7.5/10
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They Live by Night (1948)

An escaped convict, injured during a robbery, falls in love with the woman who nurses him back to health, but their relationship seems doomed from the beginning.

Director:

Nicholas Ray

Writers:

Charles Schnee (screenplay), Nicholas Ray (adaptation) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Cathy O'Donnell ... Keechie
Farley Granger ... Bowie
Howard Da Silva ... Chickamaw
Jay C. Flippen ... T-Dub
Helen Craig Helen Craig ... Mattie
Will Wright ... Mobley
William Phipps ... Young Farmer
Ian Wolfe ... Hawkins
Harry Harvey ... Hagenheimer
Marie Bryant Marie Bryant ... Singer
Will Lee ... Jeweler
James Nolan ... Schreiber (as Jim Nolan)
Charles Meredith ... Comm. Hubbell
Teddy Infuhr Teddy Infuhr ... Alvin
Byron Foulger ... Lambert
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Storyline

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>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Desperate... Hunted... Yet so in love! This is their story... The one the screaming headlines never told! See more »


Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

5 November 1949 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Your Red Wagon See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$808,397 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The movie has a very unusual prologue before the opening credits showing a very romantic Granger and O'Donnell with subtitles. See more »

Goofs

The breeze on the bushes makes it obvious that a helicopter is shooting the opening scene. See more »

Quotes

Chickamaw: I'll take steps a block long. Anyone gets in my way, I'll stomp 'em!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits: This boy . . . and this girl . . . were never properly introduced to the world we live in . . . To tell their story . . . See more »

Connections

Edited into Histoire(s) du cinéma: Le contrôle de l'univers (1999) See more »

Soundtracks

The First Noel
(uncredited)
Traditional
Arranged by Leigh Harline
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A noir classic from Nicholas Ray
15 October 2014 | by dfranzen70See all my reviews

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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