You Only Live Once

Archival Print


Henry Fonda, Sylvia Sidney, Barton MacLane, Jean Dixon,

When three-time loser Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) is about to be released from prison, his lawyer assures the warden that Eddie will make good. Eddie adds skeptically, “I will—if they let me.” Like many of Lang’s films, You Only Live Once depicts a struggle between individual will and socially determined destiny; atypically for the director, it’s also a moving and sincere love story. This has often been cited as the original lovers-on-the-run movie. But the relationship between edgy, fragile Eddie and sad-eyed Jo (Sylvia Sidney) feels less like amour fou à la Bonnie and Clyde than like a tragic, transcendent partnership borrowed from a Frank Borzage melodrama. Harrowing scenes of prison and pursuit are rendered in a starkly expressive visual style, but the bleak atmosphere ultimately gives way to pastoral lyricism, suggesting a possibility of spiritual if not social redemption. Asked about the ending, Lang said, “You may laugh, but don’t forget, I was born a Catholic.”

Juliet Clark
  • Graham Baker
Based On
  • a story by Gene Towne

  • Leon Shamroy
Print Info
  • B&W
  • 35mm
  • 85 mins
  • Harvard Film Archive
  • Shout! Factory