You Only Live Once is surely one of the great works of cinema. I had a discussion with a friend on Facebook about whether Fury was superior but I haven’t seen that for a decade. I remember I liked this more not for its sentimentality but for its sentiment. The thank you for loving me line is so beautiful, and frankly doesn’t seem excessive at all considering the circumstances.
Visually, it’s astonishing, with Lang’s typical control of camera and expressionist lighting that, particularly in the prison scenes, convey how Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) is imprisoned not only physically but psychically. The play with sound and silence in last dinner scene in jail, so suspenseful and expressive. The frog scene is a superb instance of how editing functions with images and rhythm to allegorise feeling: that gorgeous bit with the water rippling and then concretising the moment as it stops, and then cutting at precise moments to evoke what the characters feel for each other. Gorgeous. And the performances by Silvia Sydney as Joan and Henry Fonda as Eddie are of great power and delicacy.
I wondered why with all its shadows, it’s darkness, the expressionist lighting etc. it isn’t counted amongst noir. My conclusion — apart from it being 30s –is that the couple here — surely two of the greatest performances in American cinema — are in love in an almost ideal way, no kink or deviancy — though theirs is clearly a relationship of the body as well as the mind. Heat of body as well as soul, but all in a socially-sanctified way. Also their ejection from the mainstream is a tragedy, not a chosen pathway due to confusion or trauma. Still as V.F. Perkins’ great piece on the film explains, even their relationship is more complex than evident at first glance:
I enclose the’ thank you for loving me ‘ scene here only because it’s so unusual an expression then and so current now. If I was only looking for great, I might have chosen the frog scene, or Fonda’s rejection of Sidney in jail. It’s a film of brilliant scenes, nothing is off. It’s a film I shall return to. In the meantime: