Fritz Lang directs Henry Fonda, Sylvia Sidney and William Gargan in this thriller where a reformed tough tries to go straight for the love of a good woman but society forces them back into a life of crime.
At the centre of this early noir is a bank heist involving gas bombs and a ghoulish mask. While watching you think the quick edits are there so we cannot fully know whether Fonda’s Eddie is behind the mask, behind the mayhem. The studio and censors pared the sequence down… removing the violent deaths of innocent bystanders, women and children. What still exists works. It feels like a sequence from cinema future. A Tim Burton Batman villain strutting in a gothic soundstage. A horror character gone venal. The surrounding 90 minutes of story is standard stuff told at a clip. Your James Cagney movie would focus on the fall back into larceny stuff with more assurance. Your Bonnie & Clydes would implicate us in the thrill of life on the run, passenger seat living in a bullet strewn sedan. This plays out more as romantic tragedy, more as societal condemnation. Sylvia Sidney’s sweetheart is too bright for Fonda’s temperamental lunk. Smart, svelte and switched on. You never fully attune with how she throws her life away on such a dolt. You Only Live Once splashes about in lot of crime cinema’s ornamental ponds but never luxuriates in just one long enough to fully take hold.
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