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Sunday, June 15, 2008

THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1949)

Nicholas Ray’s helming debut holds up beautifully. It’s based on the same book (THIEVES LIKE US) that Robert Altman used 25 years later (see below), but Ray plays out a contemporary story where Altman returned to Depression days which distances the romance & tragedy. There’s nothing new in the basic story (3 convicts on the lam rob banks until ‘the kid’ falls for a girl and wants out), nor in the manner that Ray emphasizes the fatalistic noir aspects of the story. But the film holds particular interest as a stylistic fulcrum between Fritz Lang’s YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE/’37 (which also charts a BONNIE & CLYDE tale) and Charles Laughton’s THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER/’55 (which has little narrative connection). Jay C. Flippen gives a remarkably blunt performance as one of the convicts, but the film is mainly about its young lovers. And if Cathy O’Donnell’s doe pales next to Farley Granger’s fawn, this remains one of Ray’s more dramatically balanced works, thanks to strong collaborators John Houseman & Charles Schnee, producer & scripter.

CONTEST: A well known folksong that's used as musical material for the film's score is the eponymous theme of one of the all-time great romance pics. Name that film and win the usual MAKSQUIBS prize, a Write-Up of the NetFlix DVD of your choice. Remember, no Googling or IMdB searching. These contests are too easy already!

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