They Made Me a Fugitive (Kino), the 1947 crime thriller from director Alberto Cavalcanti, is probably the closest the British cinema ever came to creating a true film noir. Trevor Howard, most famous for much more civilized turns in films like “Brief Encounter” and “The Third Man,” delivers one of his most dynamic performances as an ex-serviceman who, bored with civilian life, joins a gang of black marketeers for excitement and money. An edge of desperation and doom sinks into the film as the once jovial heist man is framed for murder and sent up the river, where he becomes bitter and vengeful and breaks prison to take revenge.
Cavalcanti’s British underworld is a suitably seedy atmosphere of shadowy alleys, foggy waterfront dives, and claustrophobic underground clubs, and he matches the dark urban underworld setting with taut direction and tight editing. Underneath this stark style bubbles the true psychosis of noir, characters driven by anger, fear, opportunism, and just plain sadism. The hard edged and unexpectedly violent thriller is one of the most impressive and understated British crime films.