You Only Live Once marks the second movie made by Fritz Lang in the U.S., a period known to be problematic in the director’s career, usually due to Hollywood’s producers. As Lang himself declared, “You Only Live Once was in my view a completely American film without any trace of Europe in it.” It’s considered to be Lang’s American equivalent of Destiny aka Der müde Tod(1921). A man trapped by fate is the main theme. Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) and Jo (Sylvia Sidney) are two fugitives trying to escape the arm of the law. Just before arriving at the Mexican border, which means freedom, Jo is recognized as she gets cigarettes from a slot machine. Using his sense of ambiguity of fate, Fritz Lang wanted the cigarettes to be “Lucky Strike”. This small ironic symbol and profound pun was not permitted by the producers on the grounds that advertising was not allowed in films.
“We may never find happiness”, says Jo during the escape, “but we have the right to live.”