6 Reasons To Watch I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang

I am so thankful for TCM.  This wonderful network has allowed me to discover so many old films that I might otherwise have never seen.  Among those films, 1932’s I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.

As you might guess from the title, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang was something of a low-budget B-movie.  It’s also one of the few films that can legitimately claim to have changed society.  The fugitive of the title is James Allen (Paul Muni), a veteran of the First World War who, feeling uncomfortable in peace time and unable to find work, finds himself in Georgia where he unintentionally becomes involved in a robbery and then ends up being sentenced to 10 years on a chain gang.  After suffering months of inhumane treatment, Allen finally escapes.  He makes his way up north and, much like Jean Valjean, attempts to start a new life for himself.  However, even as he find success, he knows that he could be exposed and sent back to prison at any moment.

Here’s 6 reasons to watch I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.

1) It’s based on a true story.  I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang was based on a book written by a man named Robert Ellis Burns.  Burns actually had served time on and escaped from a Georgia chain gang.  At the time the movie came out, Burns was still a fugitive.  The movie was such a success and was so effective that when Burns was later arrested in New Jersey, the governor refused to extradite him.  Burns was finally pardoned in 1945 and lived the rest of his days as a free man.

2) I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang got results.  Alone among the major studios in the 30s, Warner Bros. specialized in making films that dealt with social issues.  While other studios either celebrated wealth or invited audiences to escape the Great Depression through fantasy, Warner Bros. was unashamed to be on the side of the oppressed.  I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang is a perfect example of this.  Not only did the film lead to Burns receiving a pardon but it also helped to end the chain gang system.

3) Director Mervyn LeRoy directs the film as if it were a film noir.  By the end of the film, it’s impossible not to empathize with the main character’s growing sense of paranoia.

4) Do you know who Paul Muni is?  You will after watching I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.  Paul Muni is largely forgotten today but, back in the 1930s, he was considered to be one of the best actors around.  Watching him in this film, you can see why.

5) The film’s final scene is a classic.  You can watch it below (and yes, this video does count as a spoiler).

6) I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang was nominated for best picture.  It lost to Cavalcade, a celebration of the British upper class.

12 Reasons To Love 12 Angry Men

Everyone already knows that the 1957 Best Picture nominee 12 Angry Men is a classic.  We all know the film’s story — a teenage boy is on trial for murdering his family.  11 jurors want to convict.  1 juror doesn’t.  Over the next few hours, that one juror tries to change 11 minds.  Some of the jurors are prejudiced, some of them are bored, and some of them just want to go home.  And, as the film reminds us, all 12 of them have a huge  responsibility.  You don’t need me to tell you that this is a great movie.  Therefore, consider this to be less of a review and more of an appreciation of one of the best movies ever made.

1) The film is the feature debut of director Sidney Lumet.  As any student of American film can tell you, Sidney Lumet was one of the most important directors in the history of cinema.  After beginning his career in television, Lumet made his film directing debut with 12 Angry Men and he was rewarded with a much deserved Oscar nomination for best director.

2) The film’s story is actually a lot more complex than you might think.  12 Angry Men is such an influential film and its story has been imitated so many times that it’s easy to forget that the film’s plot is a lot more nuanced than you might think.  Despite what many people seem to think, Juror Number 8 never argues that the defendant is innocent.  Instead, he argues that the state has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt and, as a result, the defendant cannot be convicted.  That’s an important lesson that is too often forgotten.

3) The movie celebrates the power of one person determined to do the right thing.  Again, that’s a lesson that remains very relevant today.

4) As Juror Number Eight, Henry Fonda makes human decency believable.

5) As the angry and bullying Juror Number Three, Lee J. Cobb is the perfect antagonist.

6) As Juror Number Ten, Ed Begley makes Cobb seem almost reasonable.  To be honest, the scene where Begley’s racist ranting causes all of the other jurors to stand up and turn their back on him feels a bit too theatrical.  But it’s still undeniably effective.  Alone among the jurors, Juror Number Ten is the only one without any hope of redemption.  It’s a bit of a thankless role but Begley does what he has to do to make the character believable.

