Let Us Live


1h 8m 1939
Let Us Live

Brief Synopsis

Two wrongly convicted men are sentenced to death.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Release Date
Feb 29, 1939
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp. of California, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp. of California, Ltd.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 8m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Synopsis

On the eve of his marriage to waitress Mary Roberts, taxi driver "Brick" Tennant is questioned as a murder suspect along with 120 other drivers, because a taxi served as the getaway car in a theater robbery in which a man was killed. When one of the witnesses swears that Brick and his hapless friend, Joe Linden, were the killers, the district attorney, eager for a conviction, brings the taxi drivers to trial even though Brick and Mary were in a church when the robbery took place. Although innocent, Brick and Joe are found guilty and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Mary, however, refuses to give up hope, and when she unearths a bullet from another robbery that was shot from the murder weapon, she convinces Lieutenant Everett of the police department that the wrong men have been convicted. After the district attorney refuses a stay of execution, Everett, now suspended from the force, joins Mary in her search for the high-speed cab that was driven in the hold-up. As the time of his execution approaches, Brick is transformed from an idealistic youth into a man whose faith in the system has been shattered. On the day of the execution, Mary and Everett finally find the cab, which leads them to the real murderers. The governor then pardons Brick, but although his life has been spared, his faith can never be repaired.

Cast

Maureen O'sullivan

Mary Roberts

Henry Fonda

"Brick" Tennant

Ralph Bellamy

Lieutenant Everett

Alan Baxter

Joe Linden

Stanley Ridges

District Attorney

Henry Kolker

Chief of police

Peter Lynn

Joe Taylor

George Douglas

Editor Walsh

Philip Trent

Frank Burke

Martin Spellman

Jimmy Dugan

Charles Trowbridge

Judge

Dick Elliott

Rotarian juror

Alec Craig

Bookkeeper juror

Harry Holman

Businessman juror

Byron Foulger

Defense attorney

Arthur Loft

Warden

Emmett Vogan

Bank cashier

Harry Bradley

Driver

Joe De Stefani

Dentist juror

Sharon Lewis

Buyer juror

Betty Farrington

Mother juror

Al Herman

Garage attendant juror

Billy Lee

Public accountant juror

Jessie Perry

Head of P. T. A. juror

Phil Dunham

Nervous man juror

Harry Bailey

Drug clerk juror

John Qualen

Dan

Ralph Remley

Bill Henderson

Joe King

Commissioner Cavanaugh

William V. Mong

Joe Taylor, Sr.

Forrester Harvey

Alf

Ian Maclaren

Priest

Clarence Wilson

Lunch room proprietor

Ray Walker

Fred Robinson

Charles Lane

Auto salesman

Beatrice Curtis

Waitress

Eddie Laughton

Cab driver

Frank Yaconelli

Cab driver

Marshall Ruth

Cab driver

Ann Doran

Secretary juror

Dick Curtis

First cell mate

Ted Oliver

Detective

Monte Vandergrift

Detective

Dick Jensen

Detective

Carl Faulkner

Detective

James Blaine

Detective

Herbert Heywood

Theater watchman

Walter Soderling

Janitor

Billy Wayne

Electrician

Ethel Wales

Ella

Sam Mcdaniel

Mose

Mary Foy

Maggie

Jack Clifford

Police sergeant

Herbert Ashley

Sam

James Burtis

Mike

Norman Ainsley

Hotel clerk

Ted Thompson

Assistant manager

Pat O'malley

Police captain

Tom Maloney

Bailiff

Chuck Hamilton

Bailiff

Milt Kibbee

Hardware store proprietor

Philip Morris

Cop

Lee Prather

Cop

Lee Phelps

Cop

Robert Homans

Cop

Dick Rush

Cop

Bruce Mitchell

Cop

Mike Pat Donovan

Cop

Eric Alden

Cop

Robert Walker

Cop

Earl Askam

Prison guard

William H. Royle

Prison guard

Josef Forte

Prison doctor

Kernan Cripps

Desk sergeant

Ed Peil Sr.

