You Only Live Once (1937)

“You Only Live Once” (1937)


a german in Hollywood

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

This is from a time in which Fritz Lang still wanted (or thought he could) to go on making American films as he was doing them in Germany. We have a theme with social concerns, a useless attack on the morality of the system and prejudice. It’s vapid, and it’s superficial. Lang was good with manipulating images, with creating powerful scenery that could, by itself, pass a mood, usually an oppressive mood, maybe an advance of what nazism would become and symbolize to western civilization.

But here he has to submit to his new environment. In this moment in cinema history the differences Lang might have found were probably in the kind of effective control he lost over the choices in his films. This is an American film, more than an auteur film, and watching this means understanding this fact. The outcome, in this case, is a total mess, i think. There are only a few things worth watching, but even those can be found much better integrated, and thus much more powerful, in other films:

– one of those things is when we feel Lang was able to create visually. Here we have two particularly interesting moments: one is when Fonda is in a cage waiting for his execution moment to come. The cage is designed for the light to go through and produce the light we see. This is enhanced by the upper position Lang gives to his camera, as he liked to do, in order to give us the sensation of some outer/superior force controlling what’s beneath. The other moment is the fog with vultures walking undefined in the prison escape scene. As with the cage, it’s a moment of tension and importance in the unimportant plot. I suppose Lang, not being able to cover the whole film with his vision at least tried to hold these moments. These clips are worthwhile, but i’ve seen them in better contexts.

– the other thing worth watching is Fonda. Before Marlon Brando, he is one of the few who understood what was necessary for an actor to do in order to make a film work. He is very contained, but he walks, talks, and expresses in a way which is made for the camera, for the film. It’s a pleasure to watch him but again, there are better sources for us to understand his qualities

My opinion: 1/5

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