They Live by Night (1948) Poster

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Actually quite good
Patsy-915 June 1999
An early, nearly-forgotten picture from the director of "Rebel Without a Cause", this story of fugitive love (though not in the same was as "Bonnie and Clyde" or "Gun Crazy") is in its own right a rather accomplished picture.

Farley Granger is best remembered for his Hitchcock roles, and he gives a good, multifaceted performance. It's clear from the get-go that despite the company he keeps and despite his time in prison, he's really a scared, uncertain kid. Cathy O'Donnell is all but forgotten, but here gives a nearly Oscar-calibre performance, extremely convincing and appealing as his naive bride.

The film is also notable for early use of helicopter shots of cars, and for its refusal to vilify either the criminals or the cops (one of the policemen admits that "the system failed him", an astonishing statement for 1949).

All in all, a film which deserves to be resurrected from its obscurity.
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lauloi10 August 2001
Nicholas Ray is mostly known for his work, "Rebel WIthout a Cause", but his first work, a dazzling, moving (if sentimental) film noir, is far better. Unjustly out-of-print, "They Live By Night" may have its minor flaws, but the stark, beautiful camerawork, stolid dialogue and (perhaps above all) exquisite performances make up for it. It has none of the often phony emotions and annoying characters that are found in "Rebel Without a Cause."

Bowie, the innocent, sympathetic outlaw hero of "They Live By Night" is a wonderfully drawn. By no means is he the cliched nice-guy-in-a-bad-situation; though essentially good-hearted, he can be frighteningly callous at times. Farley Granger, working with excellent direction, he gives us glimpses of a violent yet passionate nature, struggling against the condemnation of society. Cathy O'Donnell is also entrancingly tender, yet we can vaguely see that her character is trapped in a hopeless relationship with Bowie. She is also sadly obscure, which plainly has nothing to do with her talent.

The one significant fault of this film is over-restraint. At times, Ray's understated direction can be extremely effective, such as when he is dealing with violence. But at other times the characters' (and especially Keechie's) emotions are so tightly controlled that some of the impact on the audience is lost. Still, despite a few faults, "They Live By Night" is a wonderful film, and if ever you can find it, sell your hair but GET IT!!!
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Noir Tales Of 'Keechie,' 'T-Dub, "Chickamaw' And Other Common Names
ccthemovieman-128 December 2007
This was the first pairing of Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell and it was successful enough so that the two worked together two years later in "Side Street. I heard that this movie was sort of a early "Bonnie and Clyde," and it was, but only to a degree.

Granger and O'Donnell didn't really dominate the screen until after 40 minutes but after that, it was mostly them. Frankly, I enjoyed the first 40 minutes best when Howard da Silva and J.C. Flippen shared the screen time. They were great film noir characters in this movie (and they did come back in the second half, livening up the film again.) I liked their names in here: da Silva was "Chicamaw." and Flippen was "T-Dub." In most of the second half of this movie, it went from a noir to a romance. but that's not surprising knowing the director was Nicholas Ray.

This is the best I've ever seen O'Donnell, who never impressed me much but she's impressive here with a fine performance and a nice '40s look to her. She had a strange character name, too: "Keechie." Granger ("Arthur Bowers") does a nice job, too. For an uneducated thug, he sure comes across as a really nice guy. It's kinda of weird. He reminded me of John Dall in "Gun Crazy" (1950). Some of the camera-work also reminded me of "Gun Crazy."

However, one major detail should be noted: unlike "Gun Crazy" and "Bonnie & Clyde," the two lovers in this movie did NOT rob banks together. O'Donnell's character never gets involved in any crime, so comparing this film to those doesn't really fit. Most of "Keechie's" time is spent living in a remote cabin lodge, and suggesting periodically to her husband that he go straight - a far cry from the women Peggy Cummins and Faye Dunaway played.

Like a lot of good film noirs, this also has some very good supporting actors who play weird people, and say weird things. Some of the dialogue in this movie is fascinating because it's so odd. One example is the guy who marries the couple for $20. Another is Keechie's father.

This is a odd little "B" noir/melodrama and definitely one that film noir fans should check out. Romantics will like it, too. I'm glad it is now available on disc, as part of the Film Noir Classics Collection Volume 4.
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a classic "B-noir" film with heart and style
Quinoa198413 May 2006
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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THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (Nicholas Ray, 1948) ***1/2
Bunuel197628 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is undoubtedly one of the finest directorial debuts in American cinema, with its ground-breaking use of helicopter shots to depict the escaping convicts instantly alerting one to a film-maker to watch – even if, as it turned out, some of his next assignments were not as rewarding.

Most of the cast members have arguably career-best roles here: O'Donnell – who died of cancer at age 46 and got married to William Wyler's producer brother Robert some months before this film's release – is a beguiling presence as the vulnerable, slightly tomboyish garage attendant who has never had a boyfriend and doesn't know how to kiss but, after a false start, she instinctively hitches up with doomed runaway convict Granger. The latter, then, had a great run of pictures during the early stages of his career – including leading roles for Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Mann and Luchino Visconti – but his career petered out after the mid-50s; still, his brooding, sensitive portrayal of a rebellious youngster here would soon prove very influential, particularly on the likes of James Dean (who, of course, would essay his most iconic role in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE [1955] for Nicholas Ray himself).

However, the supporting players are equally impressive: Howard Da Silva as the boozing, trigger-happy and one-eyed leader of the gang; Jay C. Flippen as the more level-headed of the two hardened bandits who make up the rest of Bowie's gang, a characterization far removed from the happy-go-lucky sidekick he often played in John Wayne movies; Helen Craig as Flippen's two-timing sister-in-law who is more concerned with springing her own hubby out of jail, even if it means betraying Bowie to the authorities; Will Wright as O'Donnell's alcoholic weakling of a father; and, especially, reptilian Ian Wolfe as a 24-hour service Justice of the Peace – who has all the right "connections" for the perfect wedding ceremony and honeymoon, so long as the customers are able to pay for the comforts provided.

While there is perhaps an excess of romanticism and verbosity in the script itself (the expected action is largely downplayed and the unsuccessful second robbery is not even shown), the tender portrayal of the two lovers on the run is what gives this film its heart and sets it apart from other noirs of the era – compare, for example, Joseph H. Lewis' slightly superior GUN CRAZY (1950) for a different (i.e. more nihilistic) approach to similar material. In this context, therefore, I found the use of hard-boiled dialogue in THEY LIVE BY NIGHT a bit surprising. Incidentally, the film was remade by none other than Robert Altman in 1974 as THIEVES LIKE US, the name of Edward Anderson's original novel; the latter is a pretty good effort in its own right, but hardly one of the director's major works – and, in retrospect, a lesser achievement than Ray's version.
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tender crime drama
RanchoTuVu2 December 2004
Farley Granger plays Bowie, a young con who escapes from the pen with two hardened criminals, Chicamaw and T-Dub played respectively by Howard Da Silva and Jay C Flippen in They Live By Night, an aptly titled film if there ever was one. Da Silva and Flippen are both terrific here, as is Cathy O'Donnel as Keechie, Bowie's equally young girlfriend. The movie revolves around the relationship between them and their efforts to get away from the life of crime that is always a few steps behind them and also to try living like normal people, during the day, instead of at night, like their criminal associates. This was Nicholas Ray's first film as a director and it certainly was a worthy effort, as it has fine performances throughout, especially O'Donnels. As the film comes to a close, you can pretty well figure out the ending, but that doesn't detract from its potency, as they are let down by one of their own, blackmailed it seems by the cops.
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I think this film holds up well and is well worth watching.
ronb82819 February 2005
This is a very good film noir movie with excellent performances from the leads Farley Granger (of Hitchcock's "Rope" and "Strangers on a Train" and another great film noir movie "The Edge of Doom") and Cathy O'Donnell, whom I have not seen in any other role. Howard Da Silva also gives an excellent performance as a "one-eyed lush" of a gangster. I saw this movie as a teenager when it first came out and had not seen it since until recently, but I still think it holds up well as a movie well worth watching. Farley Granger, who tired of being cast as a "pretty boy" in trouble with the law and sought his fortunes elsewhere, in Europe, was a big loss to American movies.
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A Wonderful Film in the Tradition of "Bonnie and Clyde"
evanston_dad17 May 2006
"They Live By Night" joins "Gun Crazy" (1949) and "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) to form a little trilogy of remarkable films in the "lovers-on-the-lam" sub-genre. Nicholas Ray's film has much in common with "Gun Crazy," both in look and theme, but it's a much warmer and more emotionally effective piece of film-making. Peggy Cummins gave a fascinating performance in "Gun Crazy" as a flinty, unbelievably callous femme fatale; Cathy O'Donnell in "They Live By Night" will break your heart.

Indeed, the acting is probably this film's greatest asset, and it enables what in all respects is a B movie to feel like an A one. Farley Granger and O'Donnell bring wonderful nuances to their roles, and they have a naturalistic style of acting that feels ahead of its time when compared to other films from the same period. Howard da Silva is also tremendous in the supporting role of Chickamaw, managing to create a grotesque character who nevertheless feels at home in the very human world created by Ray. And Helen Craig shines in a small but vital role as Mattie, who may be the most heartless character in the film.

At a time when America most likely just wanted to hurry up and get everything back to normal, how shocking that a film like this would emerge. The domestic contentment that Granger and O'Donnell establish for themselves is a sham; they know it and we know it. They're living on borrowed time, and the things that the average American strived for in a booming post-war climate--loving spouse, children, safe and secure home--exist in this film as taunting reminders of blessings this couple can never have.

And the ending---that could have been so sentimental and is instead in Ray's hands so spare and sad---just may well take your breath away.

Grade: A+
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Love On The Run
seymourblack-117 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
A brief but memorable shot at the very beginning of Nicholas Ray's "They Live By Night" shows two young lovers in a few shared moments of contentment that seem incredibly intimate, romantic and precious. It provides an arresting image primarily because of its skillful composition but also because of the way in which light and shadow are so cleverly used to create an atmosphere of warmth and tenderness. This shot is important not only because it emphasises that the young couple's love story is the main focus of the action that follows but also because it signifies that the first-time director's approach to filmmaking is significantly more subjective and empathetic than the majority of his contemporaries who were making film noirs during the same period.

Bowie (Farley Granger) is a young man who was unjustly found guilty of murder and imprisoned at the age of sixteen. After having served seven years of his sentence, he takes the opportunity offered to him by two other inmates and together they escape from prison. When the car in which they're travelling develops a puncture, Chicamaw "One-Eye" Mobley (Howard Da Silva) and "T-Dub" Mansfield (Jay C Flippen) leave the injured Bowie behind and make their way on foot to Chicamaw's brother's cabin where they plan to hide out and they arrange for Chicamaw's teenage niece Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell) to use her father's vehicle to go and bring Bowie back to the cabin.

The young couple are instantly attracted to each other but their relationship is initially awkward and tentative primarily because of their common naiveté but also because of Keechie's hostility towards the criminals. Bowie takes part in a bank robbery with the other two escapees because he thinks that by doing so; he can get enough money together to hire a lawyer who could prove that his original conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

Following the robbery, Chicamaw and Bowie are involved in a car accident in which Bowie is injured and shortly after, Chicamaw shoots a police officer who arrives to check out what had happened. Chicamaw takes Bowie back to his brother's cabin where Keechie nurses him back to health and it's during this period that the couple fall deeply in love and decide to go on the run. Their dream of a normal life together is what drives them as they travel across country but their chances of success are constantly under threat.

A striking feature of this movie is the way in which expressionistic cinematography, tight framing and close-ups are used to create an environment which looks closed in and oppressive. Everyone seems to be physically trapped by their surroundings and this is even true in the outdoor sequences as the use of aerial photography creates an impression that the people below are being watched and can't escape the scrutiny that they're under.

Bowie and Keechie are both portrayed as being the products of their unfortunate backgrounds and people who are essentially good. Bowie never chose to follow a life of crime and his greatest ambition is to go straight. This being the case, it's fitting that he should be represented on screen by an actor who doesn't look like a stereotypical criminal and Farley Granger certainly meets this requirement. He gives a very credible performance as the misfit bank robber and Cathy O'Donnell steals the show as Keechie. Her skill in displaying the various characteristics of a girl who goes from being sullen and mistrustful to being rather warmer and more good humoured is both subtle and convincing.

The best of the supporting performances comes from Howard Da Silva who is very threatening as a vicious career criminal. The entire cast is also particularly good and certainly adds another level of enjoyment to the movie by the ways in which the eccentricities and corrupt natures of the colourful characters are portrayed.
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An earlier, and just as involving, version of Thieves Like Us
bmacv23 January 2001
Nicholas Ray's first feature, in 1949, was an adaptation of the novel Thieves Like Us (which Robert Altman so memorably filmed in the mid-1970s). It's a bit of a surprise to encounter the same characters -- Bowie, Keechie, T-Dub et al. -- in postwar black-and-white. Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell play the star-crossed lovers later rended by Keith Carradine and Shelly Duvall, and they bring a vulnerable, doomed edge to this very interesting, tragic movie. (Granger may never have been better during his brief bout of stardom). The supporting cast isn't quite up to the level of Altman's (without Louise Fletcher and her odd little girl), but on the whole this remains an honorable and moving piece of film art -- and a vital instalment, along with the same year's Gun Crazy (also a tale of doomed, romantic outlaws), in the noir cycle.
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Juliet and Clyde
bkoganbing3 July 2015
Nicholas Ray made his directorial debut in They Live By Night that's a little bit Romeo and Juliet and a little bit Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie Parker will no way recognize Cathy O'Donnell as herself, but The Bard will no way miss seeing her as Juliet Capulet.

As for Farley Granger he was always playing sensitive and misunderstood youths like this one back in his salad days. Ostensibly he starts as an innocent kid convicted for something he didn't do and is looking for money to get a good lawyer to clear himself.

A pair of rough customers, Howard DaSilva and Jay C. Flippen break out of their prison farm in Mississippi and as Flippen puts it recognize talent when they see it and he's an investment. If Granger was innocent before he sure isn't now. But the funny thing is that the media concentrate on Granger's baby face good looks and dub him as the gang leader.

While Granger heals up from injuries sustained in the escape he does it at Will Wright's farm and gas station where he meets Cathy O'Donnell and it's instant love. But this is passion that will burn hot and fast as this love is no way meant to last.

Ray did remarkably well capturing the doomed nature of the relationship and the people. Even viewing it today by someone who never heard of Bonnie&Clyde or even has seen the classic film. There is such an aura of sadness permeating the entire film from start to finish that even though you know it will end bad, you are drawn to these people.

They Live By Night is one of Farley Granger's signature roles and a great start for the career of Nicholas Ray.
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buffme4evr22 March 2003
This film really moved me in the way the lead characters Keechie and Bowie were portrayed. One of the best scenes is early when Farley Granger (Bowie) is asking Keechie if she has a fella, and if she would like one. It is very well done. Granger does a great job of playing the sweet but troubled young man caught in a jam. A sense of dread overtakes the picture as it moves towards its inevitable tragic conclusion. Overall, get your hands on this one if you can. The studio needs to release a DVD of it, anyone know anything about that?
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A noir classic from Nicholas Ray
dfranzen7015 October 2014
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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A Fully-Charged, Emotional Film Noir
Errington_9219 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
They Live by Night, Nicholas Ray's directorial debut which he also co-wrote, offers an emotionally powerful storyline with a moody atmosphere film noir is known for.

Young, naive and recently out of jail, Bowie (Farley Granger) has to survive robbing banks with experienced accomplices 'One-Eye' Chicamaw and 'T-Dub' Mansfield. Lying low from the police in a gas station, Bowie and Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell), daughter of the gas station owner, bond which develops into a run-away romance following an incident. Though their relationship is threatened by being 'chained' in a continuous struggle between their love and a world of crime.

As a film noir They Live by Night goes beyond action-packed violence, tense confrontations and atmospheric settings. They Live by Night's genius was creating a hotbed of complex relationships filled with stirring emotions. Placing these relationships amongst a noir setting resulted in a bittersweet viewing experience because of Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell's chemistry. It was magnificent, both giving their characters a sense of nativity and innocence within their love for each other. Amongst the reputation Bowie receives for his criminality we see his true self, a young man engulfed in misdeeds trying to escape. Whereas Keechie is vulnerable to Bowie's world and inexperienced in general. Yet she is still of giving love wholeheartedly. Bowie and Keechie's journey was heartbreaking to see.

These attributes also extended to the secondary characters. Adding to They Live by Night's atmosphere was Bowie's working relationship with Chicamaw and Mansfield. Howard Da Silva and Jay C. Flippen respectively offered a fierce intensity to They Live by Night emphasising Bowie's vulnerability by bossing him around with their hard-boiled nature which is typical of film noir.

These tragic and fierce attributes went beyond characterisation. They Live by Night offered appropriate symbolism adding to Bowie and Keechie's dire circumstances. In a memorable scene where Bowie and Keechie are married, it takes place at a cheap chapel and cost $20 for a wedding license. The cheap tackiness is associated with the background Bowie and Keechie were attempting to escape. Wanting to lead suitable lives yet having to sink so low to achieve it. This underlines a depth towards They Live by Night's narrative surpassing into a fully-charged emotional noir.
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Quite a debut from Nicholas Ray.
Spikeopath29 September 2010
They Live By Night (AKA: The Twisted Road) is directed by Nicholas Ray and written by Ray and Charles Schnee who adapt from Edward Anderson's novel Thieves Like Us. It stars Cathy O'Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva & Jay C. Flippen. Produced by John Houseman out of RKO, it's photographed by George E. Diskant and music is by Leigh Harline.

Ray's debut feature (it was actually wrapped in 1947) is a potent piece of film noir set during the Great Depression. Story follows Bowie (Granger), a naive young man who escapes from prison with two hardened criminals, Chicamaw (Da Silva) & T-Dub (Flippen), and finds unexpected love in the form of the almost saintly Keechie (O'Donnell). However, he finds that no matter what his good intentions are, crime just wont leave him be and with Keechie in tow, goes on the run to hopefully find a better life.

It's a pretty simple story all told, one that has been well represented in film over the years with the likes of You Only Live Once, High Sierra & Gun Crazy. But as simple as the tale is, Ray's film is very much a leading light in the sub-genre of "lovers on the lam" movies. First thing of note is that there's a movement away from the normal characters that had frequented the noir driven crime world up till now. The protagonists here are not gangsters or private investigators, they are thieves, and country folk too. This offers up a different viewing character wise. Admittedly the protagonists are shrouded in classic film noir hopelessness, where the air of desperation hangs heavy throughout, but the characterisation shift gives the simple story a lift.

From the outset it's evident that this is an intriguing, even curious, picture. A shot of our loving couple sharing a kiss is accompanied with a title card telling us that they were never properly introduced to the world we live in. A blast of Harline's music startles them and we then cut to an aerial shot (Ray leading the way for helicopter shots) of the three escapee's in the getaway car. In those 30 seconds Ray has managed to convey that his film will be an energetic, yet doom laden, love story. Quite a feat for a fledgling director to be unique right from the off. It's interesting to note that Ray himself said that he wasn't trying to make a film noir movie, he was merely telling a tragic love story. Just another point of reference as to why the film is so fascinating.

Be that as it may, They Live By Night pulses with noir blood. From its perpetual moody atmospherics, to the romantic narrative being punctured by moments of violence, it deserves its classic film noir status. 8/10
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Heartbreak and heartache- noir has a heart
DJJOEINC7 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
They Live By Night - tearjerker noir.Nicholas Ray's first movie - is the story of a naive young couple in love and on the run.Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell have intense chemistry.Granger's character is a crook by habit- he has no love for crime- but is driven by the naive notion that he needs to raise enough money to hire a bigtime barrister to help clear his name-not realizing that breaking out of jail has added time to his sentence.After his escape he meets the daughter of one his partner's brother.The sparks fly from the first meeting.Howard DaSilva is perfect as the leader of the trio of escapees.The movie has some great location shots and one of the truly tragic and engaging plots.This movie was shelved for 2 years by Howard Hughes.The DVD has a featurette and a commentary by Eddie Muller and the star of the movie Farley Granger.Yet another swell flick from the recent Warner's noir set. A
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No Keechy Way Out
Lejink22 January 2019
A beautiful yet bleak movie about doomed young love on the run. The debut directorial feature of Nicholas Ray, it starts with three escaped prisoners on the run, roughing up the driver of a car they've hijacked after robbing a bank, two of them are seasoned old pros, but the third is a fresh-faced youngster imprisoned for a murder committed when he was a teenager. Although grateful for their springing him, he is resistant to their future plans to continue a life of crime. When they turn up at a safe house peopled by an old alcoholic friend and his young daughter, she makes clear her distaste for the three escapees. Tomboyish, with her hair up and dressed in overalls, she softens to the fresh-faced lad as she nurses him through an injury he's picked up on the road.

Soon they fall in love and decide to hit the road themselves, paying $20 dollars for a cut-price marriage but while they dream of carefree days ahead, in truth, they're always looking over their shoulders, fearing his discovery by the authorities, but when he's tracked down by his old cronies and forced into another bank job which goes wrong, his notoriety only increases and you just know his days are numbered.

Central to the film is the chemistry between its young stars Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell, as Bowie and Keechy, both completely natural in their roles. Production Code morality of the day ensures that Granger's Bowie character is duly punished for his misdemeanours but all the way you're rooting for the youngsters to somehow come through.

Starkly filmed by Ray, he ramps up the emotional tension as every time the couple find some solace and calm on their travels something happens to set them back. A last-ditch attempt to escape to Mexico only confirms Bowie's hopelessness at his and Keechy's prospects leaving just one final betrayal to seal his fate. Shot in atmospheric black and white with many imaginatively staged scenes alternating tenderness and fear, perhaps the most striking use of Ray's cameras are the helicopter shots looking down on the fleeing characters even as their journeys will take all of them nowhere.

Watching the film, I was reminded of another earlier noir classic about ill-fated young love, Fritz Lang's superb "You Only Live Once". Both are dark, driven, doomy pieces, memorable and highly recommended, just don't look for happy endings. Even the movies don't all end that way.
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"They Live by Night" deserves to see the light of day.
Goodbye_Ruby_Tuesday13 September 2007
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT wasn't the first film to have sympathy for its outlaw protagonists, as Fritz Lang's YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE has a deep understanding for the love between Joan and Eddie, and HIGH SIERRA gave Bogie a chance to portray an aging ex-convict with a heart of gold, but nobody did it with the warmth and immense love like Nicholas Ray. Ray, who was respected in America and idolized in France, brought something almost unheard of during the American studio era: a sympathetic heart to loners and at times violent characters who had been typecast as one-dimensional villains. Maybe he was a stranger there himself. In his first movie, he directs with a confidence and energy that is on par or better than another great directorial debut of the 40s, Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE.

Bowie Bowers (Farley Granger) has just escaped, along with T-Dub and Chicamaw, from a prison where he was wrongly accused of murder. Hiding out in a cabin of Chicamaw's brother, an attraction blossoms between Bowie and Chicamaw's niece, sweet tomboy Keechie. One successful bank robbery later, Bowie and Keechie decide to run away--and eventually get married--together, hopeful of an uncertain future together. But the Depression-era South is a harsh territory for young love, and after Chicamaw finds the young couple and tempts Bowie to pull off just one more heist that goes horribly wrong, Bowie and Keechie are no longer running toward a hopeful future but running away from an unjust and unforgiving police hot on their trail.

Like all Nicholas Ray movies, it's impossible not to note the acting (and Ray learned from the best--he was a good friend and protégé of Elia Kazan). Farley Granger is best known for his nervous, tense performances in Hitchcock's ROPE and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, but here he gives a very assured and accomplished performance; it's no wonder he called both Hitchcock and Ray the best directors he ever worked with, but their approaches are very different; Hitch would let the actors find the characters themselves, while Ray would quietly take them aside and guide them through in a fatherly way. It's this tenderness and empathy that made Ray such a gift to his actors. Cathy O'Donnell, who resembles a young Sissy Spasek is luminous and brings such a radiant glow to her role, quietly affecting and never once overacting; there are few actresses who could allude to both glowing innocence and tough worldliness in the same frame. Together they are perfect, two naive and sweet souls hardened by their pasts and parental problems (though never made explicit, it is implied that they have never dated anyone, never really loved someone, which makes their romance all the sweeter). They would later re-team for Anthony Mann's crime drama SIDE STREET, which in some ways is a sequel, seeing what would've happened if they had lived like normal people in New York City. Although the magic was still there, it didn't shine as brightly as it does here.

The supporting work is also top-notch, especially Helen Craig, playing a woman who is envious of Keechie and Bowie's love affair because her own husband is in prison, and she has a great scene when she betrays the couple. While we pretty much hate her guts throughout the whole movie, each line across her face shows so much pain, and we feel her own regret; anyone who's seen the movie knows how powerful her line is: "I don't think that's going to help me sleep nights." Howard Da Silva was unfairly blacklisted when Robert Taylor named him as a potential communist during the HUAC era. Sadly, we'll never know what other great roles he could've played.

While many first-time directors today make amazing little indie movies, during the studio era, there was little room to be creative. Like Welles, Ray used amazing cinematography that holds up incredibly well today, along with unconventional editing, and an acute sense of space. For example, the opening helicopter shot: this was one of the first, if not the very first, films to feature action being shot that way (normally choppers were only used for pan shots of scenery). That was Ray's first day ever directing, and what a way to begin a brilliant career. He would follow his promise with the underrated classics IN A LONELY PLACE, ON DANGEROUS GROUND, JOHNNY GUITAR, BIGGER THAN LIFE, BITTER VICTORY, and, of course, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Unlike James Dean, Nicholas Ray faded out, but while he was on fire, he gave us some of the most heartfelt movies to ever be placed through a film projector.
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The birth of a new voice in American cinema.
David-2406 September 1999
This is not a great film but it marks the directorial debut of Nicholas Ray, one of the most original directors of the 1950's. From the startling pre-credit sequence on, it is clear that here is a striking new cinematic voice. Unfortunately the story he has to tell is not very interesting, but the way he tells it must have astonished audiences in 1949. From unusual aerial shots, to brilliant extreme close-ups, to great shots inside cars, Ray takes us on a new type of film journey. He also lovingly films his two pretty young leads and extracts strong performances from them. This is a film to be admired rather than loved, but no student of film should miss it.
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We're gonna keep searchin' searchin' ....
dbdumonteil24 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
O'Donnell /Granger are par excellence the romantic couple of the film noir,and their scenes display a tenderness ,a longing for a happiness which always eludes them.This is a dark movie,since most of the scenes were filmed by night:the first meeting of the doomed lovers,the wedding (no walk down the aisle,no flowers,no wedding dress) ,the unforgettable last scene when O'Donnell whispers "I love you" ....

I certainly love Nicholas Ray's movies.In "they live by night" a lot of his recurrent features are already present:the hero is still a child ,a victim of fate.We do not know anything about his background,his parents but he's certainly akin to Jim Stark in "rebel without a cause " who is playing with a toy on the street or Jeff in "lusty men" finding back his old money-box.The heroine is a distant relative of Judy in "rebel" and O'Donnell resembles Natalie Wood.Like her,her family life is a dead end and she sees love as the only way out of it.In 'rebel' ,Ray puts the parents on trial ,in "Bigger than life" -one of his most extraordinary films ,unfairly overlooked - a father becomes monstrous and almost kills his son.Here Bowie was probably "killed" too, on his own at such an early age.

To quote Neil Young,Ray "offers life in sacrifice so the others can go on".In "Rebel" ,Plato's death might mean a new beginning for Jim and Judy and their families (it's stunning how Plato wanted his two friends to be his "parents" ).In "lusty men" ,Jeff's death signals Wes's maturity.But there 's much more:in "run for cover" we find another relationship father/son where the latter's decease allows his "father " to find love and serenity.Even the much debated "55 days at Peking" follows suit:Ray might have been drunk during the shooting,but the baroness'death leads the officer to take on the Chinese orphan girl.

Here Bowie's death does not leave the audience helpless and desperate :he had to die so that his child could have a better life .We know that Keechie is a strong girl and that she will do all that she can for her baby.

In Ray's world,young people are misfits:around them everything is hostile from a father washing up (in "Rebel") to the ugly sinister-looking gangsters in direct contrast with the lovers' charm(in "they live by night" ) to the cruel microcosm of rodeo (in "lusty men").The scene of the wedding is somewhat gloomy even if Ray displays a sense of humor ("You've got a cold!" (so don't kiss the bride)).It's a world beyond any moral:take for instance Mattie's character;is she good? is she evil?probably both like Vienna in "Johnny Guitar" or Ed in "Bigger than life".It displays more than a world in ruins: a world that has forgotten it's in ruins.Almost every ending tells us life HAS to be rebuilt.
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A masterpiece.
friedlandea5 April 2019
"They Live by Night" grabs you from the very first minute, with its strange and beautiful prologue. Some noir fans evidently find it jarring, a love story injected into a film noir. Why not? Other classic noirs do it. No noir is more noir than Jules Dassin's "Night and the City," and that certainly includes a tragic love. Nicholas Ray himself does it again with "On Dangerous Ground." There the love story is a story of redemption. Here it is a story of fatalism. The trick is to tell it without descending into the maudlin. No one did it better than Nicholas Ray. We know the lovers are misfits; they will come to grief. We never lose hope for them.

Ray had it easy with "On Dangerous Ground." He could count on two of the greats, Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino. Here he has to coax performances out of young actors. Farley Granger, in my opinion, gives his finest performance, far, far better than in Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train." Hitchcock seldom cared about depth of character, as long as he could spin a clever plot. Character was the heart of Nicolas Ray's work. Think again of "On Dangerous Ground." Or take the searing, sexually charged love-hate between Emma and Vienna in "Johnny Guitar." He draws from Farley Granger a quality he never equaled. As for Cathy O'Donnell, what a waste that she seldom found roles commensurate with her talent. The supporting cast is marvelous. Howard da Silva begins as his usual type. Chichamaw is loathsome and sinister. He changes. His weaknesses, alcohol and vanity, make him almost sympathetic. Jay C. Flippen begins as his usual type, gruff but good-hearted. He changes, an inveterate criminal who won't let Bowie off the hook. Ian Wolfe, an actor's actor, makes Hawkins, the cynical, half-malevolent half-pitying marriage salesman memorable. (Nicholas Ray used him again in "On Dangerous Ground.") He peddles hope. But he won't sell hope where it's hopeless. Byron Foulger, true chameleon among character actors, does a great turn as Lambert the loquacious motel-keeper. His irritating cheeriness makes Bowie and Keechie's downfall yet more dismal when it arrives. Near the end Bowie returns to find Keechie sitting on the bed with water all over the floor while Lambert and the plumber bustle about, chatting, banging on pipes. I'm thinking he's thinking: "Go away, please. Please. My life's hanging by a thread. I don't need this now." It drives me crazy just watching it. Whoever put the broken-pipe scene in the script was a genius.

Bonnie and Clyde it's not. I keep reading that association. It's not even close. Bonnie is a criminal, a willing participant in Clyde's mayhem. Keechie is gentle. She implores Bowie to stop. If there's a parallel in film it's "High Sierra." Marie (Ida Lupino), though somewhat an accomplice, frantically clings to Roy (Humphrey Bogart), hoping to find peace. The final scene prefigures the end of "They Live by Night." I always considered Lupino's performance ("free, free") unmatched. I still do. Cathy O'Donnell ("I love you") comes close to matching it.

Finally, I can't help reflecting on the idea of "film gris," a film noir incorporating a progressive social message. This is one if there ever was one. Thieves Like Us was the title of the novel. Us is us - everyone. Everyone, Hawkins says, is a thief. Those at the top steal legally. Those at the bottom steal as they can, at war with the world. "They Live by Night" was released in 1949, after HUAC had commenced its inquisition. But it was made in 1947, before, in fact just before, the Hollywood 19 then Hollywood 10 faced their inquisitors. Nicholas Ray escaped (I have never understood how). Howard da Silva did not. "Friendly witness" Robert Taylor named him. Helen Craig's Mattie informs on Bowie and Keechie. Don't feel bad, the policeman says. You've done us a service. "That won't help me sleep at night," she replies. I wonder if Robert Taylor saw "They Live by Night," and how he slept.
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"Innocence and Its Virtues"
robert_ponce22 March 2018
Many people forget, at one point or another, they once were young. Youth was a time of wonder, exploring, learning. Att the time, most Parents instilled values that were going to be needed, as the years went by. Many Youths remembered those values. Others shoved them aside for what ever reasons. And yet others got caught up in situations- being at the wrong place at the right Bowie and the girl he falls for, Keechie As things've turned out for me, I'm a sucker for old movies. Black&White, Color, SciFi, Sit-Coms (My Little Margie) any ones! I hadn't realized how much I love to watch them. In this movie, the acting is unlike today's acting and that's another attribute that makes me go for noir movies. All of the Actors in "They Live By Night" add to the tragedy of the story by Screenwriter Charles Schnee. Sherman Todd's Film Editing is a sure story sequitur, while The Black & White photography (Kenneth Peach) captures the essential sinister scenes. The Lighting, shadows & depth of field (in the end scene) is pure Hollywood genius. Ollie Sigurdson (Stills) captured the youthful, innocent beauty of Keechie. Literally, I got all choked up. I wanted to embrace and console the poor, inconsolable child. Go see it. Have some popcorn too.
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get outside
RResende25 December 2011
There seems to be a unique thing about Ray's career, in its time and context. He was an interesting director who worked inside the Hollywood system, and indeed obeyed to their rules, give or take, and was able to produce some films that people still remember today, so called classics. Yet something in each one of his films, even the more studio tailored ones, seem to constantly pull the films away from the norm. The man had a visual imagination, and an experimental attitude. Much has been said about how he handled colour, but i think it's in these black and white first phase films that Ray shines brighter. That's because black and white film technology was already advanced enough to allow him to do things such as shooting on real locations, while coloured films made his camera work and groundbreaking visual presentations more stiff, less fluid.

