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They Made Me a Fugitive (Blu-ray Review)

27 Aug, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Kino Lorber
$29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Sally Gray, Trevor Howard, Griffith Jones.

Kino Lorber put out this British Film Institute/Film Foundatio restoration in hi-def a few weeks ago, but I’ve only now gotten around to filling a rather large gap in my personal Brit-noir history, despite recommendations from a couple friends. One is a female acquaintance who recently told me They Made Me a Fugitive was one of her favorite movies, and the other was an editor who stumbled into unknowingly when it aired on Turner Classic Movies.
I’d like to know the first major talkie (I think primitive silents did get into aberrant social ills) that dealt with the pushing of hard drugs, but the first one I can remember is the 1948 Dick Powell starrer To the Ends of the Earth because it kind of shocked me watching it on the late, late show when I was 12 or 13. This viewing was coming off my watching of a lot of after-school vintage MGM releases airing at 5 p.m., and this was just not the kind of thing Louis B. Mayer put on screens.

Fugitive predates Earth, so this is really early in the hophead oeuvre — with Trevor Howard starring as a World War II vet who falls into a band of London thugs whose pushing of hard stuff represents a place he just won’t go. Howard’s failure to get into the spirit of his cohorts’ dealing puts him on the outs with his colleagues, who frame him into prison on a murder rap and unsuccessfully — until he escapes and makes his way back to at least the outskirts of the lair.

Howard must have been feeling his acting oats at the time because Fugitive came out only a little after his “sensitive” (no sarcasm meant) in-conversation-only lover of Celia Johnson in the Noel Coward-David Lean cross-oceanic hit Brief Encounter. He’s no sadist here, but the two films are definitely study in contrasts. Howard is not too happy about being framed nor taking a couple subsequent raps. One involves a woman/stranger who takes him in and offers food/clothing — but with her own agenda. Imagine on-the-lam Robert Donat in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, at the farmhouse again with the wife who offers him unexpected aid and comfort. Only this time she makes the point that her husband is a raving drunk and that her aid is only predicated upon Donat shooting the bum.

The situation adds to Howard’s stress and that of a blonde chorine (top-billed Sally Gray) who has been a tangential gang associate but has quickly come to realize that singing and dancing is better. Gray was a dish who retired from the screen fairly early, though she’s been an ubiquitous old-movie presence on TV in the early World War II drama Suicide Squadron — which became kind of a sleeper U.S. hit at the time as Dangerous Moonlight and has since for decades become one of those movies that is always on at 2 a.m. for perusal when you get off work on the roller-bearing factory late shift. She had real porcelain-blond credentials — and had Fugitive been fashioned for U.S. audiences, it would be Alan Ladd-Veronica Lake all the way. Except that they wouldn’t have been as good (though probably even more photogenic).

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (oft-billed as just “Cavalcanti”), this is a very tough movie for its day — as tough as or tougher than the original Brighton Rock (remade a couple years ago), the breakthrough movie for Richard Attenborough. Amid the noir glisten (the restoration has snap), the narrative keeps renewing itself, all the way to an ending that is not sugar-coated in the manner that even some peer RKO thrillers of the day actually were.

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