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You Only Live Once is a 1937 American crime drama film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda. Considered an early film noir, the film was the second directed by Lang in the United States.[2] At least 15 minutes were trimmed from the original 100-minute version of the film due to its then unprecedented violence. Despite the absence of such scenes, the film is widely considered an early film noir classic.

You Only Live Once
Theatrical Film Poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Produced byWalter Wanger
Written byC. Graham Baker
Gene Towne
StarringSylvia Sidney
Henry Fonda
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyLeon Shamroy
Edited byDaniel Mandell
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • January 29, 1937 (1937-01-29)
Running time
86 minutes
Box office$589,503[1]


Plot synopsisEdit

Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) is an ex-convict who cannot get a break after being released from prison. He marries but is then wrongly convicted for a bank robbery in which six people are killed. He is sentenced to death by electrocution. On the eve of his execution a gun smuggled into the execution area enables him to escape. During the escape he unintentionally kills the prison chaplain. The chaplain was trying to convince Eddie that he has had a last minute pardon. This is because the body of the guilty bank robber and the getaway vehicle with the stolen money have just been recovered from a lake. Eddie and his pregnant wife Joan go on the lam, and are blamed for every crime in the area. The baby is born and is left with Stephen, the public defender, the wife's former employer. Eddie and Joan then get ambushed by the police.



The film recorded a loss of $48,045.[1]


Radio adaptationEdit

You Only Live Once was presented on Philip Morris Playhouse November 28, 1941. The adaptation starred Burgess Meredith.

Cultural impactEdit

James Baldwin writes fondly about the film in The Devil Finds Work, arguing that Lang "never succeeded quite so brilliantly again."


  1. ^ a b c Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p437
  2. ^ Fritz Lang on IMDb

External linksEdit