Bank attendant

Arthur Stuart Hull

Crandall

Wright Kramer

Judge

Charles Mcavoy

Jail guard

George Chesebro

Jail guard

Sammy Blum

Chef

Harry Bernard

Auto show watchman

Eddie Hearn

Carson

Eddie Cobb

Blair

Frank Fanning

Detective Brown

Harry Hollingsworth

Detective Stone

Brady Kline

Detective Hennessey

Charles Colean

Projectionist

Tom London

Police sergeant

Lillian West

District attorney's secretary

Lee Shumway

Warden's attendant

George Taylor

Cell mate #2

Kit Guard

Cell mate #7

Ernie Adams

Mechanic

Stanley Mack

Cy Ring

Fay Holderness

Ernie Shield

Gus Reed

Dick Cramer

Joe Bernard

Ray Stewart

Bessie Wade

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Release Date
Feb 29, 1939
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp. of California, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp. of California, Ltd.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 8m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Articles

Let Us Live


The idea that there are two kinds of justice in the United States – one for the rich and quite another for the poor – is not a new one. Neither is the plot device of the innocent man falsely accused. Alfred Hitchcock would base most of his films on this theme, including The Wrong Man (1956) starring Henry Fonda. For Fonda, it must have felt like déjà vu, as he had starred in a similar film Let Us Live! (1939), nearly twenty years before.

Carlos Clarens in his book Crime Movies wrote that Let Us Live! was "full of glowingly photographed prison walls, and it is obvious that [director John] Brahm's writers had closely studied [fellow German director Fritz] Lang's films: there was even a Langian 'miracle' – a bullet lodged in an apple – to send an upright police detective (Ralph Bellamy) in search of the real culprit. The film was all the more derivative for the typecasting of Henry Fonda as one of two cabdrivers wrongly accused of murder – Fonda alone in Hollywood, seemed capable of convincingly delivering lines like, "We haven't a chance, us little people" and "The law can't admit being wrong." The last line might explain why Let Us Live! was ultimately trimmed and released as a B-picture. The script (by Anthony Veiller and Allen Rivkin) was adapted from a magazine story, "Murder in Massachusetts" written by Joseph Dinneen and published in Harper's in March 1936. Dinneen's story was too true to be good for the legal image of Massachusetts. Two years earlier, two Boston taxi drivers had been identified by seven of eight witnesses as participants in a theater holdup in which a bill poster had been killed. The two men were indicted for murder and were heading for a certain conviction when, in the third week of their trial, two notorious gangsters, Irving and Murton Millen, were arrested in New York and admitted to the robbery among other crimes. The cabbies were exonerated, and the Millen brothers and an accomplice were executed in 1935."

The screen rights to Let Us Live! had originally been purchased by Samuel Goldwyn for a film to star James Cagney, but the then governor of Massachusetts, James M. Curley, had filed suit against both Harper's and writer Dinneen for libel. This was due to a follow-up article Dinneen had written for the magazine which hinted at corruption by both the police and the district attorney's office and undue influence being placed on witnesses by both departments in order to convict the cabbies. As a result, Goldwyn was afraid to touch such a controversial topic. The same could not be said of Columbia studio head Harry Cohn, although, as Clarens wrote, "the state of Massachusetts advised Harry Cohn's lawyers at Columbia that the studio refrain from suggesting that these events, although a matter of public record, had taken place in a specific community. The state further advised that it would bring legal action against Columbia if the studio implied that the Boston police had acted rashly or that the courts had been inefficient. Among studio heads, Cohn had the most reason to avoid a legal fight which would have brought certain dealings into the open. Let Us Live! was not shelved, but it became a B-picture overnight."

Variety was not overly impressed with the film, stating it had "limited appeal for those who like to delve into serious problems of our present legal machinery and the handicaps which persons of moderate means face when proving innocence of criminal charges. As a preachment, it serves a purpose, but falls short of providing sufficient audience appeal for general entertainment. [...] What merit it has is the result of deft direction and capable performances by Miss O'Sullivan and Fonda. Story is slow and rather ponderous, with ending obvious as soon as Fonda is picked up as suspect."

