Fritz Lang follows up his Fury (1936) with another wallop. You Only Live Once is full of stark and bitter moments, but these bite no more deeply than deftly wrought scenes of tenderness. The self-sacrificing love of the girl for the ex-convict reaches a high level of heart-tugging during their flight as fugitives from the law.
Lang’s penchant for mob scenes receives indulgence in only one sequence staged outside the courthouse after Henry Fonda has been found guilty of causing the death of six men in a holdup. On the spectaular side are the gas bombing of money-truck guards in a one-man robbery, the guile used by Fonda in getting out of the deathhouse, and the bartering which goes on between the escaped convict and the warden just inside the prison gates.
Sylvia Sidney counts strongly. Turning in telling support are Barton MacLane, as the public defender, who, despite his love for Sidney, befriends Fonda, and Jean Dixon, as Sidney’s critical but loyal sister.