They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)

They Made Me a Fugitive (AKA “I Became a Criminal”)20090511040119-they-made-me-a-fugitive
Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti
Written by Noel Langley from a novel by Jackson Budd
1947/UK
A.R. Shipman Productions/Alliance Films Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

This is a superior British film noir.

Clem Morgan (Trevor Howard) misses the adrenalin rush he got being an RAF pilot in the war.  In a drunken stupor, he decides it might be fun to join a black market gang. The outfit uses a funeral parlor as a cover and brings in the goods in caskets.  Its tough-as-nails leader Narcy (Griffin Jones) thinks Clem will give the gang some class.  He also thinks Clem’s fiancee is cute.

But on the very first outing, Clem discovers the caskets also hide drug trafficking, which he wants no part of.  He says he is quitting after that night’s job.  Narcy uses the opportunity to get Clem out of the way by framing him for the killing of a policeman.  Clem is convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for manslaughter.

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While in jail, Clem gets a visit from Narcy’s bitter ex-girlfriend Sally (Sally Gray).  She tells him Narcy has taken up with the fiancee and that she wants to help him clear his name. Clem does not take her up on her offer.  As soon as Sally gets home from the visit, Narcy and the boys beat her up.

Sally’s visit did awaken some will for revenge in Clem and he escapes.  The rest of the film follows Clem’s escape, reunion with Sally, and revenge attempts.  Narcy is definitely no pushover, though, and this is a truly dark and violent noir story.

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I have loved every film I have seen that was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti.  I wonder that he is not better known.  This one was no exception and the director’s style shines through in every frame.  Howard is excellent and Jones makes one of the screen’s nastiest villains.

This is one of several British films focusing on social malaise immediately after the war. There is a strong sense that people who bore so much during the war were unable to accept continued privation after war’s end and started looking out for number one.  Recommended.

Clip – sturdy milk bottles they had back then!

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