Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)

In this Warner Brothers crime/prison drama (with a message) by director Mervyn LeRoy:

  • the scene of WWI unemployed veteran James Allen (Paul Muni), looking increasingly like a transient, penniless bum, and his unsuccessful attempt to pawn off his war medal, a Belgian Croix de Guerre, when the owner already had a drawer case full of medals from other unemployed, vagrant veterans
  • the sequence of Allen convinced to join vagrant drifter-tramp Pete (Preston Foster) to go to a lunch-wagon/diner for a handout of hamburgers: "What would I say to a hamburger? Oh, boy. I'd shake Mr. Hamburger by the hand and say, 'Pal, I haven't seen you in a long, long time.'" - but then Pete pulled a gun on the diner cook and demanded Allen to "get that dough out of the register" - the alerted police killed Pete, then arrested Allen as he fled with $5 dollars in his pocket
  • the dissolve/transition as the judge's (Berton Churchill) gavel was brought down for sentencing of punishment in prison at hard labor for ten years for a $5 robbery - a crime Allen didn't commit (he was an unwilling accomplice in the theft of a lunch-wagon/diner) - the judge's sentencing was harsh: "I see no reason for leniency since the money was found on your person. Futhermore, upon detection, you attempted to escape which would, of necessity, increase the seriousness of your offense" - it was completed by the clanging sound of a blacksmith's hammer pounding the chain on prisoner Allen's leg
  • the scene opening at 4:20 am, when the prisoners (chained together) were awakened and marched into the mess hall; during the meal scene, Allen was disgusted by the tasteless and abominable food, and told by a fellow prisoner that he would have to get used to it: ("Grease, fried dough, pig fat and sorghum. And you better get to like it, because you're gonna get the same thing every morning, every year")
First Day as Prisoner
  • during imprisonment, Allen's participation in hard labor - breaking rocks with a pick; he was knocked down by one of the guards for pausing to wipe the sweat off his brow (without asking permission), as the guard mocked: "Ya got it knocked off!"; fellow convict and lifer Bomber Wells (Edward Ellis) told Allen: "You gotta ask their permission to wipe the sweat off...And in the first place, you got to get their permission to sweat"
  • on a wall calendar, the impressive display of the passage of time -- six months of pages were hammered away (June to November)
  • the scene of Allen grimacing as his shackles were bent out of shape by powerful black prisoner Sebastian (Everett Brown), who struck unerring blows at his shackles to bend their shape: "If you can bend my shackles just a little, so I can slide them off my foot"
  • the exciting and memorable escape scene after serving seven months of his ten-year sentence, when Allen was taking a break in the bushes - and he slipped the shackles off his legs, grabbed clothes from a clothesline and changed out of his uniform, ran through the swamps, and outwitted guards and bloodhounds that were chasing him by breathing through a hollow reed underwater
Helen: "How do you live?"
Jim: "I steal"
  • the visually impressive and chilling fade-out ending when hunted, falsely-accused fugitive James Allen was asked by his fiancee Helen (Helen Vinson) questions about how he lived after he had again escaped: ("Can't you tell me where you're going? Will you write? Do you need any money? But you must, Jim. How do you live?") he responded: - "I steal" - as he receded into the shadowy darkness

Pawn Shop - Case Full of War Medals

Jim: "What would I say to a hamburger?"

Jim Allen Arrested as an Unwilling Accomplice During a Theft

Hard Labor - Breaking Rocks and Reprimanded for Wiping Sweat

Calendars: Passage of Time

Jim Grimacing as His Ankle Shackles Were Struck To Bend Them Out of Shape

Escape Scene: Jim Breathing Through a Reed Underwater


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z