You Only Live Once (1937)

85-86 mins | Drama | 29 January 1937

Director:

Fritz Lang

Cinematographer:

Leon Shamroy

Editor:

Daniel Mandell

Production Designer:

Alexander Toluboff

Production Company:

Walter Wanger Productions, Inc.
Full page view
HISTORY

The working title of this film was Three Time Loser. This was Walter Wanger's first film for United Artists. According to a FD news item dated 1 Jul 1936, Spencer Tracy was originally scheduled to play a leading role along with Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda. NYT articles on the production stated that director Fritz Lang, who worked with writers Gene Towne and Graham Baker for four weeks on the script, "tried to get into it what he called social implications that were ultimately overruled, showing how the boy drifted into crime because of bad influences and unfortunate environment--instead the picture opens as the boy emerges from the prison, a stranger to the audience." According to NYT, once the script was the way he wanted it, Lang refused to allow the writers to alter it further. Correspondence in the Fritz Lang Papers at the AFI Library, including a letter from Towne to Lang, makes reference to a particular incident of conflict that occurred one night on the set. Towne, in a conciliatory tone, states in the letter that he realizes he and Lang are both "striving for perfection." In Sep 1936, FD reported that Towne and Baker traveled to San Francisco to gather background material, presumably having to do with the prison scenes.
       In an article dated 8 Nov 1936, during the production period, NYT noted that Wanger "is permitting [Lang] to do just as he pleases and assures him that no other hands will touch [the film] through the editing, a condition that did not exist for Lang at Metro." (Lang's previous film ...

More Less

The working title of this film was Three Time Loser. This was Walter Wanger's first film for United Artists. According to a FD news item dated 1 Jul 1936, Spencer Tracy was originally scheduled to play a leading role along with Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda. NYT articles on the production stated that director Fritz Lang, who worked with writers Gene Towne and Graham Baker for four weeks on the script, "tried to get into it what he called social implications that were ultimately overruled, showing how the boy drifted into crime because of bad influences and unfortunate environment--instead the picture opens as the boy emerges from the prison, a stranger to the audience." According to NYT, once the script was the way he wanted it, Lang refused to allow the writers to alter it further. Correspondence in the Fritz Lang Papers at the AFI Library, including a letter from Towne to Lang, makes reference to a particular incident of conflict that occurred one night on the set. Towne, in a conciliatory tone, states in the letter that he realizes he and Lang are both "striving for perfection." In Sep 1936, FD reported that Towne and Baker traveled to San Francisco to gather background material, presumably having to do with the prison scenes.
       In an article dated 8 Nov 1936, during the production period, NYT noted that Wanger "is permitting [Lang] to do just as he pleases and assures him that no other hands will touch [the film] through the editing, a condition that did not exist for Lang at Metro." (Lang's previous film Fury was produced by M-G-M [see above].) The article also pointed out that Lang "directs the setting up of the camera instead of leaving it largely to the photographer. Thus far the camera has not rested once on a stationary tripod, always being mounted on a crane, and when the characters aren't moving, the lens is." In a HR article during production, columnist W. R. Wilkerson, after seeing four uncut reels, stated, "We have never seen anything so beautiful or so effective." According to a HR news item, Wanger rented space at Educational to house a portion of the prison set which overflowed from the United Artists lot across the street. HR also states that the song "A Thousand Dreams of You," by Louis Alter and Paul Webster, was purchased for this film and that Henry Fonda recorded the song on 6 Nov 1936. Fonda's singing does not appear in the print viewed, but it is possible that the music from the song is included in the soundtrack. Actor Charles "Chic" Sale died on 7 Nov 1936 from lobar pneumonia. According to Var, he "gained world-wide fame by his delineation of rube character roles in vaudeville for many years, and more recently in pictures." A cast list in the Fritz Lang Papers at the USC Cinema-Television Library and Archive of the Performing Arts, gives the following credits for roles that were not in the print viewed: John Beck, Harry Bernard, Dorothea Wolbert (People in post office), Walter Soderling (Man in teller's cage), Frank Hammond (Lounger in store), Russ Powell (Sheriff in store). It is not known whether scenes with these actors were cut from the film, deleted from the print viewed, or not shot at all. According to the Lang Papers at AFI, the final cost of the film was $575,000, initial shooting took forty-four days, and a day each was needed for retakes, added scenes and inserts.
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, after the script was received by the PCA on 17 Aug 1936, PCA director Joseph Breen objected to the bank robbery scene, which, he noted, "will have to be very materially changed. The censor boards will not allow it. It likewise violates our Code, suggestively, at least, because of excessive brutality and gruesomeness." Specifically, Breen listed a litany of shots that were objectionable: "no flash of a man's face contorted with agony, no showing of a woman lying on the sidewalk, no hurling of bombs, no cop lying on the street, his face contorted in pain; no truck crushing out the life of a cop, no terrible screaming, no shots of bodies lying around, no figure of a little girl huddled in death, no shrieks." Breen also noted the similarity between the plot of this film and that of both We Who Are About to Die (see above) and The Turning Point (which was released as The Accusing Finger [see above]) in terms of circumstantial evidence convicting a criminal and the sympathetic treatment of a Catholic priest. PCA information states that the print they received on 31 Dec 1936 was ten reels in length and 8,099 feet; however, retakes, additional scenes and inserts were shot in Jan 1937, and the footage of the final film has not been determined.
       According to a telegram in the Lang Papers at AFI dated 26 Jan 1937, Wanger suggested to Lang, who had gone to New York to help with the opening there, that he assist the United Artists official in charge of dealing with the censor boards because certain censors were attempting to make cuts in the film. Lang himself cut the bank robbery scene for the state of Ohio censor board at the request of United Artists, but told them that Wanger was the one to decide if the film should be cut. Wanger later informed Lang that Ohio put the bank robbery scene back in. The Lang Papers at AFI contain a telegram in which David O. Selznick, praising the film, stated, "I think it one of the greatest directorial jobs I have ever seen." While reviews also gave the film high praise, Wanger, in a letter to Lang dated 8 Mar 1937, remarked, "I am afraid that the general reaction is that our picture is a little heavy for what they call 'entertainment' in this country." The story of this film was serialized in the Evening News beginning 1 Feb 1937. Extensive footage from the armored truck robbery was used in the 1945 Monogram production of Dillinger. That film contains some footage of the robbery not included in the print viewed of You Only Live Once and also shots from the earlier film of the armored truck being pulled out of the swamp and a long shot of the prison.

Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
6 Feb 1937
---
Daily Variety
23 Jan 1937
p. 3
Film Daily
1 Jul 1936
p. 7
Film Daily
30 Sep 1936
p. 15
Film Daily
21 Nov 1936
p. 8
Film Daily
27 Jan 1937
p. 8
Hollywood Reporter
26 Sep 1936
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1936
p. 15
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 1936
p. 7
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 1936
p. 4
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 1936
p. 4, 10
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1936
p. 5
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 1936
p. 2
Hollywood Reporter
11 Nov 1936
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 1936
p. 15
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1936
p. 10
Hollywood Reporter
24 Nov 1936
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 1937
p. 25
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 1937
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 1937
pp. 5-12
Life
25 Jan 1937
pp. 54-56
Motion Picture Daily
22 Jan 1937
p. 13
Motion Picture Herald
26 Dec 1936
p. 45
Motion Picture Herald
30 Jan 1937
p. 47, 48-49
New York Times
8 Nov 1936
---
New York Times
24 Jan 1937
---
New York Times
31 Jan 1937
---
New York Times
1 Feb 1937
p. 15
Variety
11 Nov 1936
---
Variety
3 Feb 1937
p. 14
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
STAND INS
Stand-in for Sylvia Sidney
Stand-in for Henry Fonda
Stand-in for Barton McLane
Joe Kenny
Stand-in for William Gargan
Stand-in for Jean Dixon
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Three Time Loser
Release Date:
29 January 1937
Production Date:
30 Sep--mid Nov 1936; retakes, additional scenes, inserts shot early Jan 1937
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
United Artists Corp.
24 January 1937
LP6914
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Lenses/Prints
Consolidated Film Industries, Inc.
Duration(in mins):
85-86
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
2944
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Eddie Taylor, a three-time convict, gets out of prison due to the influence of his fiancée Joan Graham's boss, public defender Stephen Whitney, who also is in love with Joan. Before he leaves, Eddie is warned by Warden Wheeler that a fourth conviction will result in a life sentence. Eddie and Jo marry, and at their honeymoon inn, they see two frogs next to each other in a pond. Eddie says that with frogs, if one dies, the other dies also, as they cannot live without the other, and Jo suggests that maybe they can see something in the other that no one else can see. That night, Jo and Eddie, who is skeptical that he will be accepted into society, are asked to leave their honeymoon room when the proprietors learn that he is an ex-con. Because of Stephen's influence, Eddie gets a truck driving job, but he is fired for being late after he meets Jo to show her a house they plan to buy. Needing to make the rest of the down payment by the end of the week, Eddie, although he is tempted to join his old bank robbing gang, desperately asks for his job back. When the unsympathetic boss won't even consider writing him a recommendation, Eddie slugs him. After his hat is found at the scene of an armored truck robbery in which six people, overcome with gas, have died, Eddie makes his way through the rain to the new house to see Jo before running away. She convinces him to remain and try to beat the rap, but he is found guilty and sentenced to die in ...

More Less

Eddie Taylor, a three-time convict, gets out of prison due to the influence of his fiancée Joan Graham's boss, public defender Stephen Whitney, who also is in love with Joan. Before he leaves, Eddie is warned by Warden Wheeler that a fourth conviction will result in a life sentence. Eddie and Jo marry, and at their honeymoon inn, they see two frogs next to each other in a pond. Eddie says that with frogs, if one dies, the other dies also, as they cannot live without the other, and Jo suggests that maybe they can see something in the other that no one else can see. That night, Jo and Eddie, who is skeptical that he will be accepted into society, are asked to leave their honeymoon room when the proprietors learn that he is an ex-con. Because of Stephen's influence, Eddie gets a truck driving job, but he is fired for being late after he meets Jo to show her a house they plan to buy. Needing to make the rest of the down payment by the end of the week, Eddie, although he is tempted to join his old bank robbing gang, desperately asks for his job back. When the unsympathetic boss won't even consider writing him a recommendation, Eddie slugs him. After his hat is found at the scene of an armored truck robbery in which six people, overcome with gas, have died, Eddie makes his way through the rain to the new house to see Jo before running away. She convinces him to remain and try to beat the rap, but he is found guilty and sentenced to die in the electric chair. When Jo visits him in prison shortly before he is scheduled to die, Eddie coldly asks her to get him a gun. Her attempt to bring him one sets off an alarm when she passed an "electric eye," and Father Dolan, the prison priest who had befriended Eddie during his earlier incarceration, gently takes the gun away. Jo asks Father Dolan to tell Eddie that she hasn't forgotten about the frogs. After Eddie finds a note hidden on the tray of his last supper stating that there is a gun hidden in the mattress of the isolation ward, he slashes his wrist with a tin cup and later causes a disturbance so that he will be put in that ward. Doctor Hill enters the ward with a guard, and Eddie, after finding the gun, takes Hill hostage. Using him as a shield, Eddie makes his way to the truck gate of the prison. Just then, a teletype message arrives for the warden ordering Eddie's pardon because his innocence has been established by federal agents. Eddie does not believe the warden when he tells him the news, and Father Dolan implores the warden not to open the gates for Eddie while he is carrying a gun, because he worries that Eddie will kill anyone on the outside who gets in his way. Dolan himself goes into the foggy yard with the teletype message. When Dolan refuses to give the order to open the gates unless Eddie hands over the gun, Eddie, no longer trusting anybody, shoots Dolan, whereupon Dolan, seeing that Eddie is about to shoot Hill, gives the order for the gates to be opened and dies. After he is wounded outside the gates, Eddie telephones Jo, who is just about to drink poison at the scheduled time of the execution. Stephen gives her money and his car, and she meets Eddie on a freight car. She steals medical supplies from a drugstore and, blaming herself for their predicament, refuses Eddie's plea that she leave him. After the couple is falsely blamed for robberies throughout the country, Jo has a baby and they travel North. At an auto court, Jo gives the baby to Stephen and her sister Bonnie to take care of until she sends for him and refuses Stephen's offer to send her to Havana while he tries to clear her name. A man at the auto court sees Jo buying cigarettes and calls the police. Near the border, Eddie and Jo come upon a roadblock, and officers wound both of them. They drive off the road, and Eddie carries Jo toward the border. Just after she dies in his arms, Eddie is shot. He kisses Jo and hears Father Dolan say, "You're free, Eddie; the gates are open," before he dies.

Less

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

The Wizard of Oz

The following dedication appears in the opening credits: “For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to ... >>

Gone with the Wind

[ Note from the Editors : the following information is based on contemporary news items, feature articles, reviews, interviews, memoranda and corporate records. Information obtained from modern sources ... >>

The Ten Commandments

The working title of this film was Prince of Egypt. Before the film’s onscreen credits, producer-director Cecil B. DeMille steps out from behind a curtain onto ... >>

Gaslight

In addition to the Beethoven sonata, a snippet from "Mattinati" by Ruggiero Leoncavella, as scored for piano by Robert Franklin and Charles Platte, is performed in the film. ... >>

Thirty Day Princess

A news item in DV indicates that although production was slated to begin on 28 Feb 1934, it was delayed due to the illness of William Collier ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.