NYFF51 Spotlight: The Rebel Cinema of Nicholas Ray


Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night (1948)

This year’s NYFF Revivals lineup comprises 11 films that range in origin, subject matter, and genre. Their common denominator is that each film is worthy of our attention, and even more worthy of restoration. Two of these are by maverick director Nicholas Ray, whose films They Live by Night and The Lusty Men have been beautifully restored and will screen in 35mm on Saturday, October 5.

Longtime Ray collaborator, producer (and Hollywood legend in his own right) John Houseman once said: “From the first instant of shooting, Nick Ray emerged as an autonomous creator with a style and work patterns that were entirely and fiercely his own.” Nicholas Ray commanded attention in his debut film, They Live by Night (1948), with his bravura action shot of escaped convicts in a speeding car, taken by veteran cameraman Paul Ivano, marking the first time a helicopter was used for an action shot.

That’s all the more reason why you should take advantage of seeing They Live by Night in 35mm film. Farley Granger plays Bowie, a young man who escapes from jail with two other convicts, T-Dub and Chickamaw (played by Howard Da Silva). The men find temporary refuge at the house of Chickamaw’s brother, Mobley.  Bowie falls in love with Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), Mobley’s daughter.  Bowie and Keechie try to start a new life together, but circumstances keep pulling Bowie back to criminal endeavors. They Live by Night is based on the book Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson, which also inspired Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us in 1974.


Nicholas Ray's The Lusty Men (1952)

Ray’s other film being shown, The Lusty Men (1952), continues the themes he would cover for much of his work—men trapped in a life of danger, the women who love them, and desperation to find refuge/solace.  Robert Mitchum plays Jeff McCloud, a rodeo legend who returns to his childhood home in Texas after retiring from the circuit. Jeff meets Wes and Louise Merritt (played by Arthur Kennedy and Susan Hayward), a married couple who plan on buying the ranch where he was raised. Wes immediately recognizes Jeff’s name and, soon enough, is interested in competing in rodeos with Jeff as his coach. This does not please Louise, but the three head to compete in Tuscon. The “fast life” of the rodeo entices Wes, and his increasing greed creates rifts in his marriage, which only perpetuates Jeff’s growing feelings for Louise. 

Originally titled Cowpoke, and then This Man is MineThe Lusty Men was often scripted on a daily basis between Nicholas Ray, Robert Mitchum, and writers Alfred Hayes and Andrew Solt, who were brought in to alter the script originally written by Horace McCoy and David Dortort. The result is a film that Ray himself never considered a Western: "This film is really a film about people who want a home of their own. That was the great American search at the time the film was made."

Screening on October 5, They Live by Night starts at 6:00pm, and The Lusty Men at 8:15pm.  Enjoy!

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