Tag Archives: 1948

Top 100 Films #100 – Rope (1948)


image-w1280#100. Rope (1948)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Arthur Laurents (based on Rope by Patrick Hamilton)
Starring: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson

The 1940’s were an incredible time for director Alfred Hitchcock who was still relatively new to Hollywood at the time.  This decade saw him solidify his status as “Master of Suspense” with films like Rebecca, Lifeboat, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, and Spellbound.  Rope is one of Hitchcock’s many unsung classics from this era – combining his trademark suspense elements with groundbreaking filmmaking to create a bonafide classic.  The film was shot to appear as if it is a single continuous shot (there are 10 very well-hidden cuts throughout), and takes place in real time.  Hitchcock continues to explore the idea of using a single location to create a sense of isolation and claustrophobia – a theme that would bring him even more success with 1954’s Rear Window.  Rope sees two young men (Farley Granger and John Dall) trying to cover up a murder during a dinner party – until their former school headmaster (James Stewart) starts to see the holes in their story.  Hitchcock uses the single location and limited cutting to great effect, creating one of his most suspenseful and engaging films of the 40’s.

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Noirvember II #4 – Call Northside 777 (1948)

call-northside-777Call Northside 777 (1948)
Directed by: Henry Hathaway
Written by: Leonard Hoffman, Quentin Reynolds
Starring: James Stewart, Lee J. Cobb, Richard Conte, Helen Walker, Betty Garde

Without a doubt my favorite thing about film noir as a genre is its versatility – with the exception of usually featuring a few trademark elements, the classics of the genre are all so different in scope and size.  Henry Hathaway’s 1948 film Call Northside 777 is a perfect example of this – blending common noir elements with the structure and pacing of a procedural crime investigation. Henry Hathaway directed numerous film noirs during his career, with Call Northside being the most successful of the bunch.  Hathaway is probably most notable for directing one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite films, the Oscar-nominated The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, as well as his work with legendary tough man actor John Wayne, directing him in North to Alaska, Circus World, The Sons of Katie Elder, and his Academy Award-winning performance in 1969’s True Grit.  The legendary director’s filmography consists of more than 60 feature films, featuring some of the greatest American actors to ever live, and spanning a wide variety of genres.

Call Northside 777 stars the always charming James Stewart as P.J. McNeal, an ambitious and brash reporter for the Chicago Times.  McNeal unexpectedly becomes involved with a ten year old murder case involving a young man named Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), who is serving 99 years in prison for the alleged murder of a Chicago police officer.  Wiecek’s mother has put up a $5,000 reward for whoever can present information about the “true” killer’s of the officer, effectively proving her son to be innocent.  After learning of the reward, McNeal’s Chicago Times editor Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb) quickly assigns P.J. to the case. Though McNeal believes Frank Wiecek to be guilty of the killing, the young reporter reluctantly accepts the job in order to prove himself as an investigative reporter.  Not wanting to be embarrassed or exposed by the investigation, Chicago police and state attorney’s become involved in the case – giving the skeptical McNeal more resistance than expected.  Will P.J. McNeal crack the case and prove young Frank Wiecek innocent, or will resistance from law officials prove too much for the young reporter?  Find out in Henry Hathaway’s Call Northside 777!

The addition of Call Northside 777 into this year’s Noirvember schedule was a last minute decision based entirely on two things – the film’s star, James Stewart, is one of my all-time favorite actors, and the fact that I had never seen a Henry Hathaway film.  After finding out about the movie’s procedural and investigative nature, I knew that I had made the right decision.  Call Northside 777 is nowhere near as stylistic or suspenseful as other, more-revered classics of the genre, but Hathaway’s film is a highly intriguing and graceful effort.  Northside lacks most of the trademark elements that make film noir such a captivating genre, but makes up for it with solid, uncompromising film-making, and an intriguing true story adaptation.  The procedural style of storytelling (which I have an unabashed love for) works wonders for the film’s mystery, which is small in scope but grand in its implications.  It’s often said that Hathaway never had a distinct style as a director, being known rather as something of a journeyman filmmaker. His apparent lack of a “trademark” style ultimately works in Call Northside 777’s favor – with Hathaway delivering an intriguing, concise, uncomplicated, and grounded investigation in realistic, documentary-like fashion.  James Stewart turns in a typically solid performance as P.J. McNeal, who is incredibly easy to get behind as an investigative journalist.  McNeal remains skeptical for much of the film, completing the job mostly out of obligation to his editor.  Once he’s thrown up against the resistance given by the law, he begins to question his own morals and proves that he is unafraid to go over the heads of those above him. Stewart’s performance goes against his stereotyped “golly-gee” personality, with the veteran actor instead coming off as hardened and sardonic.  All in all, Call Northside 777 isn’t a perfect film by any means, but it’s certainly quite a good one.
What I Liked:

  • The opening minutes of the film are presented in an unflinching, documentary style that lays the groundwork for the film’s mystery.
  • James Stewart ventures slightly out of his comfort zone, giving a rock solid performance as P.J. McNeal.  
  • Henry Hathaway’s lack of a distinct style allows for the director to focus on what is most important about this film – the storytelling.
  • The pacing is slow, but deliberately so.  Stewart’s McNeal follows all possible leads, reports back to his superiors multiple times, and thwarts resistance efforts by Chicago law enforcement.  Not a minute feels wasted.
  • The scene in the final act with witness Wanda Skutnik (Betty Garde) adds some effective and much needed suspense to the story.

What I Didn’t:

  • Lee J. Cobb’s character feels undeveloped to a fault.  At times it feels like he has ulterior motives for assigning McNeal to the case, but this point is never really clearly presented or followed up on.
  • The film’s conclusion, while unique, feels a little too rushed and convenient for my liking.  
  • With the convenient conclusion comes an odd and out of place tonal shift from stark and cynical to suddenly much more hopeful.

With it being a last minute addition to this month’s lineup, I couldn’t have been more surprised with my experience with Call Northside 777.  It’s no doubt a flawed film – largely due to some of its overly-convenient writing – but Henry Hathaway’s focused direction and the attention and respect paid to procedure and investigation makes this a more than worthy film noir.  James Stewart brings a good performance to the film, serving as the perfect leading man in a performance-driven piece.  It won’t ever be considered to be one of the greats of the film noir genre, but it is a solid crime film with an incredibly intriguing mystery at its core.  Henry Hathaway’s Call Northside 777 is recommended.

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Noirvember II #2 – The Naked City (1948)

pdccueqhThe Naked City (1948)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Albert Maltz (screenplay), Malvin Hald (story, screenplay)
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor

Note: We previously covered director Jules Dassin in last year’s Noirvember feature of Night and the City.  Check it out here.

The hot, bustling streets of New York City are the real star of Jules Dassin’s seminal film noir The Naked City.  Filmed entirely on location in the big city, Dassin’s film is quite unique and very much ahead of its time by not being confined to a sound stage like many of its contemporaries.  Impressively, this film came before Dassin’s biggest successes – Night and the City and Rififi – and serves as one of the early indicators of Dassin’s skills behind the camera. Director of photography William H. Daniels was honored with an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his brilliant photography of New York City. Daniels managed to capture the feel of a true film noir despite filming a majority of the scenes in broad daylight, creating a relentlessly hot, muggy atmosphere in the process.  When we’re not under the bright sun, Daniels captures breathtaking images of New York City horizons at sunset, giving us a wide variety of photography.  Daniels’ skilled eye, combined with Dassin’s prowess behind the camera, and frequent narration from Mark Hellinger gives The Naked City an almost documentary-like feel.

Starring veteran actor Barry Fitzgerald and the young Don Taylor, The Naked City is procedural in every sense of the word.  Fitzgerald plays Lieutenant Dan Muldoon, who we follow as he investigates the apparent murder of a young woman named Jean Dexter.  Dexter is thought to have been drowned in her bathroom, and drugged using prescription sleeping pills.  Rookie detective Jimmy Halloran (Taylor) accompanies Lt. Muldoon through the proceedings. The two question a wide range of suspects and connections, including Dr. Stoneman (House Jameson), who prescribed the pills, Frank Niles (Howard Duff), who carried out an affair with Dexter, and a veteran professional wrestler turned burglar named Willie Garzah (Ted de Corsia).  Muldoon and Halloran come to the conclusion that multiple suspects are responsible, and pursue any lead they can find.  This leads to the veteran Muldoon handling much of the questioning, and Halloran on the New York City streets.  What ensues is a thrilling, suspenseful, and unpredictable turn of events that will see Jean Dexter’s killer apprehended by the authorities – but at what cost?  Find out in Jules Dassin’s excellent The Naked City!