7) E.G. Marshall makes the wealthy Juror Number Four into a worthy opponent of Fonda without crossing the line into prejudice like Cobb and Begley.  In many ways, Marshall’s role is almost as important as Fonda’s because Marshall’s performance reminds us that not all disagreements are the product of ignorance or anger.

8) As the Jury Foreman, Martin Balsam is the epitome of every ineffectual authority figure.

9) As Juror Number Seven, Jack Warden is hilariously sleazy.

10) As Juror Number Nine, Joseph Sweeney grows on you.  The first time I saw the film I thought that Sweeney went a bit overboard but, on more recent viewings, I’ve come to appreciate Sweeney’s performance.

11) As Juror Number Twelve, Robert Webber is hilariously shallow.  Juror Number Twelve is in advertising and Webber seems like he was right at home on Mad Men.

12)  Though they don’t get as much of a chance to make an impression, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, and George Voskovec all do good work as the other jurors.  If there’s ever been a film that proves the value of a great ensemble, it’s 12 Angry Men.

Song of the Day: Entre Dos Aguas (by Paco de Lucia – R.I.P)


One of the great guitarists ever passed away (some would say he’s one of the greatest, if not the best there ever was) in the last 24 hours.

Paco de Lucia has passed on into legend as one of history’s greatest guitarist. He joins such fellow luminaries as Django Reinhardt, Jimi Hendrix, Andres Segovia, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Johnson to just name a few now playing their guitars in the next life.

Paco came from a family of flamenco singers and guitarists. His musical upbringing was molded by his father Antonio Sanchez. He would take classic flamenco guitar playing and incorporate other musical genres such as jazz, classical and bossa nova. While flamenco traditionalists heaped criticisms at Paco de Lucia for incorporating the many different styles of guitar playing with flamenco the movement to create a new flamenco sound which still adhered to classic flamenco playing but with some added new sound to appeal to a new generation that was beginning to listen to a variety of musical styles.

While many young people would scratch their heads as to who this Spaniard was to be considered one of the greatest guitarist of all-time (I would remind such individuals that not all guitarists were playing rock or metal), I would suggest they listen to his most popular song and just marvel at the talent and legend that was Paco de Lucia.

Song of the Day: Who Is He (And What Is He to You) (by Bill Withers)


February is almost over and I’m sure those who celebrated Valentines Day a couple weeks back are either flying high on love or becoming bitter by the day at things not turning out the way either party have imagined.

The latest “Song of the Day” puts into words such a a scenario that those in the latter might be going through right about now. It’s a song by soul and blues singer Bill Withers. He’s better known for classic soul hits such as “Lean On Me”, “Just the Two of Us” and “Ain’t No Sunshine”.

“Who Is He (And What Is He To You)” is a song of infidelity and betrayal. I just love the bass line that goes throughout the song. The song’s lyrics also hints at a sense of malice and and built-up rage at the betrayal. One could almost imagine how things will erupt after the final note and lyric has faded in the background.

Who Is He (And What Is He to You)

A man we passed just tried to stare me down
And when I looked at you, you looked at the ground
I don’t know who he is but I think that you do

Dag gummit
Who is he and what is he to you

I have something in my heart and in your eyes
Tell me he’s not someone just passin’ by
And when you cleared your throat was that your cue

Dag gummit dag
Who is he and what is he to you

Now when I add the sum of you and me
I get confused and I keep coming up with three
You’re too much for one man but not enough for two

Dag gummit
Who is he and what is he to you

Hey you tell me man don’t have not much for intuition
That what you really think or are you wishin’
Before you wreck your old home be certain of the new

Dag gummit
Who is he and what is he to you

Dag gummit
Who is he and what is he to you

Dag gummit
Who is he and what is he to you

Dag gummit
Who is he and what is he to you

6 Trailers to Carry Us To March


Hi, everyone.  It’s time for another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers!

1) Youth Aflame (1944)

I love  out-of-control youth films.  It’s one of the oldest genres of exploitation, as can be seen by watching this trailer from 1944.

