Saturday, June 9, 2012

Let Us Live

Tonight's Essential on TCM is Jezebel. This gives TCM the opportunity to show a bunch of movies starring Henry Fonda from early in his career. A lesser-known movie that I don't think I've seen since the last time it aired on TCM years back, and which isn't available on DVD, is Let Us Live, which is airing early tomorrow morning at 4:45 AM.

Henry Fonda stars as Brick Tennant, a taxi driver with ideas. Like a lot of drivers, he doesn't own his own taxi, but he has plans of owning one, and then owning an entire fleet. He's got a girlfriend, Mary (Maureen O'Sullivan), and plans to marry her and move to a much nicer housing development when the taxi business becomes more successful. As it is, he's living in a small apartment with his friend Joe (Alan Baxter). Even though it's just a small apartment, Brick is happy with his life and optimistic about the future.

This being a Hollywood movie, you know that happy existence isn't going to remain that way. Everything goes south for Brick and Joe when there's a robbery in town, one which results in a man getting killed. There was a taxi used as the getaway vehicle, and since Brick doesn't have an alibi that can be checked, he and Joe wind up getting charged with the crime. And even though the evidence is purely circumstantial, the two men are convicted and sentenced to die!

Also in Hollywood tradition, The Girl is certain that her man is innocent, and dammit, she's going to exonerate him if it's the last thing she does on Earth! Fortunately for her, there's about to be a seeming break in the case. Another robbery is committed, and it has all of the hallmarks of the one that got her boyfriend sent to jail. And this time, Brick has an ironclad alibi: he was in jail. As a result, Mary is able to get The Only Honest Cop on Earth (played by Ralph Bellamy in an odd bit of casting) on her side. Together, the two race against time to find the real killers (in the form of a taxi modified to go faster than regular cabs could) before Brick and Joe's sentences are carried out.

In some ways, Let Us Live is almost formulaic, in that it's as if we've seen all these character types before. Indeed, I've recommended a couple earlier films, such as Fury or They Won't Forget, about prosecutions gone badly wrong. But just as important, Let Us Live is about what this does to the wrongly convicted, and the result isn't pretty. The one bad thing is that you almost expect Brick and Joe are going to be exonerated, because the Production Code wouldn't let people get away with crime, meaning that the real criminals had to be caught. (Compare this to the climax of Fury.) Still, Brick's is the sort of complex character Henry Fonda was extremely good at playing.

Let Us Live is too-rarely seen, but it's well worth watching.

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