They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)

“When a man gets put away for 15 years, he doesn’t curl up with a good book”

At the end of WWII, ex-RAF pilot Clem Morgan (Trevor Howard) can’t adjust back to civilian life, and he drifts into a black market gang led by the brutal gangster, Narcy (Griffith Jones). Narcy (short for Narcissus), and his henchmen operate out of a funeral home, and it’s here they deal in stolen goods such as cigarettes, nylons, alcohol, and mutton.

In many ways, the cynical Clem doesn’t really take his participation in the gang seriously–to him it’s more or less a lark, and it impresses his gorgeous, expensive girlfriend Cora (Rene Ray). But Narcy has grown bored with his girlfriend, showgirl Sally (Sally Gray), and he’s cast his eyes on Cora. When a robbery goes wrong, Narcy sets Clem up to take the fall. With Clem safely stashed in prison for 15 years, Narcy moves in on Cora, and Sally visits Clem in jail. This jail visit sets off a murderous course of revenge with Clem trying to set the record straight.

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, They Made Me a Fugitive is a gritty, bleak British film noir set in post WWII England, and most of the action takes place in the dark alleyways and smoky shadows of working-class London. The characters are well integrated with their surroundings, and although some of the action takes place outside of London, it seems inevitable that the final gripping scenes should take place in the labyrinth of London’s damp, grimy streets. The role of Clem Morgan is a change of pace for Trevor Howard, but he carries it off well, and there’s a rueful carelessness to his new criminal career that seems to be a consequence of surviving the war. Class divisions and resentments are woven subtly into the plot. Working class Narcy, who was born and bred in London, concludes that Clem’s criminal career is just an exercise in “slumming” and as a result Narcy fatally misjudges and underestimates Clem.

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Filed under British, Film Noir

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