Frank S. Nugent praised the film in his New York Times review on March 30, 1939, calling it "a taut and strongly played drama which Columbia presented at the Globe yesterday with such anonymity that the credits refer only to "a story by Joseph F. Dinneen," not even mentioning its title, "Murder in Massachusetts." The unofficial explanation from Hollywood was that the Commonwealth preferred not to be reminded of its near-miscarriage of justice and had threatened action of a vague but unpleasant nature if the film so much as implied any inefficiency or harshness to its police, its prosecutor or its courts in the case of the unfortunate cabbies. [...] At this late date it could hardly be called a daring theme or an indictment of anything or anyone-except, usually, of the script-writers and players for the routine treatment the plot normally gets. But Let Us Live! is a notable exception. Under the goad of John Brahm's forceful and eloquent direction, it explores its familiar theme with anything but contempt. Mr. Brahm is as alert as any director of Class B melodrama to his opportunities for swift and exciting action, to the inherent suspense in a death-house deadline when a clock is ticking away the swift last hours of an innocent man's life, to the frenzy of the condemned's sweetheart as she tries to convince officialdom that justice has not been done. But, instead of stopping there, Mr. Brahm has underscored his physical drama with the psychological. What, after all, must happen to a man who finds himself victimized by a legal machine which he always had regarded as his protector? That is the essence of Mr. Brahm's drama, the quality which raises it above the death-house thriller class and gives it dignity and maturity."

"Although it is the film's direction that has made it good, if not great, Mr. Brahm must share his credit with Allen Rivkin and Anthony Veiller for a splendidly turned script, and to Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Sullivan, Ralph Bellamy, Alan Baxter and the others for the incisive performances all good directors seem able to extract from their players. Let Us Live! is not exactly a novel theme, but it is news when so old a theme has been handled so well."

Producer: William Perlberg
Director: John Brahm
Screenplay: Allen Rivkin, Anthony Veiller
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Film Editing: Al Clark
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Music: Karol Rathaus
Cast: Maureen O'Sullivan (Mary Roberts), Henry Fonda (Brick Tennant), Ralph Bellamy (Lt. Everett), Alan Baxter (Joe Lindon), Stanley Ridges (District Attorney), Henry Kolker (Chief of Police).
BW-69m.

by Lorraine LoBianco

Sources:
Crime Movies by Carlos Clarens
Variety February 15, 1939
The New York Times March 30, 1939
The Internet Movie Database
Let Us Live