This film has very interesting bits. The aerial shots of cars along the road, loose and free. The disembodied camera that appears on some cleverly conceived crane shots, and the general cinematography whenever we are clearly outside the studio. That's where Ray's mind was, clearly. Whenever we are on sets, well, plain old classical illumination, which doesn't even borrow from Toland/Welles, who had by than created a whole new set of light codes. But in the outside shots, he does things that hadn't been done, some of which do work even today, in terms of our modern ability to understand framing.

So the road trip genre suits perfectly Ray's intentions. The mere physical description of the sequences made his mind figure what he might get out of it. This isn't visually as ground breaking as On a dangerous ground, or even Knock on any door, but the guy was just starting.

Other than that, this is melodrama. Characters caught by hard backgrounds, forced to struggle, unable to fight whatever burdens society and their shortcomings as people placed upon them. It's a very dear theme of Nicholas Ray, the misfits, the outcast, ennobled by how they assume their faults and try to get out of that world, but ultimately pushed down by the weight of their mistakes, and the cruelty of people around them. How Ray formulates this makes it a very American theme in its core, and very unique in its approach. I think no one has ever formulated this bonnie/clyde runaway type like this ever again, less adventurous, but deeper. No wonder Wenders, in his fascination with America, came to admire Ray so much.

Cathy O'Donnell has a great face, her character's looks evolution is well thought, she shines when her face is allowed to act, which Ray does a lot.

My opinion: 3/5 this is a worthy effort, which you should watch only if you're interested in Ray's best works. This will give you insight.
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Nicholas Ray Plays Cupid
wes-connors19 April 2010
After serving seven years in prison, for a crime he (arguably) didn't commit, handsome Farley Granger (as Arthur "Bowie" Bowers) escapes from prison. The 23-year old Mr. Granger is accompanied by visually-impaired Howard Da Silva (as Chicamaw "One-Eye" Mobley) and seasoned leader Jay C. Flippen (Henry "T-Dub" Mansfield). The gang of three decide to hide out with Mr. Da Silva's brother, gas station attendant Will Wright, while planning a bank heist. Granger is reluctant to participate, but thinks one last job will enable him to hire a lawyer, and clear his murder rap. Da Silva's niece, unassuming Cathy O'Donnell (as Catherine "Keechie" Mobley), and Granger fall in love.

"They Live by Night" opens with a shot of Granger smooching Ms. O'Donnell, while the slick proclamation - "This boy… and this girl… were never properly introduced to the world we live in… To tell their story…" - is slowly superimposed on the screen. Later, we learn the pair never even knew how to kiss… well, he was in prison… for a long time… BUT, the film is better than the dumb romance you're expecting. Quietly wide-eyed Granger and plainly beautiful O'Donnell make it connect, with others in the cast adding realistic characterizations. First-time director Nicholas Ray gives his young couple a delicate, aching innocent intimacy which transcends the ordinary storyline.

******** They Live by Night (8/48) Nicholas Ray ~ Farley Granger, Cathy O'Donnell, Howard Da Silva, Jay C. Flippen
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What a privilege and an honor!
man_out_of_time30 July 2009
To see this masterpiece for the first time last night on the big screen at the Film Forum. (Well, as big as the screens get at that theater.) And after the film concluded, the film programmer, Bruce Goldstein, delivered a wonderful surprise to the audience: Farley Granger was in the house! Mr. Granger (looking very handsome) stood up and recalled how wonderful it was to work with Nicholas Ray on his directorial debut. He noted that Ray had been working in theater with Elia Kazan and implied that may have accounted for how skillful he was in directing actors. He also observed that, based on a few of his later films, he thought Ray had eventually gone "a little crazy," but that he was in his creative prime for this film. Boy, was he!
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