylvia Sidney,who Lang would not make the film without, and Spencer Tracy. It is based on a story by Norman Krasna. The story is loosely based on a real life incident in California from 1933, where two kidnapping suspects where pulled from a jail and lynched by vigilantes.

This film starts with Katherine Grant(Sidney) and Joe Wilson(Tracy) planning on getting married, but need more money first. Katherine leaves on a train for a better job. Joe works his way up and buys a gas station. After a year he raises enough money to by a car and go get Katherine, so they could be married. Along the way Joe is pulled over by a small town police officer and is questioned about a kidnapping. He of course has nothing to do with it, but evidence says he might be guilty. The small town is soon a buzz with news of the prisoner. A mob forms and soon burns down the jail house with Joe in it. Is the mob guilty of killing an innocent man? Will Katherine get justice?

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This is an interesting morality tale of justice and society as only Lang can tell it. This parallels M in some degree with a mob of people seeking out their own justice. Where the suspect is guilty in M and saved, the suspect is innocent in Fury and not saved from the actions of the violent mob. Where M ends, Fury is just beginning. The story continues with what happens to the mob after their actions.

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This film is worth watching for many reasons. This film foreshadows what is to come in the 1940’s classic film noir era. It is also shows Lang’s great storytelling talent is universal, no matter what country or language is used. A must see for all film historians, film buffs, film noir fans and of course Lang fans.

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Favorite Tidbit: Rainbow, Joe’s dog, was played by Terry. Terry would go onto even greater fame a few years later when she played Toto in The Wizard of Oz. Not a bad couple films for a little pup.

Article: 20 Great Movies That Had Major Influences On Film Noir

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Woodson Hughes has written and put together a great list of pre-noir films. Sure we see some of the same films we would expect to see in a list like this. Ripe with Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir films. Hughes brought up some films I was not aware of, but what I really liked was his information about these films. He looks at the authors of early noir as well as the directors and actors that brought film noir to light. I highly recommend reading this article and not just look at the movies he lists, there is a lot of great information. All those that want to learn more about film noir should read this. Oh yeah, the list actually has 35 films, not 20. Click the link in blue:

20 Great Movies That Had Major Influences On Film Noir