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I Found It At the Movies: 1937—You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang)

I Found It At the Movies: 1937—You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang)

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Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1937: You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang)

I know exactly where I saw this one for the first time. It was the exact same theater where I first saw The Blue Angel. That one located on Rue Mouffetard.

Why don’t we ever hear the term “homme fatale”? Surely there’s a whole group of films where the term would apply–where it’s the man that’s destructive, that brings the woman down, rather than the other way around. I can think of at least a few of these films: Scarface (either version), White Heat, Bonnie and Clyde, and this early Lang noir, You Only Live Once.

The way I see it is this: In order for a noir with a femme fatale to reach its full potential, you have to have a somewhat naive and innocent male counterpart. Same goes for noir with an homme fatale. If that’s true, I can’t think of anyone better to play the part than Sylvia Sidney. She had those eyes for days and a face that always seemed a frame away from breaking into tears.

It’s downright painful watching MacMurray in Double Indemnity and Mitchum in Out of the Past as their respective women bring ‘em down. That’s how I feel watching this early Lang, too. I can almost hear myself now: “Damn it Fonda, stop it already, can’t you see what you’re doing to her? Don’t you know how she’s going to end up?”

I’m fully along for the ride on this one. It’s one of my favorite noirs.

What moviemakers can learn: Substance over style can win out; it really work at times. Lang keeps it streamlined here and trusts his story and casting to do the work.

Other contenders for 1937: I have a couple of gaps here, too. This includes notably: Sadao Yamanaka’s Ballad of the Paper Balloons. From this year, I really like George Cukor’s Camille. And I love Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth, William Wellman’s A Star Is Born, and Jean Renoir’s La grande illusion. My closest runner-up though has to be Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow. It’s an incredibly poignant and brave film that deals with aging as well as any I’ve ever seen. Finally though, in a very close decision, I probably chose the Lang because it’s a little less perfect, a little less classic, and in situations like this, I feel I have to give the tie to the underdog.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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