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They Made Me a Fugitive

Posted by keith1942 on March 17, 2011

Clem, Ellen and Narcy


Gloria / Alliance, UK 1947. Black and white, 103 minutes.

Director – Cavalcanti. Producers – Nat Branstein, James Carter. Screenplay Noel Langley from the novel by Jackson Budd. Cinematography – Otto Heller. Editor – Margery Saunders.      Certificate A.

 Contains Plot information:

This is one film that seems to receive general agreement as an example of British film noir. It is adapted from a British crime novel and fits into a cycle of the ‘man on the run’. Apparently this is the prime focus of the original novel, but the film broadens the plot out to include the world of gangsters and spivs of the late 1940s. Clem (Trevor Howard) is an ex-RAF officer looking for excitement and easy money in the post-war world. Encouraged by his girlfriend Ellen (Eve Ashley) he falls in with Narcy (Griffith Jones) and his gang, who deal in both stolen and smuggled goods. However, Clem and Narcy fall out and Narcy engineers a set-up in which Clem is captured and sent to jail for the murder of a policeman. This later plot is part of the territory of the book. Narcy erstwhile girlfriend Sally (Sally Gray) visits Clem in prison. She tells him both about the set-up and that Ellen has been taken over by Narcy. Clem escapes and sets out to obtain his revenge.

The film has some parallels with an earlier crime movie They Drive By Night (1938). Some writers include that film in the cycle of British noir.  The sequences of Clem on the run are very similar to those experienced by Shorty, the protagonist in They Drive by Night. This may well relate to the originating books of the films, both example of British crime fiction.

They Made Me a Fugitive has en excellent and experienced production team. Alberto Cavalcanti, the director, is an important and interesting figure in British Cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. He was born in Brazil and then became involved in the avant garde cinema of 1920s Paris. After this he worked in the Griersonian documentary movement. Coalface (1935) and Night Mail (1936) are two of the distinctive documentaries in which he was involved. During the war years he worked at the Ealing Studios, directing what is the classic home front film of World War II Went the Day Well (1942).

The scriptwriter Noel Langley had worked in Hollywood before the UK: His major success there was the non-noir The Wizard of Oz (1939). The director of photography was Otto Heller. There is a gothic strand apparent in much of his film work, including the classics, The Queen of Spades (1948), The Ladykillers (1955) and Peeping Tom (1960).

They Made Me a Fugitive is predominantly a studio production. This gives the film a style closer to that of Hollywood noir than many British examples. There is the carefully controlled use of light and shadow and the overtly stylised look to many of the settings. However, it also has a number of distinctive British characteristics.

As in many Hollywood noirs Clem is a cynical, slightly embittered ex-serviceman. But he is also an ex-officer with the class distinctions that carries. The ex-serviceman who fails to adjust to the changed conditions of peace time is a common character in British films of this period, and they are frequently films that fit into the noir world or include very noir sequences.

Narcy is an example of a type particular to British films of the late 1940s, the spiv. This character hovers in the grey world between the legal and illegal. What marks him out from other criminal types is a self-conscious attention to his own style. Narcy, as his name implies, certainly has the style aspect of the spiv; however, he is more criminal than many, being involved at one point in dealing with drugs.

Another character where UK noir differs from Hollywood is in the absence of a fully formed femme fatale. In many film noirs she acts as a siren tempting the hero into the world of criminality and chaos. In British films like They Made Me a Fugitive the siren type woman is missing. Clem’s girlfriend Ellen is something that type, easily transferring her affection from Clem to Narcy, and with no compunction about their criminal activities. But she is not really a central character, disappearing from the plot once Clem is in prison. Sally is no femme fatale; she is more the ‘good-hearted woman’ exploited by men. And, as happens frequently in noir, the male characters knock her about. There is one fatal woman in the plot. During his escape Clem seeks refuge in a house and is confronted by the wife there, Mrs Fenshaw (Vida Hope). Recognising Clem as an escaped murderer she tries to persuade him to shoot her alcoholic husband. Clem is shocked and repulsed by this and leaves her to her fate. So her appearance is extremely brief, and apparently a hangover from the book.

