The 1947 English noir "They Made Me a Fugitive," also known as "I Became a Criminal," comes out on a single-disc Blu-ray package featuring a breathtaking revenge tale set in an unsettled post-World War II England. Based on the novel "A Convict has Escaped" by Jackson Budd, this taut gangland thriller provides a no-holds-barred approach in exploring the seedy underbelly of London during a time when crime is on the upsurge. Director Alberto Cavalcanti crafts a tense and stylish piece as a wrongly accused man escapes from prison and sets out for retribution. This film stars Trevor Howard, Sally Gray, Griffith Jones, and Charles Farrell.
The story revolves around a disillusioned ex-serviceman who is drawn to the excitingly dangerous world of black marketeering. His psychopathic and sadistic gang boss betrays him and he gets framed up for a policeman's murder. After his escape from prison, his life ultimately takes a brutal turn.
Utilizing London's picturesque Soho district, this gripping black-and-white film lives up to the classic noir tradition that wraps up its wonderfully percussive storyline around a hazy, smoke-filled visual palette. It validates its distinctly vocal and uncompromising genre by infusing broodingly gritty and grungy images of pubs, alleys, and back bedrooms. Its shadowy cinematography drapes the shots with long noir shadows, which match the story's pitch-black look at a man's struggle to clear his name and get even. In between the deep shadows, the rich spectrum of grays dominating the picture visually reflects the material's gray themes and morality.
Setting off as a grim and uncompromising genre piece for its time, this intensely vengeful 1940s offering presents a poetic urban realism that is steeped in mood and moral ambiguities. Meanwhile, the surrealism in its set design and its stylistic use of light and shadow seem to have a deeply rooted appreciation for early film noir and German expressionist works. For such a dated film, the spot-on gradation of the light and dark elements seen on screen is quite impressive. Some mild contrast and brightness flickers appear alongside occasional white and black specks. Yet, no pervasive and ultimately distracting print and transfer issues plague the scenes.
This Blu-ray edition features a clean uncompressed monaural soundtrack that is free from overtly distracting age-related problems such as hisses, crackles, pops, and distortions. The vintage sound design aptly depicts the social consequences of such a violent and disturbing picture. This adequate audio mix reverently preserves the film's original material by making improvements that don't go beyond the available audio technology available for its time. Its limited music cues and narrow but still pleasing aural elements often remain crisp and engrossing.
Without available supplements other than a few trailers for other Kino Classics Blu-ray releases, this disc package becomes utterly disappointing. Also, the film could have benefited from a provision for English subtitles as the brisk accents and snappy gangster dialogue are sometimes quite difficult to understand by non-British viewers.
Deconstructing moral boundaries after the war, "They Made Me a Fugitive" serves as a tour de force insight into post-war angst, doubt, and disillusionment. Its multi-layered and well-delineated structure promotes a dramatically tight look at the down-and-dirty post-war existence of a man desperately searching for justice. Its superb direction, remarkable performances, and top-notch production values wield brilliantly stylish strokes that suitably lead to shifting narrative tempos, tense character interchanges, and a striking end.