Monday, April 20, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Let Us Live (1939) at the Noir City Film Festival

The second film in the closing night "Proto-Noir" marathon at the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival was LET US LIVE (1939).

LET US LIVE stars Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Sullivan, directed by John Brahm. Brahm would go on to direct the "gothic noir" HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) and the psychological film noir THE LOCKET (1946).

In LET US LIVE, a waking nightmare unspools over the course of 68 minutes as a hard-working cabbie (Fonda) and his friend (Alan Baxter) are falsely accused and convicted of murder. Only the devotion of the cabbie's fiancee (O'Sullivan) and the cop (Ralph Bellamy) she convinces to help her might save the men from being railroaded straight to the electric chair.

The increasingly despairing jailhouse sequences both reflect back on the great gangster films of the early '30s and anticipate film noir, where the "wrong man" would also be a familiar theme.

Fonda is quite shattering, as his personality gradually changes under the weight of being disappointed by "the system" at every turn. He has a speech which seems to look forward just a bit to his famous closing speech in THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940).

It's a nice part for O'Sullivan, as a woman who refuses to give up and is ultimately willing to risk her life to prove her husband-to-be is innocent. Bellamy is also good as a cop who initially doesn't seem to care overly much about the case but gradually becomes unnerved when he realizes he's been a cog in a rigged system.

One of the aspects of the movie which bothered me was the D.A. (Stanley Ridges) saying his job was simply to get a conviction. I wish the movie had made clear that the D.A. was wrong throughout the film in part because a D.A.'s job is actually to seek justice, not convictions (see 1947's BOOMERANG for an illustration of same). The character was thus not only wrong in ignoring additional evidence, he flat-out wasn't doing his job.

The supporting cast includes Henry Kolker, George Lynn, and Philip Trent. Familiar "faces" scattered throughout the film include Charles Lane (who received applause from the Noir City audience when he turned up as a taxicab salesman), Ann Doran, Forrester Harvey, Byron Foulger, Pat O'Malley, and Minerva Urecal.

The cinematography was by Lucien Ballard, who also filmed another movie seen in the festival just a few days ago, BERLIN EXPRESS (1948).

LET US LIVE is available on DVD from Sony Choice.

Next up from the Noir City marathon: My favorite film of the night, HEAT LIGHTNING (1934).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds good and it's one I have never heard of. Funny you should mention Boomerang as I have just seen it and was very impressed.
As you say, the prosecutor should be seeking justice.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Yes, that DA was out of line! Even though Hamilton Burger tends to act like he's only after a conviction, there are several occasions where he at least states that Justice should be the only concern.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Laura. Don't know why above comment shows Anonymous.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

A good one, heavy and dark, gorgeous looking, and Fonda really does riveting work. Interesting to compare this with Fonda in The Wrong Man.

1:02 PM  

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