They Live by Night

Nicholas Ray, USA, 1948, 95 minutes

"This boy and this girl were never properly introduced to the world we live in."

Bowie (Farley Granger) teams up with fellow thieves Chicamaw and T-Dub to rob a bank - he needs the money to hire a lawyer to prove he's innocent of murder. He completes the heist but fucks up the getaway. On the run from the law with his lover Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell), he finds that no-one he knows will help him and he can't trust anyone. Then Chicamaw and T-Dub want him for one more job.

Ray's powerful first feature - he went on to make Rebel Without A Cause - is one of the best examples of the road movie. What distinguishes his effort from contemporary examples such as Guncrazy and You Only Live Once is his sympathetic treatment of the protagonists, so that the movie feels more like a love story than a crime thriller. His tightly framed composition, though the use of close ups is not excessive, and the tenseness of the staging and the dialogue adeptly conveys the plight of the doomed innocents. With its innovative sound, based on Ray's experience in radio and that opening helicopter shot to give a sense of God-like fate to the characters this debut is enough to confirm Godard's claim "the cinema is Nicholas Ray." Pierrot Le Fou by the way, is almost a remake.

Review by Stephen Cox
Taken from EUFS Programme 1994-95