Cast & Crew
Howard Da Silva
Jay C. Flippen
When the car they have commandeered blows a tire, escaped convicts Henry "T-Dub" Mansfield, Elmo "One Eye" Chickamaw Mobley and Bowie Bowers start on foot for Chickamaw's brother's place. Having hurt his ankle during the escape, Bowie is forced to stop and hide until Keechie, Chickamaw's niece, picks him up after dark. The plainly attired Keechie, who helps her alcoholic father in his gas station, disapproves of her uncle's criminal ways, but is immediately attracted to Bowie. While Mobley is procuring a car for the fugitives, which they plan to use in a bank robbery, Keechie and Bowie talk about their lives. Bowie reveals details about his troubled youth and how he was found guilty of murder when he was only sixteen. Sure that he did not receive a fair trial, Bowie tells Keechie that he intends to use his share of the robbery money to hire a lawyer in Oklahoma. Chickamaw and T-Dub, meanwhile, arrange with T-Dub's sister-in-law Mattie to use their share to get T-Dub's brother Richard out of jail. Having volunteered to be the "getaway" driver, Bowie scouts Zelton, the Texas town where the robbery is to take place, and buys a woman's watch from the local jeweler. After T-Dub and Chickamaw successfully hold up the bank, Chickamaw and Bowie go on a spending spree, buying nice clothes and a second car. Half-drunk and charged up, Chickamaw, who like his brother is an alcoholic, causes Bowie to crash his car on a busy street. When a suspicious policeman arrives on the scene, Chickamaw shoots him, then speeds away with the unconscious Bowie in the second car. Chickamaw leaves Bowie with Keechie and goes to join T-Dub in another town. After Bowie awakens, Keechie nurses him, and he presents her with the watch he bought in Zelton. Touched, Keechie admits her feelings to Bowie and offers to run away with him. Reading in the newspaper that his gun and fingerprints were found in his abandoned car, Bowie, whom the press has dubbed "The Kid," realizes that, even though he now has money, he cannot go to Oklahoma as hoped. Instead, he and Keechie board a bus together, finally stopping in a small town where, on an impulse, they decide to marry. Hawkins, the shady justice of the peace, not only performs the ceremony, but sells them a "hot" car as well. In their new convertible, Bowie and Keechie head for a remote mountain resort, where Keechie had once stayed as a child. The newlyweds set up house in a rundown cabin and dream about the day when they can live openly together. As Christmas approaches, however, Bowie is paid a surprise visit by Chickamaw, who has gambled away his loot and now wants Bowie to help T-Dub and him rob another bank. Fearing the worse, Keechie gives Bowie the watch she had bought him for Christmas and begs him not to participate in the robbery. When Bowie meets with T-Dub, who was unable to get his brother out of jail, however, he is bullied into joining the robbery. During the robbery, T-Dub is killed and Chickamaw, wounded. Once again, the press describes Bowie as the gang's leader, causing the alcohol-deprived Chickamaw to explode with envious fury. Finally fed up with Chickamaw's viciousness, Bowie dumps him by the roadside and drives back to the cabin. There he learns that not only was Chickamaw killed while breaking into a liquor store, but also that Keechie is pregnant. The nerve-wracked couple then abandon their cabin and head east. After days of driving at night, Keechie and Bowie feel safe enough to spend a pleasant day together in public. When Bowie is recognized by a gangster in a nightclub, however, the couple makes plans to flee to Mexico. On the way, Keechie becomes ill, and she and Bowie stop at a motel owned by Mattie. While Bowie drives back to see Hawkins, whom he believes can help him cross the border, Mattie makes a deal with the police to give up Bowie in exchange for her husband's release. After Hawkins refuses to help Bowie, saying that he "can't sell hope where there ain't any," Bowie returns to Mattie's place and tells her that, to protect Keechie and their unborn child, he is leaving by himself. Mattie encourages Bowie to say a final goodbye to Keechie, and he writes her a farewell note before heading for their cabin. As he is about to enter the cabin, however, the police descend on him, provoking him to draw his gun and be shot. Bending over Bowie's slain body, Keechie finds his goodbye note and sadly reads out loud the words he could never say to her while alive, "I love you."
