A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
In the '40s, three prisoners flee from a state prison farm in Mississippi. Among them is 23-years-young Bowie, who spent the last seven years in prison and now hopes to be able to prove his innocence or retire to a home in the mountains and live in peace together with his new love, Keechie. But his criminal companions persuade him to participate in several heists, and soon the police believe him to be their leader and go after "Bowie the Kid" harder than ever.Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
The new Cadillac is seen to be covered with a tarpaulin. When the camera swings back to it, the tarpaulin has vanished. See more »
You said you weren't here when the pipes bust. Where were you?
[Keechie gives no response]
I asked you where you were!
Seein' a doctor.
The baby we're gonna have.
Well, that's just fine. That's all I need!
You don't see me knittin' anything, do you?
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Opening credits: This boy . . . and this girl . . . were never properly introduced to the world we live in . . . To tell their story . . . See more »
In Nicholas Ray's seminal crime drama They Live by Night, injured bank robber Bowie (Farley Granger) falls for the independent young rancher's daughter Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell), and the two use Bowie's ill-gotten gains to distance themselves from the authorities and the rest of Bowie's gang.
Bowie is the gang's wheelman, and when he's injured during a getaway, it's his newfound companion Keechie who gets to nurse him back to health while the others - Chickamaw (Howard da Silva) and T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen) - make themselves scarce. Keechie doesn't think much of her patient and his lifestyle. And make no mistake, Bowie feels little shame in his role, which has included murder. No bright-eyed neophyte, he. But there's something about Keechie, her deliberate movements, her slinky smile, that really appeals to Bowie, and the two slowly fall for each other.
The first shot by Ray (in his directorial debut) is an early helicopter angle, as the bad boys speed down a rural road as they escape from jail. In fact, it's the first helicopter action shot, as previous uses of the vehicle were simply to shoot landscapes to set a scene. In any event, a tire is blown and the gang heads toward a farmhouse, where they meet farmer Mobley (Will Wright) and his daughter Keechie. There's chemistry just dripping between Granger and O'Donnell; both seem more naive than they truly are, and although each pretends to dislike the other, it's not long before them old hormones come a-knocking, although not too much, because this is 1948, after all, and the movie's set some 15 years earlier. On the run they go! Ray's first feature is strikingly shot. Aside from that iconic opening helicopter shot, there's also a great little scene of the gang pulling off a job - from Bowie's perspective as the driver. A bystander tries to engage Bowie in conversation just as T-Dub and Chickamaw run out of the building, earning him a rough shove to the face. That's noir film for you. Watch your face! O'Donnell and Granger work very well together (no surprise, since the latter recommended the former for the role), although I think most of the appeal comes from O'Donnell, who turns in a graceful, passionate, and unique performance as the trusting Keechie. Granger, appearing in only his third film (with Rope on the horizon) was never really that good of an actor, and so many of his lines are delivered in an almost nonchalant monotone that you wonder if some lessons weren't in his immediate future. At least no one can accuse him of hamming it up.
And do you know who produced this masterpiece? None other than the great John Houseman, who most of us remember from his old Smith-Barney commercials but who was also one of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre performers back in the day. The man knew talent, and he picked Nicholas Ray to direct without input from the studio. It's to Houseman's credit that the movie's as good as it is - which is to say, a true noir classic. There may not be a Bonnie and Clyde ending, but we're not talking about a Disney finale, either. Bonus cameo - the jeweler who sells Bowie a watch is played by none other than Will Lee. Yes, the same Will Lee who would go on to play Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street.
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