You Only Live Once is left out of discussions about Henry Fonda‘s considerable filmography far too often. This deeply involving film noir effort stars Fonda as Eddie Taylor, a loser who gets released on parole and becomes determined to carve out an honest future for himself. Unfortunately, his past won’t let him, and he finds his attempts to reunite with his loyal girlfriend Joan (Sylvia Sidney) quickly complicated. Falsely accused of a bank robbery in which six people were killed, he is subsequently imprisoned and sentenced to death. But when Henry escapes on the eve of his execution after accidentally killing the prison’s chaplain, he tries to make the most of his time together with Joan while they both go on the run from the authorities — leading up to a showdown with fate that will test the limits of their love.
Superbly directed by Fritz Lang (of Metropolis fame), the film was so boundary-pushing for its time that 14 minutes of footage that was considered too violent and controversial had to be cut. As a result, You Only Live Once feels a bit choppy at times. But it is still an unforgettable classic that was praised by critics at the time of its release — even if the movie lost money at the box office during its original run in 1937. Classicflix has recently issued a DVD of the film that is worth checking out if you have never experienced the film’s noirsh pleasures and Fonda’s nuanced performance.