Ray's Romance on the Run
To movie buffs the name Nicholas Ray will be well known but to the average movie lover the name may not mean anything but his movies will be recognizable such as "Rebel Without a Cause". I mention this because depending on what you are, a movie buff or just a movie lover will affect how much you enjoy "They Live by Night" his debut as director. For movie buffs there are the camera angles, the use of helicopters for over head shots and the movies tone as whilst Ray never set out to make a film-noir that is what he has done. But for movie lovers we have an entertaining thriller which is nicely paced, nicely acted and worth a watch if you stumble across it.
After escaping from prison with hardened criminals T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen) and Chickamaw (Howard Da Silva), young Bowie (Farley Granger - Hans Christian Andersen) meets Chickamaw's niece Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell - Ben-Hur) who wishes the young man would leave his criminal past behind. But being young and naive Bowie just can't help being drawn into more of his friend's criminal activities. When a car accident almost sees him get caught he and Keechie decide to go on the run together in the hope of starting a new life.
So as you can see "They Live by Night" is actually a very simple movie, some might say befitting of a director making his debut with a tale of young lovers on the run with a hope in their heart of starting a new. But of course with Bowie having a criminal past things can never be straight forwards especially when his criminal buddies want him to help with their crimes. That is it so we have this beautiful, tentative romance between the innocent Keechie and the naive Bowie which is handled nicely by Nicholas Ray with a straight forward pacing which keeps it moving. But Ray also gives it some clever embellishments such as the opening scene which features the young lovers with subtitles which insinuate of a doomed love.
But the real appeal of "They Live by Night" is for movie buffs especially those who are fans of director Nicholas Ray's work as he delivers an assured debut. The use of a helicopter for over head shots stands out and his focus on the people to tell the story stops it from feeling over worked. Talking of which there is a charming chemistry between Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell which makes you buy into their hopefulness as young lovers. But that is counter balanced by Howard Da Silva and Jay C. Flippen as the more classic bad guys with an air of heaviness about them.
What this all boils down to is that "They Live by Night" is an entertaining thriller for those who discover it just as movie fans but is more interesting for those who are movie buffs and fans of director Nicholas Ray.