Howard Da Silva
Jay C. Flippen
Guy L. Beach
J. Louis Johnson
N. L. Hitch
Russell A. Cully
Albert S. D'agostino
George E. Diskant
Richard M. Jones
They Live By Night
They Live By Night, starring Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell as the unlucky lovers, is now considered an important precursor not only to Bonnie and Clyde but to Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou (1965). In 1974 Robert Altman remade Ray's film as Thieves Like Us, the original title of the Edward Anderson novel upon which it is based, with Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall in the leading roles.
Ray begins They Live By Night with a superimposed title that reads, "This boy and this girl were never properly introduced to the world we live in." Granger plays Bowie, a 23-year-old escapee from a Mississippi prison farm where he was sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder he did not commit. Bowie's dream is to live in peace with Keechie (O'Donnell), an innocent farm girl who becomes his sweetheart and then his bride. But his crooked companions have involved him in a series of bank robberies and the police are soon in hot pursuit, mistakenly believing that Bowie is the leader of the gang.
As sensitively played by Granger and the luminous O'Donnell, Bowie and Keechie are a pair of childlike dreamers who are unprepared for the violent consequences of a life of crime. Ray tells their story in typically dynamic style, with shadowy, expressionistic photography and innovative use of a helicopter for overhead, bird's-eye views during the prison-escape sequence and other scenes. But he never lets the action interfere with a melancholy focus on the young lovers.
Although Robert Mitchum once claimed he was Ray's original choice to play Bowie, the director always had Farley Granger in mind for the role ever since an initial meeting at a party at Gene Kelly's house. Granger recalled in Nicholas Ray by Bernard Eisenschitz that "Nick asked me who I'd feel most comfortable with, and I said Cathy O'Donnell, because I knew her at Goldwyn. So we did the test with Cathy, and it was very good....He and John Houseman [the producer] were among the few people who fought for me in my career. They said no, we will not make the film without him. When Nick believed in you, he was very loyal."
The film's critical standing has continued to grow. "Of all the American 'outlaw lovers on the run' movies," wrote Michael Wilmington, film critic for the Chicago Tribune, "the tenderest and most romantic is They Live By Night." The film was considered Ray's best by Francois Truffaut, who called his fellow director "the poet of nightfall." Critic Steven H. Scheuer went so far as to consider They Live By Night "perhaps the best debut film of an American director -- and I'm not unmindful of Citizen Kane."
Director: Nicholas Ray
Producer: John Houseman, Dore Schary
Screenplay: Nicholas Ray, Charles Schnee, based on the novel Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson
Cinematography: George E. Diskant
Film Editing: Sherman Todd
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman
Music: Leigh Harline
Cast: Farley Granger (Arthur 'Bowie' Bowers), Cathy O'Donnell (Catherine 'Keechie' Mobley), Howard Da Silva (Chicamaw 'One-Eye' Mobley), Jay C. Flippen (Henry 'T-Dub' Mansfield), Helen Craig (Mattie Mansfield), Ian Wolfe (Mr. Hawkins), Will Wright (Mobley).
BW-96m. CLosed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe
They Live By Night
They Live By Night/Side Street - A Film Noir Double Feature - Nicholas Ray's THEY LIVE BY NIGHT & Anthony Mann's SIDE STREET
Nicholas Ray's first feature They Live By Night is the work of a Hollywood outsider. It's definitely Noir by theme and characterization, but is sourced in Edward Anderson's socially conscious Depression-era novel Thieves Like Us. A product of Roosevelt's New Deal public works programs, Ray was brought to Los Angeles by producer John Houseman and encouraged to place artistic goals first. With two young stars borrowed from Goldwyn, Ray made what might be Hollywood's darkest romance since the silent era.
