"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.