"You only love once." Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell are perfect for each other in this not-quite-film-noir crime melodrama. I say not-quite-film-noir, but (not to dumb a whole genre down) it does have the repeated characteristics of a love and/or crime story with characters doomed from the beginning, showing the fragility (and wickedness) of humankind. So... Film Noir, I guess.
They Live by Night is one of American cinema's great debuts & introduction to one of American cinema's greatest filmmakers, the legendary Nicolas Ray. Although it has the genre trappings of a noir picture, at its heart, They Live by Night is a great romantic picture. It's a beautiful film about young lovers struggling to be together in an unjust world where material value is more important than people & love; [cont.]
I used to wonder what attracts American filmmakers to the lovers on the run sub-genre through the years, and through the tragic, fresh eyes of Nicholas Ray it all makes sense. It is the story of youth, of a new generation hoping against hope to escape the violent sins of their fathers. It is the birth and death of American innocence.
Weird prologue aside, a fantastic debut by Ray possibly best first film by any director, including Welles. The camerawork and lighting throughout is exceptional and Granger's chemistry w/ O'Donnell is beautiful. Granger has his best role here, Hitchcock films aside, and noir stalwart De Silva provides solid supporting work. A top 50 film in the genre, & a film that predicts where cinema would go in the next decade.
There's two types of Communists in Hollywood. Howard da Silva, who gets blacklisted, and Nicholas Ray, who gets to have a career protected by Howard Hughes. The most ridiculous scene in this movie is the one where the policemen sympathize with the outlaws on the run. Pure insanity.