Synopsis: Inexperienced Bowie Bowers (Farley Granger) escapes from jail with hardened criminals T-Dub and Chickamaw (Jay C. Flippen & Howard Da Silva) and is stashed at Mobley's filling station to recover from a wound. He's nursed by Mobley's teenaged daughter Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell). Despite the fact that neither has known anything but hardship and distrust, they begin a friendship. Bowie accompanies his cohorts on robberies and is soon being publicized as a bloodthirsty public enemy; Bowie and Keechie go on the run together and find that the underworld doesn't want loose-cannon hillbillies hanging around. They marry on the road, and Keechie becomes pregnant. When T-Dub and Chickamaw run into trouble, the young couple hide out at a motor hotel run by Mattie Mansfield (Helen Craig), who is bitter because her husband's parole has been denied. Bowie sneaks out to arrange their escape to Mexico.
They Live By Night is the most tender of films noir. It opens with a dreamy shot of lovers kissing by firelight, while the words, "This boy ... and this girl ... were never properly introduced to the world we live in" fade up on the screen. Keechie and Bowie share a sensitivity that transcends their miserable backgrounds. He's been in prison since childhood and she's turned cold and hostile to avoid further abuse from her drunken father. When Bowie returns from a robbery with a gift, we can see Keechie's heart melt. From then on they're like mated animals. Keechie's father is quick to inform on the lovers. The bull-like T-Dub and the hotheaded Chickamaw use threats to force Bowie into more bank robberies.
Ray concentrates on the couple's growing relationship. Keechie and Bowie gratefully accept whatever happiness they can find. Whenever they let down their guard and behave like 'real people', things go wrong. Bowie foolishly flashes his bankroll in front of strangers. A crooked marriage parlor operator (Ian Wolfe) can tell immediately that they're fugitives. The idea of 'honor among thieves' is revealed as a myth when crooks grossly overcharge them, and friends betray them to the police. Their situation is summed up by nightclub singer Marie Bryant's evocative delivery of Your Red Wagon, a creepy jazz tune that insists that one's problems are one's own, and it's no good expecting others to sympathize. Nicholas Ray's fine direction is just what Farley Granger needed -- he was never this good again, not even in his movies for Alfred Hitchcock. The much more natural performer Cathy O'Donnell is simply magnificent.
They Live By Night conjures powerful and memorable images, from its innovative helicopter shots to cameraman George Diskant's unusual character compositions. The lovers' happy faces fill the screen as they dream of the future, until the one-eyed Chickamaw shows up to demonstrate his menace by crushing Christmas ornaments. Not every scene happens at night, but those that do evoke the false sense of security when driving in a car, and the loneliness of being set adrift in a hostile world.
They Live By Night is the second of a string of very good rural bandit - amour fou movies roughly based on the Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow story. Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once is good cinema but forced in almost every respect. Joseph H. Lewis' Gun Crazy has a different blend of violence and out-of-control sexuality, and Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us has its good points as well. Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde is a masterpiece in its own right but openly borrows from Nick Ray. The banker that leaps onto Clyde's running board and is shot in the face is clearly meant to one-up the They Live By Night moment when Bowie shoves the nice jeweler from his car window. A big part of our concern for Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty is the edgy knowledge that their demise will be bloody and graphic. At the end of They Live By Night, we wish we could throw ourselves in front of the police to shield the Romeo & Juliet-like Granger and O'Donnell.
The conclusion is as complex as noir films get, a beautiful distillation of the trauma of criminal life. The hard-faced Mattie betrays Keechie and Bowie in a pitiful bid to free her own husband from prison. The finale is somewhat idealized, but the Madonna-like grace afforded Keechie is emotionally very moving. I've never seen a showing of They Live By Night where people didn't applaud -- even back in college screenings.
The print of They Live By Night is nearly flawless, completely overshadowing the old Image laserdisc from the early 1990s. The nights are inky black and the image has very little grain. The interesting soundtrack highlights the music of Leigh Harline, and we're told that themes by Woody Guthrie can be heard as well.
A fast-paced featurette by Sparkhill, The Twisted Road has on-camera contributions from Molly Haskell, James Ursini, Alain Silver, Oliver Stone, Christopher Coppola and star Farley Granger. Granger returns with Eddie Muller in a feature commentary. The gracious actor is good with generalities but remembers few specific details, and many of Muller's patient questions receive four-word non-answers. Muller gives a fine account of the making of the film. We might assume that the helicopter footage indicates a Howard Hughes influence -- Hughes injected aviation into films whenever he could -- but They Live By Night was produced before Hughes came to the studio.