Let Us Live

The idea that there are two kinds of justice in the United States – one for the rich and quite another for the poor – is not a new one. Neither is the plot device of the innocent man falsely accused. Alfred Hitchcock would base most of his films on this theme, including The Wrong Man (1956) starring Henry Fonda. For Fonda, it must have felt like déjà vu, as he had starred in a similar film Let Us Live! (1939), nearly twenty years before. Carlos Clarens in his book Crime Movies wrote that Let Us Live! was "full of glowingly photographed prison walls, and it is obvious that [director John] Brahm's writers had closely studied [fellow German director Fritz] Lang's films: there was even a Langian 'miracle' – a bullet lodged in an apple – to send an upright police detective (Ralph Bellamy) in search of the real culprit. The film was all the more derivative for the typecasting of Henry Fonda as one of two cabdrivers wrongly accused of murder – Fonda alone in Hollywood, seemed capable of convincingly delivering lines like, "We haven't a chance, us little people" and "The law can't admit being wrong." The last line might explain why Let Us Live! was ultimately trimmed and released as a B-picture. The script (by Anthony Veiller and Allen Rivkin) was adapted from a magazine story, "Murder in Massachusetts" written by Joseph Dinneen and published in Harper's in March 1936. Dinneen's story was too true to be good for the legal image of Massachusetts. Two years earlier, two Boston taxi drivers had been identified by seven of eight witnesses as participants in a theater holdup in which a bill poster had been killed. The two men were indicted for murder and were heading for a certain conviction when, in the third week of their trial, two notorious gangsters, Irving and Murton Millen, were arrested in New York and admitted to the robbery among other crimes. The cabbies were exonerated, and the Millen brothers and an accomplice were executed in 1935." The screen rights to Let Us Live! had originally been purchased by Samuel Goldwyn for a film to star James Cagney, but the then governor of Massachusetts, James M. Curley, had filed suit against both Harper's and writer Dinneen for libel. This was due to a follow-up article Dinneen had written for the magazine which hinted at corruption by both the police and the district attorney's office and undue influence being placed on witnesses by both departments in order to convict the cabbies. As a result, Goldwyn was afraid to touch such a controversial topic. The same could not be said of Columbia studio head Harry Cohn, although, as Clarens wrote, "the state of Massachusetts advised Harry Cohn's lawyers at Columbia that the studio refrain from suggesting that these events, although a matter of public record, had taken place in a specific community. The state further advised that it would bring legal action against Columbia if the studio implied that the Boston police had acted rashly or that the courts had been inefficient. Among studio heads, Cohn had the most reason to avoid a legal fight which would have brought certain dealings into the open. Let Us Live! was not shelved, but it became a B-picture overnight." Variety was not overly impressed with the film, stating it had "limited appeal for those who like to delve into serious problems of our present legal machinery and the handicaps which persons of moderate means face when proving innocence of criminal charges. As a preachment, it serves a purpose, but falls short of providing sufficient audience appeal for general entertainment. [...] What merit it has is the result of deft direction and capable performances by Miss O'Sullivan and Fonda. Story is slow and rather ponderous, with ending obvious as soon as Fonda is picked up as suspect." Frank S. Nugent praised the film in his New York Times review on March 30, 1939, calling it "a taut and strongly played drama which Columbia presented at the Globe yesterday with such anonymity that the credits refer only to "a story by Joseph F. Dinneen," not even mentioning its title, "Murder in Massachusetts." The unofficial explanation from Hollywood was that the Commonwealth preferred not to be reminded of its near-miscarriage of justice and had threatened action of a vague but unpleasant nature if the film so much as implied any inefficiency or harshness to its police, its prosecutor or its courts in the case of the unfortunate cabbies. [...] At this late date it could hardly be called a daring theme or an indictment of anything or anyone-except, usually, of the script-writers and players for the routine treatment the plot normally gets. But Let Us Live! is a notable exception. Under the goad of John Brahm's forceful and eloquent direction, it explores its familiar theme with anything but contempt. Mr. Brahm is as alert as any director of Class B melodrama to his opportunities for swift and exciting action, to the inherent suspense in a death-house deadline when a clock is ticking away the swift last hours of an innocent man's life, to the frenzy of the condemned's sweetheart as she tries to convince officialdom that justice has not been done. But, instead of stopping there, Mr. Brahm has underscored his physical drama with the psychological. What, after all, must happen to a man who finds himself victimized by a legal machine which he always had regarded as his protector? That is the essence of Mr. Brahm's drama, the quality which raises it above the death-house thriller class and gives it dignity and maturity." "Although it is the film's direction that has made it good, if not great, Mr. Brahm must share his credit with Allen Rivkin and Anthony Veiller for a splendidly turned script, and to Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Sullivan, Ralph Bellamy, Alan Baxter and the others for the incisive performances all good directors seem able to extract from their players. Let Us Live! is not exactly a novel theme, but it is news when so old a theme has been handled so well." Producer: William Perlberg Director: John Brahm Screenplay: Allen Rivkin, Anthony Veiller Cinematography: Lucien Ballard Film Editing: Al Clark Art Direction: Lionel Banks Music: Karol Rathaus Cast: Maureen O'Sullivan (Mary Roberts), Henry Fonda (Brick Tennant), Ralph Bellamy (Lt. Everett), Alan Baxter (Joe Lindon), Stanley Ridges (District Attorney), Henry Kolker (Chief of Police). BW-69m. by Lorraine LoBianco Sources: Crime Movies by Carlos Clarens Variety February 15, 1939 The New York Times March 30, 1939 The Internet Movie Database

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to the Variety review, this film was based on a 1932 incident in which two Boston cab drivers were wrongly accused of the murder of a theater employee. Hollywood Reporter news items add Brandon Tynan, James Burton and Landers Stevens to the cast, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Let Us Live marked the final feature film appearance of character actor, director and writer William V. Mong (1875-1940), who began his career in early silent films.