It’s difficult not to compare The Naked City to Night and the City.  They were released within two years of each other, directed by Jules Dassin, prominently feature a moody big city atmosphere, and oddly enough feature professional wrestlers in their story.  If there’s one thing that sets The Naked City apart from Dassin’s later noir masterpiece, it’s that the former has much more personality to it.  The Naked City features elements of humor throughout, often delivered through Mark Hellinger’s excellent narration.  Hellinger’s narrator helps to personify the city of New York, further pushing the sprawling metropolis as a lead character in The Naked City.  He gives voices to the people of New York, who are going about their daily routines without knowing anything about the events taking place in the film.  The personality is furthered even more through William H. Daniel’s incredible photography, the suspenseful and enthralling crime story as told by screenwriters Albert Maltz and Malvin Hald, and some terrific early direction from Jules Dassin.  The combination of these elements creates a truly memorable and unique film noir experience, which I did not expect going into The Naked City.  It’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s beautiful – It’s everything film noir should aspire to be.
What I Liked:

  • William H. Daniel’s cinematography really adds a lot to the film.  His photography brings New York City to life.
  • Barry Fitzgerald’s performance as Lt. Muldoon is a perfect anchor, bringing a lot of veteran instincts to a film featuring a great deal of newcomers and first time actors.
  • The score by Miklos Rozsa and Frank Skinner adds suspense and levity to the film, especially in its last act.
  • The final scene on the Williamsburg Bridge is terrific and feels well-earned and satisfying.
  • Mark Hellinger’s narration is humorous and insightful, it really brings the film together.  Hellinger also served as producer on the film, but died before its release.
  • The procedural elements never get too bogged down in the nitty gritty details, which definitely helps the pacing of the film.

What I Didn’t:

  • At times the reasons behind the murder of Jean Dexter felt contrived, but that pretty much sums up the motives of criminals in film noir.
  • The character of Willie Garzah should feel like more of a threat.  He does for a brief moment, only for it to crumble almost immediately.  

Having now seen three of director Jules Dassin’s most famous films, I can absolutely appreciate what he did for the genres of film noir and crime, but also for movies as a whole.  Dassin understands suspense and the importance of a strong build-up like few others – any comparisons to the works of Alfred Hitchcock seem well warranted.  The Naked City is a stylish, fast-paced crime procedural that will please viewers of any background.  It features stunning on-location cinematography, a fun lead performance by Barry Fitzgerald, sharp writing, editing, and pacing.  It truly is everything a film noir should be.  It probably won’t change your life in any meaningful way, but I think it’s safe to call it a classic of the genre.  Jules Dassin’s The Naked City is highly recommended.

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John Ford Feature #5 – Fort Apache (1948)

MV5BMjExMzk5MDI4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjAwODc0MQ@@._V1._CR43,88,254,363_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_Fort Apache (1948)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Frank S. Nugent (based on Massacre by James Warner Bellah)
Starring: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, Shirley Temple, John Agar

Just two years after the release of his widely successful western My Darling Clementine, John Ford decided to embark on the production of a loose trilogy of films.  Fort Apache is the first film in Ford’s “cavalry trilogy”, which includes She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), all three of which star frequent collaborator John Wayne.  The three films form a trilogy in name and in spirit only, not having any recurring characters or situations (except for John Wayne’s Captain Kirby York in Fort Apache and Rio Grande), with the exception of all films dealing with the United States cavalry battling Native American armies on some level.  Fort Apache, much like its successor My Darling Clementine, did not fare well on the awards circuit, but was still widely critically acclaimed upon its release.  Looking at the list of winners and nominees at that year’s major awards shows, it seems as if there was something of a stigma against traditional western films, with critics and audiences instead gravitating towards literary adaptations like Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, which won Best Picture in 1948, groundbreaking visual dramas like The Red Shoes, and film noirs like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Key Largo.  Luckily for Ford’s legacy, the film was a hit with audiences and the cavalry trilogy as a whole is now considered one of the many high points of his prolific career.  Fort Apache stars longtime Ford collaborator John Wayne in his first of two appearances as Kirby York, My Darling Clementine star and future Oscar winner Henry Fonda, as well as child star Shirley Temple in one of her final film roles before retirement.  Other frequent John Ford supporting players Ward Bond and star of The Informer Victor McLaglen also make notable appearances.