2) Gambling With Souls (1936)

However, even before youth was aflame, youth was gambling with souls.

3) The Strip-Tease Murder Case (1950)

This trailer has to be included for the title alone.

4) Dark Star (1974)

This was the feature film debut of  director John Carpenter.

5) Tentacles (1977)

Nature goes wild!

6) Escape From New York (1981)

Finally, I had to feature this trailer at least once.  You’re welcome, Arleigh.

What do you think, Trailer Kitty?


Trailer: Godzilla (Official Main)


Last summer, we saw the return of the giant monster genre on Western screens with Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. This summer we see the return of the King of the Monsters back on the big screen where he belongs.

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla looks to bring back the King to lay massive destruction on humanity. The trailers haven’t shown whether Godzilla will be the villain of the film or back to fight other monsters. Either as protector or destroyer he will cause much collateral damage on the cities of mankind.

This latest trailer seems to intimate that Edwards’ film will actually be a sequel to the original 1954 film of the same name.

Godzilla will have a May 16. 2014 release date.

Film Review: My Name Is ‘A’ By Anonymous (dir by Shane Ryan)

One of the best things about being an independent film critic is that I occasionally get a chance to take a risk and recommend a film that audiences might not otherwise get a chance to discover.  Even better is when I get the opportunity to defend a work of art that I know some other critics will dismiss out of hand simply because they either don’t appreciate or understand the film’s subject matter.

Case in point: My Name Is ‘A’ By Anoynmous.

My Name Is ‘A’ is inspired by a disturbing true story.  In 2009, a nine year-old girl named Elizabeth Olten was brutally murdered in Missouri.  The police investigation eventually led to the arrest of Elizabeth’s 15 year-old neighbor, Alyssa Bustamante.  Alyssa confessed to the crime, explaining that she simply wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.  After having killed Elizabeth, Alyssa wrote in her diary: “It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the ‘ohmygawd I can’t do this’ feeling, it’s pretty enjoyable. I’m kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now…lol.”  Alyssa later pled guilty to 2nd degree murder and is currently serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

When we read about the crimes of Alyssa Bustamante, our natural instinct is to look for a reason why.  There’s been speculation that she was sexually abused.  Needless to say, some people have decided that she was a part of some sort of Satanic cult.  As a former cutter, I immediately focused on the red marks on her wrist that were visible in some of the pictures that she posted online before committing the murder.  As observers, we need a reason because, in theory, a definite reason would also mean that there is a definite solution as well.  What we do not want to hear is that Alyssa Bustamante killed Elizabeth just because she felt like it.

Told in a deliberately disjointed fashion, My Name Is A follows four teenage girls in the days leading up to the death of Elizabeth.

Alex Damiano plays a bulimic who rails angrily against both the father who abandoned her and a God that she doesn’t believe in.  Damiano gives perhaps the film’s bravest performance and both she and director Shane Ryan deserve a lot of credit for the realistic way that they present and deal with bulimia.

Teona Dolnikova dreams of being a star but, instead, has to deal with her own sexually abusive stepfather.  About halfway through the film, Dolnikova gets an opportunity to star in a surrealistic music video.  It’s an unexpected moment but one that works.

And finally, there’s Alyssa (Katie Marsh) and her mostly silent friend, played by Demi Baumann.  In many ways, Alyssa and her friend seem like normal teenagers.  They spend a lot of time playfully giving each other a hard time, making silly videos with their phone, and generally just trying to find something interesting to do.  Indeed, during the film’s first few scenes, it’s easy for the viewer to relate to Alyssa.  (Not surprisingly, that’s why some viewers are going to have issues with My Name Is A.)  It’s only as the film progresses that we start to catch glimpses of what lies behind Alyssa’s facade of normalcy.

Who the girls are in relation to each other and how their separate stories will eventually lead to a shocking murder is the question that lies at the heart of My Name Is A.  To his credit, Shane Ryan doesn’t provide any easy answers.  He provides plenty of clues but it’s up to the audience to find those clues and to put the pieces of the puzzle together and then to decide whether any of those pieces can properly explain the actions of an Alyssa Bustamante.  In this way, My Name Is A reminded me a lot of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, another film about teenage murderers that provided clues but was smart enough to avoid giving the audience the comfort of an easy answer.

