DATELINE: Trite Rises to Fascinating
Though it may sound like a sequel to the Twilight vampire stories, the 1949 film noir They Live by Night is important as a marker of the start of director Nicholas Ray’s career.
As one of the new wave of Hollywood figures in the post-war years under Dore Schary, They Live by Night has an impressive pedigree: John Houseman produced it and gave Ray on location camera angles that must have been striking in their day.
Ray could direct both sensitive young men types and older tough guys were equal power. Actors repeated showing up in his films because he gave them memorable roles. His young men ran the gamut from James Dean’s rebel and John Derek’s ghetto thug to Farley Granger in this picture.
No one ever again filmed Granger with such adoring and flattering care. Farley’s two Hitchcock movies, well known Rope and Strangers on a Train, used the actor effectively as stalwart character of moral duplicity, not innocent victim of fate.
Ray directed his life with more elan in later years—and his films remained archetypal, but less powerful.
Cathy O’Donnell and Granger are bland, sweet young people crushed by the societal forces that put them into a crime world.
The film is less interesting as a story (adapted by Ray himself) and less compelling than his next films, Bogart’s two classics (In a Lonely Place, Knock on Any Door).
If there is another reason to watch, it is familiar faced, ugly actor Jay C. Flippen, whose roles as menacing villain and paternal pal dominated the 1950s.
Jay C. Flippen