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Image Entertainment presents
You Only Live Once (1937)

"Oh, kid. The bottom's dropped out of everything."
- Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: July 22, 2003

Stars: Silvia Sidney, Henry Fonda
Other Stars: Barton MacLane, William Gargan, Jean Dixon, Jerome Cowan, Margaret Hamilton
Director: Fritz Lang

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:25m:43s
Release Date: June 24, 2003
UPC: 014381192223
Genre: film noir

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+DC D-

DVD Review

It must have been a very strange thing, to be a German refugee in Hollywood in the 1930s. In his native country, Fritz Lang directed such landmark and highly stylized films as M and Metropolis, but, as was true for many of the more enlightened members of the German artistic community, Hitler's rise to power was more than sufficient reason for Lang to abandon his homeland for the freedom of the United States. You Only Live Once is a resolutely American story, starring one of the most iconic of American actors, but Lang puts his distinctive stamp on a fairly predictable if rather moving piece of material.

Sylvia Sidney plays Joan, the receptionist at the public defender's office, who couldn't help but fall for one of her boss's clients—she's been carrying a torch for Eddie for three years now, and he's finally getting out of the big house. The P.D. tries to warn her about throwing away her life on a "gorilla"—he's done time for auto theft, for grand larceny, and for being a mob wheel man, and everybody knows that one more conviction will put Eddie away for good.

But seeing as Eddie is played by a young Henry Fonda, it's hard to fault Joan for having faith in her man. Will the love of a good woman keep Eddie on the straight and narrow? Or are the temptations of his old ways too much for him, and is he then a man of bad character? That's the central dilemma here, and even though Sidney gets top billing, it's Fonda who is likely to captivate your attention. He was a couple of years away from delivering some of his most iconic performances (in films like The Grapes of Wrath and Drums Along the Mohawk) but the first chiseled bits of Tom Joad and young Abe Lincoln are evident—Eddie believes that he's just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, that he's paid his debt to society, but Joan is the only one who believes him.

Eddie gets a job as a truck driver, but no one is cutting him any slack—when he's a little bit late, his boss laces into him: "Listen, jailbird. You're fired, finished, canned, get it?" "Yeah, I get it," he replies. "Ex-con." Eddie's efforts to prove that he isn't the proverbial bad apple make up the bulk of the film, which is full of what have become clichés in these types of stories—the prison priest who understands, the hardbitten warden with a thing for Eddie, the sirens and lights and trained dogs that signal a jailbreak. But the talkies were new enough, and Lang was new enough to America, that none of it yet felt tired or shopworn. Evidence of Lang's Expressionistic tendencies are very much on display, with the lighting especially—the long shadows cast by the bars on Eddie's jail cell owe an obvious debt to earlier Lang works like The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.

This is pulpy stuff, especially compared with the ambition Lang displayed with Metropolis, but it's professionally done and always full of interesting visuals. Also worth mentioning, as the wife of an innkeeper with suspicions about that Taylor fellow, is Margaret Hamilton—this performance serves almost as a first sketch for her role two years later as Miss Gulch. And your little dog, too.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture looks very poor indeed on this disc. The film is full of scratches and dirt, and many rips and tears are evident on the print; it seems as if no effort at all has gone in to making it look any better. Admittedly this isn't one of the all-time great cinematographic achievements, but the abuse that the film has taken can be painful to watch.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is full of hisses and pops, but the dialogue is at least readily comprehensible. Lang disdains the use of music for long sequences, making the limits of the mono track that much more conspicuous.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Sixteen chapter stops and some ungrammatical copy on the disc case are the only extras.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

The picture quality is shoddy, but the fine work from the director and leading man make this one worth a look.


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