FortApache_in camptwo

Fort Apache takes place after the end of the American Civil War in or around the state of Arizona, circa the late 1800’s.  We meet Captain Kirby York (John Wayne), a decorated Civil War veteran who looks to replace the current commander at an isolated United States cavalry outpost, Fort Apache. Unfortunately for York, the position was unknowingly given to Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda), who has traveled to the outpost with his daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple).  York and other cavalry soldiers are understandably upset when they learn the news, mostly due to Thursday’s lack of experience with the Native American population settled in the area near Fort Apache.  Not only does Thursday lack the experience with the Native population, but he is also quickly outed as a class-conscious bigot with no remorse at all for the Native American’s, who are led by the great Cochise (Miguel Inclan).  Thursday’s daughter, Philadelphia, quickly falls in love with the young and handsome Second Lieutenant Michael O’Rourke (John Agar).  The budding romance is quickly squashed by Philadelphia’s father, who forbids any man he doesn’t consider a gentleman from seeing his daughter.  After learning of Owen Thursday’s disapproval, O’Rourke’s father Sergeant Major O’Rourke (Ward Bond), also a veteran of the Civil War, comes to blows with the bigoted commander of Fort Apache.  After learning of unrest by the Apache Natives, Commander Thursday ignores the advice of Kirby York, and decides to battle the forces of Cochise in the hills.  York, aware and sympathetic of the skilled Apache warriors, stands aside to watch an almost certain disaster take place in the hills near Fort Apache.  Will the bigoted Owen Thursday and his cavalry forces defeat the far more experienced Apache warriors, or will Thursday’s prideful ignorance lead to his and hundreds of his soldier’s untimely demise?  Find out in John Ford’s classic Fort Apache.

Though it may come off as extremely old-fashioned in its politics and archaic views of race relations, Fort Apache was actually quite a progressive film at the time of its release.  John Wayne’s Captain York is very sympathetic towards the struggles of the Native American population in the area, and suggests to his commander that the cavalry treat Cochise and his men with the utmost respect and civility, but Fonda’s Lt. Colonel Thursday is having none of it.  Henry Fonda, one of the seemingly nicest men in Hollywood, is playing extremely out of type in Fort Apache as the prejudiced and incredibly strict Owen Thursday.  This makes Fonda’s performance all the more impressive, because I found myself outright hating Thursday in several moments of the film, especially when leading his men into a battle they know they will lose in the name of ignorance.  I’ve never actively rooted against a character played by Fonda, and to see him pull off such an impressive transformation made me fall in love with the film even more than I already had.  John Wayne’s Kirby York is the perfect counterbalance, bringing logic and a strong-willpower to the table.  It’s clear that York is the superior and more worthy leader of the titular Fort Apache, and for him to be as restrained as he is was both frustrating and admirable at the same time.  Although Wayne was mostly playing himself as York, the performance is still very good and offers a character to really get behind.  On top of two incredible lead performances, Ford’s filming of action and battle sequences is incredible, giving weight to every fallen cavalry soldier and Native American warrior, and making every shot fired worthwhile.  For a film shot thirty years before the era of action blockbusters even began, the action set pieces are incredibly well-paced and have a perfect mixture of wonder and gravity to them.  Fort Apache also brings with it a surprising amount of comedy, especially in its early cavalry training sequences.  John Ford has a knack for subtle humour in films that don’t appear to be comedic in any way at first glance, and it never fails to add a little something to his films for me.  Lastly, while not being something I usually praise or comment on in great detail, the sets and costume design in Fort Apache are absolutely something to behold.  The sets are furthered by the incredible black and white cinematography that captures the beauty and bleakness of the plains featured prominently in the film.  The uniforms worn by the cavalry look very accurate as far as I can tell, and it absolutely helps immerse you deeper into the film.


As a whole, Fort Apache is easily one of my favorite films of the marathon thus far.  Its progressive attitude towards race relations between the Americans and Native Americans is something to be admired for the time period, the performances by both Henry Fonda and John Wayne are terrific and career-defining, and the direction of massive action set pieces by John Ford rivals some of the great action sequences in films made today.  It is clear that John Ford was most comfortable in the western genre, and I can’t wait to dive even further into his catalog of great westerns.  Fort Apache is highly recommended.

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Noirvember Feature #6 – The Big Clock (1948)

TheBigClockThe Big Clock (1948)
Directed by: John Farrow
Written by: Jonathan Latimer (based on The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing)
Starring: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan, Rita Johnson

This month’s selections just keeps getting better and better…

Director John Farrow (father of the highly-acclaimed actress Mia Farrow) was incredibly prolific as both a writer and director for nearly three decades.  It wasn’t until 1948’s The Big Clock that he truly struck a long-lasting chord with critics and audiences, and even after its release he would fail to live up to the film.  Farrow was nominated for Best Director for 1942’s Wake Island and even won an Oscar for writing 1956’s Around the World in Eighty Days, but those films haven’t endured the test of time like his famous film noir has.  The Big Clock stars Ray Milland, who just three years prior had given what I would consider to be one of the all-time great performances in The Lost Weekend, and the legendary Charles Laughton, whose acclaimed roles are far too plenty to list here.  Maureen O’Sullivan, the wife of director John Farrow and mother of Mia Farrow, also stars.  O’Sullivan was widely known at the time for playing Jane in the Tarzan series of films.  Her role in the film came after a prolonged absence from the screen, and was met with critical praise, but she soon after opted to retire from the screen permanently.  The Big Clock is based on a famous novel of the same name, written by Kenneth Fearing, and has been adapted for the screen a number of time since its publication.


Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) and George Stroud (Ray Milland) in the beginning of 1948’s The Big Clock.

The story of The Big Clock sees our main character, magazine editor George Stroud (played by Oscar-winning Ray Milland), being fired at the outset.  Stroud is eager to take a vacation with his wife Georgette (Maureen O’Sullivan), but plans his slowly become unravelled after gaining the attention of the beautiful Pauline York (Rita Johnson).  Pauline is the mistress of George’s former boss Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), which is partly why she shows so much interest in the down-on-his-luck George.  The two hit it off and devise a plan to blackmail the media mogul Janoth. Soon after George leaves her apartment to reunite with his wife, Pauline is quickly murdered after a passionate spat with her lover.  Little do the two men know that they quite literally bumped into each other in the hallway of Pauline’s apartment building, both men’s faces shrouded in darkness.  Janoth now looks for the man in the hallway so that he can pin his crime of passion on the mystery man, and unwittingly hires George back in order to track down the mystery man.  Now George must both lead the investigation and manhunt for the “murderer”, and cover up the fact that he’s the man the media is so desperately searching for.  Will Pauline York’s true killer be caught and brought to justice, or will the wrong man pay for a crime he didn’t commit?  You’ll have to watch John Farrow’s excellent The Big Clock to find out for yourself!

The Big Clock is as twisty-turny as film noir gets, and in this case it definitely works to its benefit.  The film keeps the audience on its feet and keeps you guessing whether Stroud or Janoth are going to get caught, and how they’re going to be able to get themselves out of the situation.  The scenes in the first act of the film involving George Stroud and his wife Georgette are quite funny and relatable, and set a very good pace for what was to follow.  Ray Milland and Maureen O’Sullivan had terrific chemistry together as the Stroud’s, and when Georgette decided to tag along with her husband I was overjoyed.  The may not be the most effective team due to some awkward gender roles of the time, but I still had a lot of fun watching the couple on-screen.  Charles Laughton’s performance as Earl Janoth is diabolical and hammy in the best way possible, and it’s obvious why Laughton is so highly regarded as an actor.  He seems to play a villainous character with ease, being both incredibly intimidating and slimy all at the same time.  His scenes with Milland’s George Stroud are tense, and the way he commands the screen just begs the attention of the viewer.  Director John Farrow also deserves a great deal of praise, commanding evocative performances from the entire (albeit talented) leading cast, and also for a variety of taught directing techniques.  A long single take shot towards the beginning of the film sets the tone for things to come, and is expertly handled by the veteran director. Reveals of the many twists and turns in the film’s script are handled with subtlety, making the audience piece together some of the clues and do some thinking instead of spoon-feeding them answers.  

Annex - Laughton, Charles (Big Clock, The)_02

In short, The Big Clock is a tight, tense, atmospheric film noir that will keep you on your toes.  The performances from an all-star cast are terrific, the writing respects its source material and doesn’t insult its audience, and John Farrow’s direction is somehow both subtle and stylish.  All of these elements combined lead to The Big Clock being regarded as one of my favorite films of this month’s marathon, and I now feel compelled to seek out similar stories, as well as more work from director John Farrow.  The Big Clock is highly recommended!

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Noirvember Feature #5 – They Live by Night (1948)

They_Live_By_Night_posterThey Live by Night (1948)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Written by: Charles Schnee, Nicholas Ray (based on Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson)
Starring: Cathy O’Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva

The story of two young lovers on the run from the law is a wildly popular tale in Hollywood history, and many of its origins can very likely be traced back to 1948’s They Live by Night.  Nicholas Ray’s film noir is seen as many to be the prototype to the story of Bonnie and Clyde, a film many consider to be the most successful of the subgenre.  Though the similar stories had been told in the past (specifically in Fritz Lang’s 1937 You Only Live Once, and Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps), Ray’s film modernizes the story for a new generation.  Films that would follow the same story arc as They Live by Night include: 1950’s Gun Crazy, Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, and most recently Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.  They Live by Night would be director Nicholas Ray’s debut behind the camera, and what a career it would lead to.  Ray would go on to direct such films as Johnny Guitar, In a Lonely Place, Rebel Without a Cause, Bigger Than Life, and Party Girl, and is still celebrated and analyzed decades after he passed away.  Ray has become something of a cult figure to cinephiles, and his legacy only continues to grow.  The film stars young Farley Granger, who would go on to be noticed by names like Alfred Hitchcock and Humphrey Bogart, and the lovely Cathy O’Donnell – a film noir regular for most of her ultimately short career.


Farley Granger (Bowie) and Cathy O’Donnell (Keechie) on the run in 1948’s They Live by Night.

They Live by Night sees three bank robbers (Bowie, Chicamaw, and T-Dub) escaping from prison early on.  Our main character Bowie (Farley Granger) has been wrongly accused of murder and is now on the lam.  He decides to hire a lawyer in order to prove that he isn’t guilty of his alleged crime, but first must get his hands on the money needed. After becoming injured, Bowie seeks refuge with a gas station owner and his young daughter Catherine, or Keechie (played by Cathy O’Donnell).  After quickly falling head over heels for each other, the young couple decides to get hitched and run away together.  Bowie plans to become an honest, hardworking man, but unfortunately for the young couple life isn’t always that simple.  Bowie once again bumps into former partners in crime Chicamaw and T-Dub, and is coerced into joining the crew for one more dirty job.  Will the young couple live happily ever after, or will the life of crime catch up with them?  Find out by watching Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night.

While the film isn’t exactly unique by today’s standards, there’s absolutely no denying the influence it has had on modern film.  They Live by Night avoids many of the film noir cliches we’ve come to know and love (and sometimes hate), and instead becomes something much more profound.  This is a love story through and through, with very little mystery involved.  The audience isn’t left to pick up the pieces or be the detective, but instead get to follow two well-rounded, and young characters who are very easy to like.  The film takes a little while to ramp up, but it’s smooth sailing once it gets going.  My favorite scene of the involves involves Bowie and Keechie getting married late at night in an odd little establishment.  The man officiating the marriage and the two witnesses are delightfully weird and eccentric, and the scene itself is quite funny.  This scene helps to relieve the tension felt through the first act of the film, and briefly makes it feel as if things are going to be perfectly okay for the young couple.  The performances by Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell are both very good, and it’s no wonder why somebody like Alfred Hitchcock would become interested in having the young man in some of his films (Rope and Strangers on a Train). Cathy O’Donnell would become a William Wyler regular, appearing in Best Picture winners Ben-Hur and The Best Years of Our Lives, as well as his film noir Detective Story.  For Nicholas Ray’s first feature film, the direction is quite smooth and restrained.  It definitely doesn’t feel like somebody’s first film, which is a testament to the skills of the man behind the camera, and probably also to the strict studio system of the 1940’s.


There’s a heck of a lot to admire about They Live by Night.  It paved the way for some of my all-time favorite films including Badlands, the Tarantino-penned True Romance, Bonnie and Clyde, and countless other greats.  The movie definitely runs at its own pace, which helps establish the universe and characters, but unfortunately stops the film dead in its tracks during a few scenes. The important thing is that I was entertained throughout, and thoroughly impressed by how modern it all still feels.  It may not be a perfect film in my books, but it’s definitely a fun, thrilling ride.  It would make way for one of the most underrated directors of the 1950’s, and its influence is still felt today.  It might not be my favorite film in the Noirvember series, but I still found a great deal about it to be satisfied with.  They Live by Night is very easily recommended.

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