Let Us Live (1939): John Brahm’s Crime Thriller, Starring Maureen O’Sullivan, Henry Fonda and Ralph Bellamy

John Brahm directed this crime thriller, starring Maureen O’Sullivan, Henry Fonda and Ralph Bellamy.

The script of the film was adapted from Joseph F. Dinneen‘s 1936 Harper’s Magazine story “Murder in Massachusetts,” about a real criminal case.

In 1934, two Boston taxi drivers, Brick (Fonda) and Joe (Alan Baxter) are identified by witnesses as the culprits who murdered a man in a theater robbery in Lynn, Massachusetts.

It seemed that the two would be found guilty, when the real killers were arrested for another crime and admitted to the Lynn robbery-murder.

To prove Brick and Joe’s innocence, Mary searches for the real culprits. But in the process, Brick is transformed from an idealistic youth into a man whose faith has been shattered.

On execution day, Mary and Everett find the real culprits, and the governor pardons Brick, but although his life has been spared, Brick’s faith in justice has been forever damaged.

Columbia Pictures had planned a bigger production, but after political pressure from the state of Massachusetts the film’s budget and publicity were scaled down, and it was released as B movie.

Henry Fonda, who gets second billing beneath O’Sullivan, would become a bona fide star the next year, after the release of John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, which garnered on him his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Fonda will play a similar role, the wrongly accused man, in Hitchcock’s 1957 film, The Wrong Man, also inspired by a factual case.


Running time 68 minutes

Cinematography (b/w): Lucien Ballard

Release: March 29, 1939


I am grateful to TCM for showing this rarely seen film on August 1, 2019, as part of a tribute to Fonda.