Sunday, December 13, 2009

They Live By Night

They Live By Night, 1948
Dir: Nicholas Ray
December 12, 2009

A fine debut from Nicholas Ray in the film noir/melodrama genre, but I have a bit more of a soft spot for it considering it could quite possibly be the first "love on the run" film. It's obvious that Ray's propensity to cast a sympathetic eye on undesirables is evident already, and the tenderness and romanticism with which he handles the script really elevate it past a lot of others in this great sub-genre. The characters are pretty straight forward, nothing fleeting like in Badlands (1973), but there is a sweetness and naivete that seems to be all about what Ray's thoughts on cinema were, and which is certainly unique to any other kind of film noir that coming out at the time. Add to that the bittersweet atmosphere and constant lyrical theme of missed opportunities, it's no wonder I liked this so much. The acting is not amazing but it is played out in a way that is dramatic but not silly, which is all you can really ask for. One scene where Bowie (Farley Granger, who can be a bit hammy) is wondering why Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell) would go with him knowing that the cops are after him is particularly telling, with soft-light close ups and melancholy music while they are drinking milk, another nod to the childlike innocence of these kids who are in over their heads. Ray was dealing with the censorship of the times, but the sensuality of the making out by the fire, the aggression with which Keechie tries to save Bowie from slippin' back into crime, the “Your Red Wagon” song (a little more obvious nowadays, but still quite bold), the sensual sharing of the sweet potato pie, and not to mention Bowie’s frequent shirtlessness, is about as erotically charged as an 1948 film can get. I think that these themes will be just as evident for the later films that he is more famous for (which I have yet to see), but I really dig it. It seems to me that Ray didn't just touch upon the taboo; he simultaneously added innocent lyrical romanticism along with that hard, subversive edge. How cool is that?


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