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This article is about the 1932 movie. For the book, see I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Film poster
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by Brown Holmes
Howard J. Green
Starring Paul Muni
Glenda Farrell
Helen Vinson
Noel Francis
Distributed by Warner Bros.
a.a.p./Dominant Pictures (1956 re-release)
Release date(s) November 19, 1932 (1932-11-19)
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is a pre-Code 1932 crime/drama film in which Paul Muni stars as a wrongfully convicted convict on a chain gang who escapes to Chicago. The film was written by Howard J. Green and Brown Holmes from Robert Elliott Burns's autobiography, I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang that was serialised in True Detective magazine.[1] It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy.

In 1991, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Plot summary

Sergeant James Allen (Paul Muni) returns to civilian life after World War I but has a hard time finding work. He accidentally becomes caught up in a robbery and is sentenced to ten years on a brutal Southern chain gang.

He escapes and makes his way to Chicago, where he becomes a success in the construction business. He becomes involved with the proprietor of his boardinghouse, Marie Woods (Glenda Farrell), who discovers his secret and blackmails him into an unhappy marriage. He then meets and falls in love with Helen (Helen Vinson). When he asks his wife for a divorce, she betrays him to the authorities. He is offered a pardon if he will turn himself in; Allen accepts, only to find that it was just a ruse. He escapes once again.

In the end, Allen visits Helen in the shadows on the street and tells her he is leaving forever. She asks, "Can't you tell me where you're going? Will you write? Do you need any money?" James repeats "no" as his answer as he backs away. Finally Helen says, "But you must, Jim. How do you live?" In the film's final line and shot James replies chillingly, "I steal", and disappears into the dark. The composition and lighting of the final scene, considered to be one of the best in film history, was reportedly accidental. The lights on the set supposedly either failed or were turned off earlier than intended. The studio liked what it saw and kept the ending.[2]


Impact on the American Society

Paul Muni working on a chain gang.

Audiences in the United States who saw the film began to question the legitimacy of the United States legal system,[3] and January 1933 the film's protagonist, Robert Elliot Burns, who was still imprisoned in New Jersey, and a number of different chain gang prisoners nationwide in the United States were able to appeal and were released.[4] In January 1933, Georgia chain gang warden J. Harold Hardy, who was also made into a character in the film, sued the studio for displaying "vicious, brutal and false attacks" against him in the film.[5]

Awards and nominations

Academy Award Nominations:

National Board Review Award:

  • 1932 - Best Picture

Other Wins:

  • 1991 - National Film Registry


Further reading

  • Burns, Robert E. (1932). I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0-8203-1943-0. 

External links



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