Joshua Reviews Alberto Cavalcanti’s They Made Me A Fugitive [Blu-ray Review]

Noir, particularly during its heyday in the late ’40s-early ’50s, is one of the most distinctive and vocal genres that film has to offer. A cynical genre steeped in mood, brood and moral ambiguities, film noir is and has always been a genre onto itself. Featuring a vocal style singularly its own, all wrapped up in a hazy, smoke-filled visual palette, film noir has not only had its genre staples, but has been the patriarch of some of the greatest films ever committed to celluloid. And in the case of one film, one of the most underrated thrillers of an era.

Also known as I Became A Criminal, They Made Me A Fugitive is a 1947 film from director Alberto Cavalcanti is a black noir following the story of Morgan, a man who attempts to leave his life as nothing more than a standard citizen, by teaming with a gang. Framed for the murder of a policeman killed the night of his first heist, he escapes from prison, and with revenge on his mind, attempts to prove his innocence while, with the help of a love-lorn woman named Sally, evading the police. A gritty, grimy and grungy Brit-noir, Fugitive may not be as well loved as its contemporaries, but with this new Blu-ray release, it’s just as damn watchable as any bit of noir released in this massively important window.

Starring Trevor Howard, the film is as every bit a performance piece, led by a wonderfully percussive script from Noel Langley, as any noir of its day. Howard carries the film as the wrongly accused lead, giving the beautifully terse and taut dialogue real life behind it. Sally Gray plays Sally Connor, Clem’s main squeeze and the woman who gives him a roof over his head, and their relationship is utterly fantastic, with Gray giving this film a truly viable femme fatale. Toss in Griffith Jones as the film’s villain, a slimy crook named Narcy, and you’ve got one of the most intriguing and underrated threesomes in noir’s history.

With film noir comes a genre whose themes seem to be as important as its distinct sense of style. A pitch black look at one man’s strive to clear his name all due to the impossibility of his ability to change his lot in life, Fugitive is an insight into post-war angst and the deconstructing of moral boundaries following a war where human nature had seen its absolute worst and most disgusting. An amoral feature, the film is as dark as they come, ultimately concluding in as dark an impossibly upsetting an ending as seen in films of its generation.

And as for genre stalwarts, this is as prototypically noir, aesthetically, as they come. Featuring stunning black and white photography from Otto Heller, the film is actually almost more grey than anything, blending into the film’s grey morality and themes. Andrew Mazzei’s art direction is definitive, and the surrealist set design hints at the genre’s deeply rooted appreciation for early horror films like Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and even more so Nosferatu, given the film’s lush use of light and shadow. Concluding with one of the most heartbreaking final proclamations around, Fugitive‘s aesthetic perfectly fits its bleak look at both the world, and those who fill it, all under the watchful eye of Cavalcanti, a director who can masterfully lead the viewer through tense character interchanges, to one of the most inspired fight sequences which ends the film. It’s as great a fight as the era has to offer, and it hasn’t looked this good in quite some time.

Kino’s Blu-ray is relatively bare bones, but for this film, the transfer is almost worth the price alone. The black and white photography looks great, and the dialogue is as lively as ever. Supplemental material would be nice, but given the transfer (restored thanks to the team of the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation), it’s a beautiful way to re-introduce, or do so for the first time, yourself to one of noir’s greatest unsung entities.

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