Hollywood noir is noted both for its cynicism and its terse, evocative dialogue. British noir is more sardonic. So the scenes with the gang are peppered with references to religion and hymns. And when the upbeat resolution has Clem returning to jail but likely for an early release, Sally promises to ‘wait for him’. Clem response to this is ‘I was afraid of that’. The tone ties in with the tendency of British noir to the gothic. The gothic element is a major strand in British horror and there is an overlap between the horror and UK noir genres. The gothic involves gloomy settings, often-grotesque characters and an element of the supernatural or the fantastic. The key film from this point of view is the omnibus Dead of Night (1945, on which Cavalcanti was one of the directors).

The gothic feel is partly due to the cinematography of Otto Heller. It is there is some of the street scenes in the film. Most noticeably it is there in the gang’s base, a Funeral Undertaking. There are empty coffins on the ground floor and a marvellous R.I.P. sign on the roof. It is here that the final confrontation between Clem and Narcy takes place.

Whilst Heller contributed to several more British noirs Cavalcanti only contributed the part-noir For Them That Trespass (1949) before returning to his native Brazil. However, They Made Me Fugitive remains one of the key examples in this British genre. The cinematography is excellent, supported by fluid editing: Margery Saunders had worked under David Lean at Cineguild. The pace of the film drives the plot forward. And the cast is convincing, with only the occasional slip in accents. The film exemplifies the particular virtues found in our native noir.



2 Responses to “They Made Me a Fugitive”

  1. Stuart Watson said

    Some interesting and useful British film noire links

    Below are a few links and other things I found interesting. Hope you too find them useful.

    They Drive by Night
    A few weeks ago Keith showed a clip from the early British noir, “They Drive by Night”. This film is in the public domain and can be freely downloaded (and put on your own DVD if you know how) or watched online at:

    I can assure you that this web site is absolutely legitimate and you will not receive any viruses or other threats to your PC by accessing the film here.

    British Film Noir festival
    Manhattan’s ‘Film Forum theater’ held a British Film Noir festival in 2009 at which 44 films were shown. The Wall Street Journal produced a very good overview and it is at:

    Here is a link to the program for this 44 film festival:

    British film noir articles
    Quite a number of people in the class have come across the 2009 two part article on this topic in Films in Review written by the late William K. Everson. For those who might have missed these:

    My list (a partial listing)
    Being a natural fanatic for lists I have compiled a list of British noirs. Each time I came across a mention of a British noir I made a note of it. Here is a partial list covering the years 1945 to 1959:

    Murder in Reverse (1945 Montgomery Tully)
    Dead of Night (1945 Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton)
    Latin Quarter (1945 Vernon Sewell)
    Pink String and Ceiling Wax (1945 Robert Hamer)
    The Seventh Veil (1945 Compton Bennett)
    Bedelia (1945 Lance Comfort)
    Appointment With Crime (1946 John Harlow)
    Dual Alibi (1946 Alfred Travers)
    Wanted For Murder (1946 Lawrence Huntington)
    The Brothers (1947 David Macdonald)
    Dancing with Crime (1947 John Paddy Carstairs)
    Mine Own Executioner (1947 Anthony Kimmins)
    Odd Man Out (1947, Carol Reed)
    The Mark of Cain (1947 Brian Desmond Hurst)
    The Upturned Glass (1947 Lawrence Huntington)
    They Made Me A Fugitive (1947 Alberto Cavalcanti)
    It Always Rains On Sunday (1947 Robert Hamer)
    The October Man (1947 Roy Baker)
    Brighton Rock (1947 John Boulting)
    Daybreak (1947 Compton Bennett)
    Dear Murderer (1947 Arthur Crabtree)
    Frieda (1947 Basil Dearden)
    Temptation Harbour (1947 Lance Comfort)
    Corridor Of Mirrors (1948 Terence Young)
    Daughter of Darkness (1948 Lance Comfort)
    Good Time Girl (1948 Donald Macdonald)
    House of Darkness (1948 Oswald Mitchell)
    London Belongs to Me (1948 Sidney Gilliat)
    Night Beat (1948 Harold Huth)
    No Room at the Inn (1948 Daniel Birt)
    Obsession (1948, Edward Dmytryk)
    So Evil My Love (1948 Lewis Allen)
    This Was a Woman (1948 Tim Whelan)
    The Fallen Idol (1948 Carol Reed)
    Noose (1948, Edmond T. Gréville)
    No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948, St John L. Clowes)
    Now Barabbas (1949 Gordon Parry)
    Forbidden (1949 George King)
    The Third Man (1949 Carol Reed)
    The Small Back Room (1949 Michael Powell)
    For Them That Trespass (1949 Alberto Cavalcanti)
    Give Us This Day (1949 Edward Dmytryk)
    Double Confession (1950 Ken Annakin)
    Guilty Is My Shadow (1950 Roy Kellino)
    Seven Days To Noon (1950, John Boulting)
    Night And The City (1950 Jules Dassin)
    Waterfront (1950 Michael Anderson)
    The Woman in Question (1950 Anthony Asquith)
    The Woman with No Name (1950 Ladislao Vajda)
    Another Man’s Poison (1951 Irving Rapper)
    Cloudburst (1951 Francis Searle)
    The Clouded Yellow (1951 Ralph Thomas)
    The Dark Man (1951 Jeffrey Dell)
    Cosh Boys (1952 Lewis Gilbert)
    The Gambler and the Lady (1952 Patrick Jenkins, Sam Newfield)
    Hunted (1952 Charles Crichton)
    The Last Page (1952, Terence Fisher)
    The Long Memory (1952 Robert Hamer)
    Stolen Face (1952, Terence Fisher)
    Women of Twilight (1952 Gordon Parry)
    The Man Between (1953, Carol Reed)
    The Fake (1953 Godfrey Grayson)
    The Flanagan Boy (1953 Reginald Le Borg)
    36 Hours (1953 Montgomery Tully)
    Time Bomb (1953 Ted Tetzlaff)
    Eight O’Clock Walk (1954 Lance Comfort)
    The House Across the Lake (1954, Ken Hughes)
    The Good Die Young (1954, Lewis Gilbert)
    Five Days (1954 Montgomery Tully)
    Murder by Proxy (1954, Terence Fisher)
    Cast a Dark Shadow (1955, Lewis Gilbert)
    Yield To The Night (1956, J. Lee Thompson)
    Confession (1956 Ken Hughes)
    Intimate Stranger (1956 Alec C. Snowden, Joseph Losey)
    Tiger in the Smoke (1956 Roy Ward Baker)
    Wicked as They Come (1956 Ken Hughes)
    Cast a Dark Shadow (1957 Lewis Gilbert)
    Chase a Crooked Shadow (1957 Michael Anderson)
    Hell Drivers (1957, Cy Endfield)
    The Flesh Is Weak (1957 Don Chaffey)
    The Long Haul (1957, Ken Hughes)
    She Played With Fire (1957, Sidney Gilliat)
    Time Without Pity (1957, Josef Losey)
    Hidden Homicide (1958 Anthony Young)
    The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk (1958 Herbert Wilcox)
    Nowhere to Go (1958 Seth Holt, Basil Dearden)
    Violent Playground (1958 Basil Dearden)
    The Snorkel (1958, Guy Green)
    Blind Date (1959, Joseph Losey)
    Hell Is A City (1959, Val Guest)
    No Trees in the Street (1959 J. Lee Thompson)
    Subway in the Sky (1959 Muriel Box)
    The Rough and the Smooth (1959 Robert Siodmak)
    The End of the Line (1959 Charles Saunders)
    Tiger Bay (1959, J. Lee Thompson)

  2. […] I was puzzled as to how it got there. On reflection, I think it may be connected to Keith’s evening class on British Film Noir (read the comments on the posting). Anyway, it turned out to be an interesting find – despite a […]

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