On Day Three of the TCM Classic Film Festival I saw my third film noir of the weekend: THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948), the directorial debut of Nicholas Ray.
I wouldn't class the film as one of my favorites of the weekend -- it was too much of a heart-tugging downer for that -- yet I have found the movie has "stayed with me" and I'm really glad I saw it. It's a deeply memorable film with a number of unforgettable moments, anchored by the poignant performances of Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell as young lovers on the run.
Prior to the film, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation interviewed Susan Ray, Nicholas Ray's widow. A portion of the interview can be seen in the festival video gallery under the Saturday listings. (Photo courtesy of TCM.)
One of Susan Ray's more notable comments, simultaneously funny and poignant, was when she discussed her husband's fascination with young people, saying "He didn't like old people...he'd probably have nothing to do with me at this point." She said he "loved the juice and potential of youth."
Muller and Ray mentioned the film's unusual opening sequence, which can be seen on the TCM site; it moves from a gorgeous, too-brief prologue which sets up the film's love story to an exciting car chase shot from a helicopter.
Granger and O'Donnell are achingly young and beautiful in this, particularly in their later scenes. This was one of the earliest roles for both actors; after production, the release was delayed for a couple of years. O'Donnell's best-known previous work was as Wilma, who marries disabled veteran Harold Russell in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1945), while Granger had debuted in THE NORTH STAR (1943) and also appeared in THE PURPLE HEART (1944).
One of my favorite scenes was when Keechie wakes up and stretches, saying she feels like a kitten; it felt very "real" and was one of a number of simple yet memorable moments.
GUN CRAZY (1950). It's thus noteworthy that Granger and Dall costarred as a murderous team in Hitchcock's ROPE (1948).
The film is also interesting for its portrayal of a very poor, rural lifestyle; the superb black and white photography by George E. Diskant at times almost looks like a documentary of the Depression-era South. We were fortunate to see the film in a beautiful 35mm print at the festival.
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT was based on the book THIEVES LIKE US by Edward Anderson; the screenplay was by Charles Schnee. The film was produced by John Houseman. It runs 95 minutes.
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT is available on DVD in the 10-film Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4. It can also be purchased on a "double feature" disc with SIDE STREET (1949), which also starred Granger and O'Donnell. The THEY LIVE BY NIGHT DVD has a commentary by Eddie Muller along with Farley Granger; I just started listening to it and was interested to learn that Granger had recommended O'Donnell to Nicholas Ray.
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.