They Made Me a Fugitive

Gasser

They Made Me a Fugitive (1948)

     I do not watch enough film noir, but that is not to say I do not love it. I am not sure how I wound up recording the British They Made Me a Fugitive but I am glad I did. I found it a visually striking black and white flick full of truly evil characters and violence to boot. 

     Clem Morgan (Trevor Howard) finds himself full of the killing and conniving skills the military gave him during World War II and without an outlet for those skills. Naturally he turns to the smuggling business under the tutelage of Narcissus or “Narcy” (Griffith Jones). When he discovers the guy is peddling some sort of highly insidious drug, he argues his way out of the business but not before completing one last job. Being the vindictive criminal that he is, Narcy uses this theft operation to run over a cop, knock Clem out and make it look as though he was the driver when it was actually Soapy (Jack McNaughton) whose driving hand Narcy forced.

     Clem is sentenced to 15 years but manages to escape after a pretty dame, Sally (Sally Gray) who was Narcy’s girlfriend, comes to inform Clem his girl has taken up with the villain. During his time as a fugitive, Clem is hit in the shoulder with buckshot and ends up at a strangely welcoming woman’s home. This queer bird offers the man clothes, food and a bath but later requests he shoot her drunkard husband. Clem refuses and the gal does the deed for him, but tells police it was the fugitive’s doing.
 
     When he finally reaches London, Clem finds Sally to have her help him hunt down Soapy because he can testify that the man was framed. Clem avoids police and Narcy while Sally is kidnapped by the Narcy gang where both she and Soapy’s gal are forcibly held. A couple characters will die before the story’s close and although a police inspector has been helping Clem, we are unsure whether he will actually be cleared of the crime.
 
     They Made Me a Fugitive, which was titled I Became a Criminal for its British release, is a beautiful film full of action and suspense. The performances, particularly that of Trevor Howard, were great. Curiously, several instances used montages of certain events that obscured the subject from view, such as when Clem is placed in prison and it takes several shots before we actually see the man in a jail cell. I’m not really sure this technique had any particular effect on my perception of the circumstances, but it was interesting nonetheless.
 
     They Made Me a Fugitive is also fairly violent. Besides the woman pummeling her husband’s body with every bullet in her gun a la The Letter, Narcy slaps and kicks Sally in a scene marked by a warped version of the villan’s face through a mirror and a spinning camera showing his kicking motions. A character will also fall to his death from a building and land with his broken limbs akimbo. His face is shown half bloodied by the impact as we watch him die. These visuals do not hold a candle to the current state of film violence but for 1948 it was a bit to the extreme.  It certainly gives They Made Me a Fugitive an edge other crime and gangster movies lacked.
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One Response

  1. Wow, Rachel, I thought the grim-and-gritty British crime thrillers started in recent years with directors like Guy Ritchie and stars like Jason Statham — I hadn’t realized they were just as violent in the 1940s! Your review of THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE sounds like a film I should seek out. Glad I read your great review!

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