The film’s director has described My Name Is A as being a “love it or hate it” film.  I can understand why.  My Name Is A refuses to give audiences the easy answers that they’ve come to expect and, even more  dangerously, suggests that monsters can also be human.  My Name Is A is not always an easy movie to watch but it is a movie that dares us to think and consider questions that we might not otherwise consider.

What more can you ask from a movie?

Guilty Pleasure No. 18: Class (dir by Lewis John Carlino)

Tonight, I’ve got insomnia.

Since I realized I wasn’t going to get any sleep, I decided I might as well watch a random movie via Encore On Demand.  That movie turned out to be Class, a dramedy from 1983.  (I love dramedies, especially when I’ve got insomnia.)  I just finished watching it about 30 minutes ago and what can I say?  If there’s any film that deserves to be known as a guilty pleasure, it’s Class.

Class tells the story of two prep school roommates.  Skip (Rob Lowe) is rich  and spoiled.  Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy) is poor but brilliant.  As the result of getting a perfect score on his SAT, Jonathan has already received a scholarship to Harvard.  Their friendship gets off on a rocky start.  Skip locks Jonathan outside while Jonathan is wearing black lingerie.  Jonathan responds with a fake suicide.  (Boys are so weird.)  Not surprisingly, Jonathan and Skip become best friends and even share their darkest secrets.  Skip admits to killing a man.  Jonathan confesses to cheating on his SAT.  One of the two friends is lying.  Try to guess which one.

When Skip also discovers that Jonathan is a virgin, Skip makes it his mission to help his friend get laid.  Skip pays for Jonathan to spend a weekend in Chicago.  While there, Jonathan meets an older woman named Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset).  Soon, Jonathan and Ellen are having a torrid affair.

Once Christmas break arrives, Skip takes Jonathan home with him.  Jonathan meets Skip’s parents.  Guess who turns out to be Skip’s mom.

Meanwhile, an officious investigator (Stuart Margolin) has shown up on campus.  What is he investigating?  SAT fraud, of course.

Class is a weirdly disjointed movie.  On the one hand, it attempts to tell a rather melancholic coming-of-age tale, in which a naive young man learns about love from a beautiful but sad older woman.  (This part of the film perhaps would have been more effective if there had been a single spark of chemistry between Andrew McCarthy and Jacqueline Bisset.)  On the other hand, it also wants to be a heartfelt comedy about two best friends who come from opposite worlds.  And then, on the third hand (that’s right — this movie has three hands!), it wants to be a raunchy teen comedy, complete with a stuffy headmaster, misogynistic dialogue, gratuitous nudity, and a lengthy scene where all of the students attempt to get rid of all of their weed and pills because they’ve been incorrectly told that there’s a narc on campus.  That’s three different movies being crammed into a 90-minute film.  Not surprisingly, the end result is an uneven mishmash of different themes and styles.

And yet, as uneven as the film may be,  I still enjoyed it.  As I watched, I knew that I should have been far more critical and nitpicky about the film’s many flaws but the movie itself is just so damn likable that I found myself enjoying it despite myself.  Ultimately — like many guilty pleasures — Class is a film that is best appreciated as a portrait of the time it was made.  Everything from the questionable fashion choices of the characters to the film’s not-so-subtle celebration of wealth and narcissism, serves to remind the viewer that Class was made in the 80s.

Finally, Class should be seen just for its cast.  It’s undeniably odd to see an impossibly young and goofy-looking John Cusack making his film debut here as a rather snotty student named Roscoe.  While Andrew McCarthy doesn’t have much chemistry with Jacqueline Bisset, he still gives a good performance and is simply adorable with his messy hair and glasses.  And finally, who can resist young Rob Lowe, who was just as handsome in Class as he would be 30 years later in Parks and Recreation?

Class did not cure my insomnia.

But I’m still glad I watched it.

Previous Guilty Pleasures:

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls