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.
Out of first two Ray's films (other being "Knock on Any Door") concerning troubled adolescent criminals, their background and ways of dealing with future to come, this one looks a lot successful. By emphasizing on main characters love affair (thus more on their persona), rather than his "cruel destiny", it managed to unveil a lot more issues lying underneath such a topic.
Seen today, They Live By Night looks less like a B-movie masterpiece than a stepping stone, the first crack in a dam that would explode a decade later. There was romantic fatalism before—You Only Live Once, etc.—but Ray's film adds a vital generation gap. He had a way with photographing young people that could turn a pensive Farley Granger close-up into Byronic poetry. But then Farley Granger had to open his mouth.
Great debut by Nicholas Ray, but I just can't take Farley Granger as anything more than a pretty Hollywood face. He's in some very good films, but in every one of them, I wish that they'd cast a more serious actor. This film is still quite good, but not nearly as good as the re-make by Robert Altman, THIEVES LIKE US. (Forgive me for comparing apples and oranges-such different films, but both based on the same book).
Disappointing first feature from Ray. A lover's on the run plot full of archetypes, and expected plot conventions lacking most of Ray's great exploration of moral uncertainty and darkness. Some hints are present as an outlaw in an impossible romance is sympathized. Nonetheless Ray mostly plays it safe with a tragic, but expected ending. Don't understand what Truffaut saw in it.
A lovers on the run movie that focuses on the romance without compromising the criminal endeavors that drive the plot. It's a remarkable first feature from Nicholas Ray, showing right from the start his ability to create beautiful films about people who don't fit into society.