MGM made noir films but not a lot of great ones, perhaps because the studio's commitment to glamour worked against the noir ethos. Things changed a bit when Dore Schary imported Anthony Mann and John Alton from Eagle-Lion. The director and cameraman made an excellent team on Border Incident, but Alton may already have been working on An American in Paris by the time Side Street came around. Veteran Joseph Ruttenberg's camerawork is just as interesting.
Side Street is a derivative tale sparked by some fancy location shooting, particularly an exciting car chase in the narrow streets of Lower Manhattan. An opening narration imitates Jules Dassin's The Naked City, describing the daily cycle in New York while criminals are doing their dirty work. As if conceived as an elongated version of a moralizing Crime Doesn't Pay short subject, our hero is an innocent dupe who makes one foolish decision and becomes the target of ruthless killers.
Synopsis: Part-time mail carrier Joe Norson (Farley Granger) needs a real job to replace the filling station he lost; his young wife Ellen (Cathy O'Donnell) will have to give birth in the county hospital. Joe's dreaming of buying her a fur coat when he sees an opportunity to filch $200 from a lawyer's office. The file he steals actually contains $30,000 in blackmail money; lawyer Victor Backett (Edmon Ryan) and his partner George Garsell (James Craig) have already murdered the girl who helped them get it, Lucille Colner (Adele Jergens). Ellen has her baby and Joe decides to return the money. He walks into Backett's office and confesses all --- and then discovers that a bartender has stolen his boodle. Before Joe knows what has hit him, Garsell has killed the bartender and framed Joe for the crime. With the police on his tail, Joe's only hope is to find Garsell first. He contacts nightclub singer Harriette Sinton (Jean Hagen) for help, not realizing that she sees through him as well.
Side Street is always explained as a follow-up to the impressive They Live by Night. Like many noir gems, the Nicholas Ray film was a reported box office failure, so it must have been an aesthetic decision to re-team Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell in a story about young lovers in trouble. The couple isn't as compelling here, mainly because their characters have been conceived along MGM 'little people' lines. As in Mystery Street and even the revivalist parable The Next Voice You Hear, Joe and Ellen Norson are 'simple, good Americans' living a working-class life. Trouble comes when Joe is tempted to pilfer some money, an offense that snowballs to life-threatening proportions. Ellen panics too, screaming over a phone for Joe to run, when he should be turning himself over to the police. As in Quicksand, the message is that good lumpen proles need to keep their noses clean and forget about things like fur coats.
The kiddie-lesson moralizing and the plagiarism from The Naked City would cripple the show were it not for MGM's impressive production values. Anthony Mann's strong visual sense -- many tight, odd angles -- is active even without John Alton behind the camera, and he finds renewed dynamism in the New York locations. The final car chase through the canyons of Wall Street is strong stuff for 1950, with the cars taking tight corners at high speeds.
Joe Norson's consistently foolish behavior is more appropriate for a sixteen year-old. He's had a business and lived in NYC all his life yet is a babe in the woods in his interpersonal dealings. He parks a mystery package with a bartender and never thinks that the man might peek inside. He walks into an office that has $30,000 stashed in a file cabinet and expects to find honest men. Joe is too insipid to qualify as a good noir loser character, like Al Roberts in Detour. Instead of hoping he'll get free, we're just as likely to wish that Ellen had fallen in love with somebody sensible. An honest ending would add an epilogue showing Joe Norson back in a menial job, no longer dreaming for anything better.
The venal crooks murder Lucille and several other obstacles in a business-as-usual fashion. Edmon Ryan is excellent as the cagey lawyer and James Craig is suitably ruthless with the ladies. Adele Jergens is a crooked blonde beauty with rotten luck in friends, and up 'n' coming Jean Hagen steals the show with just one scene as an alcoholic torch singer. It's a crime to think that her great role in Singin' in the Rain didn't lead to even better things.
