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>
Robert Mitchum lobbied unsuccessfully for the role of Chicamaw. He told Nicholas Ray that he was very familiar with bank robbers and chain gangs, and even cut and dyed his hair black (in the original treatment Chicamaw was an Indian). He was rejected because he had recently been nominated for an Oscar, and a supporting role was considered unworthy for a rising star. See more »
Chicamaw's right eye is okay in a brief scene toward the end. Otherwise, the eye is opaque. See more »
[reading Bowie's letter to herself, as she walks back to her cabin]
"Hello girl. I'm gonna miss you, but I got to do it this way. I'll send for both of you when I can. No matter how long it takes, I got to see that kid. He's lucky. He'll have you to keep him squared around. I love you, Bowie."
[turns to look at Bowie's lifeless body on the ground, whispers]
I love 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 »
Nicholas Ray's first film is a fascinating, enveloping example of a filmmaker getting as much as he can out of so little. His film was made under the radar at RKO, despite having John Houseman as a producer. While also having a cast of really unknowns, he also uses it to his advantage to tell a small story very well. It's close to being one of the more 'text-book' examples, in the story's core, in the history of B-noir (film-noir that didn't get the hype of The Big Sleep or Out of the Past, star vehicles as much as unique thrillers). Bowie (Farley Granger, soon to be a Hitchcock stock-player) escapes from jail with the help of a couple of bank robbers who make him, as they say, "an investment." He meets a girl, Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell), daughter of a farmer they pass by, and he becomes friends with her, so to speak. She agrees to leave town with him and they also decide, almost on a whim, to get married (for twenty bucks no less). But soon, very soon, fall in love, however, despite the checkered and now notorious past catching up to Bowie.
Obviously, if you're looking for stellar, "method" acting, look elsewhere in the main performances. But they do have enough of a pull in their chemistry on screen- sometimes rough and spelling of their doomed relationship, other times tragically tender- to back up the best aspects to the film. The true pleasures in seeing They Live By Night are the details that Ray lays in the scenes, bits of life probably taken from the book the movie's based on. Godard once proclaimed that Ray "IS cinema". If this statement does hold validity to a degree, it shows for certain even in Ray's debut in the scenes with the secondary platers. Such as the wedding scene, or in general with the dialog in the script (i.e. "Between him and the chicken, I'd bet on the chicken", or "I'm the black sheep" "the only thing black about you are your eyelashes), or even with the strengths in Ray's camera as a simple storyteller. In a sense this cuts right to the chase with the theme of doomed youth, years before Rebel Without a Cause yet with the given desperation of the noir films.
While generally less seen than Ray's other films (though more attributable to being less available on video), it's likely one of his best; a powerful mix of the bittersweet tale of a criminal and his love that would decades later meld with other crime-film elements into a work like True Romance.
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