One of the great romantic films of post war Hollywood and one that announced its director, Nicholas Ray, as an emerging master of humanist filmmaking. Though he'd go on to make more well known fare ("rebel without a cause" in particular), he would arguably (and I'm sure there are many who would) never quite eclipse the height to which he soared on this mesmerizing debut. Using the convention of the heist picture (though you could argue it's somewhat invented here, or at least serves as a blueprint for countless others which followed in its inimitable footsteps) "They live by night" is a movie about the inevitable decay of romantic love between human beings. The macguffin is permanance, and the movie is a perfect case study in a subject that would obsess Ray for the remainder of his career. The degradation of youthful passion, idealism, creativity by time. The performances are spot on, there's a great commentary by Eddie Muller and Farley Granger (who says about 15 words, my favorite of which are his tender recollections of Dore Schary, the RKO mogul who deserves much more recognition in general), and the film looks absolutely beautiful, a vast improvement over the DVD. I could talk all day about this film, I love it deeply and recommend it whole heartedly.
A young Farley Granger puts in a great performance as a hapless young gangster who tries to go straight but his past keeps dragging him back and he is often betrayed or very unlucky. It's a typical film of the time but well worth watching. It's pretty tightly written and directed and the leads are very convincing.
Ray liked to revise genres in interesting ways. This is a combination of film noir and melodrama that works pretty well. The Criterion transfer is very nice and it sounds good too. After watching this film, you may want to watch BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and THIEVES LIKE US (1974) to see how New Hollywood revised the revision.
One of my favorite Nicholas Ray films - a tale where innocence collides with the underlying ennui of the post World War II era - an era which was being advertised as a period of untold prosperity and happiness. Of course innocence loses in this case. With his great performance here, Farley Granger provides a cinematic bridge between the classic Hollywood movie stars and the just around the corner squinting, mumbling method actors like James Dean, whose style served Ray well in "Rebel".