30 January 2012
THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE (Dir. Alberto Cavalcanti, 1947, UK)
There are a lot of British films I haven’t seen simply because I’m always persuaded by the argument that they are not artistically profound or aesthetically accomplished as films from either France or America. Of course, such a view is totally false and rubbish. And the more I revisit examples from the past, the more clearer it becomes that over the years British cinema has produced films that not only stand up today but understand the subtleties of genre cinema. Director Alberto Cavalcanti’s They Made Me a Fugitive in fact belongs to three genre categories: the urban crime thriller, the gangster pic and film noir. Set in London after World War II, ex-RAF pilot Clem Morgan (Trevor Howard) becomes sucked into the criminal underworld when he takes on a job that involves narcotics. He is subsequently framed for the death of a police officer and ends up serving time in prison. Clem manages to escape from prison and sets on a narrative trajectory to avenge his wrongful imprisonment. Clem’s adversary is Narcy (Griffith Jones), a gangland crime boss who uses his funeral business as a cover to smuggle guns and drugs. Narcy is a brilliantly realised screen villain and exudes an outright nastiness linked to post war corruption and more significantly as a symbol of urban violence. Although Cavalcanti was never really an outsider especially considering his important role within the British documentary movement in the 1930s, his gaze is distinctly uncharacteristic when compared to British crime films of the post war era. His feel for locations particularly the streets of London are evocative and resolutely urban. Trevor Howard was just one of the many British film stars of the post war era and finding out more about the actor told me he refused a CBE and was predictably enough theatrically trained. The anti establishment side to Trevor Howard seems to be perfectly reflected in the way Clem is positioned as an outsider who does not fit into the new post war Britain. Trevor Howard is terrific as Clem and from the charisma he exudes it’s easy to see why he was such a popular British film star. Key to the film’s definite realism is the cinematographic contribution of the Czech D.O.P Otto Heller who was trained in the silent era. For a film made in the post war era, Cavalcanti and scriptwriter Noel Langley took a real gamble with the ending that concludes in an unconventionally downbeat manner with Clem attaining minimal personal closure. And it is in the bleak ending that They Made Me a Fugitive finds its purest expression of the film noir genre as the figure of the doomed male comes through with startling clarity.