Side Street plays fine on DVD, with crisp B&W location photography that takes us back to the hot sidewalks of 1950 Manhattan. Lennie Hayton's underscore is a definite plus. A trailer is included as well as Richard Schickel's casual, sparse commentary track. Schickel considers the film a great noir and opens by saying that the shots of the tall buildings imply that the city oppresses little people like Joe and Ellen. His remarks about the backgrounds of the filmmakers and actors are informed and authoritative. Sparkhill's featurette Where Danger Lurks has input from Patricia King Hanson, Christopher Coppola, Richard Schickel and Oliver Stone.
The features have chapter stops but no chapter menus. After experimenting with slim cases, Warners is back to using full-sized keep cases for all of its boxed sets.
For more information about They Live By Night/Side Street, visit Warner Video. To order They Live By Night/Side Street, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
They Live By Night/Side Street - A Film Noir Double Feature - Nicholas Ray's THEY LIVE BY NIGHT & Anthony Mann's SIDE STREET
The working titles of this film were Thieves Like Us, Your Red Wagon and The Twisted Road. Film Daily, Daily Variety and Variety reviewed the film as The Twisted Road, which also was the British release title. The film's opening credits are interrupted by the following written statement, superimposed over a close-up shot of actors Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger: "This boy...and this girl...were never properly introduced to the world we live in...to tell their story..." The New York Times review speculated that Edward Anderson's novel was "no doubt inspired by the two or three real-life sagas that we've had of 'boy bandits' and their brides." It is not known to which "real-life" events the review refers. Nicholas Ray, an established stage director, made his screen directing debut with this picture. The New York Times review said of Ray's work on the film: "...this well-designed motion picture derives what distinction it has from good, realistic production and sharp direction by Nicholas Ray. Mr. Ray has an eye for action details." In a modern interview, Ray mentions They Live By Night as one of his favorite films.
MPAA/PCA Collection files at AMPAS and RKO production files contained at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections add the following information about the writing of the screenplay: Writer/director Rowland Brown, who controlled the rights to Edward Anderson's novel, wrote the first drafts of the picture's screenplay in 1941. (Modern sources claim that, in 1941, Brown sold the book's rights to RKO for $10,000. Production file notes indicate that RKO had read the novel in galley form in December 1936, but had apparently rejected it.) When Brown's script was first submitted to the PCA in April 1941, PCA director Joseph I. Breen deemed it "unacceptable," claiming that it contained too much criminal activity and "loose sex." A revised script, written by Robert D. Andrews, was submitted in October 1941 and was rejected for the same reasons as the previous draft. RKO did not submit the script again until September 1944, when it was rejected for a third time. From August 1946 to May 1947, when Ray was working on the script, the PCA rejected three more versions of the story, stating each time that the adaptation dwelt too much on the characters' crimes and not enough on morality.
The title of Ray's adaptation, which included a detailed treatment, was Stranger Here Myself. (The line "I'm a stranger here myself" figures prominently in Ray's 1954 picture Johnny Guitar.) In December 1946, Breen met with RKO representatives to discuss how to change the script and suggested, among other things, that the "loyalty and honor among thieves" aspect of the story be downplayed. Breen advised adding a "note of treachery" to the plot and eliminating "Bowie's thoughtless acquiescence" in the crimes. In addition, Breen suggested that the character of "Hawkins" be changed from a corrupt judge to a justice of the peace. All of these suggestions were eventually incorporated into the final script, and on June 10, 1947, the script was finally approved by the PCA.
Contemporary news items and RKO production files add the following information about the production: They Live By Night, which was made over two years before its U.S. release, was Granger's first film following his discharge from the military. RKO borrowed Howard Da Silva from Paramount for the production, and Granger and O'Donnell from Samuel Goldwyn's company. Although CBCS lists Suzi Crandall as "Lulu," Erskine Sanford as "Doctor" and Frank Ferguson as "Bum," those roles were not included in the final film. (According to modern sources, Lulu was "T-Dub's" girl friend.) Hollywood Reporter production charts credit Art Smith as a cast member, but he did not appear in the final film. Modern sources note that Smith was replaced by Will Wright. Among those tested for parts in the picture were Guy Madison, Jane Greer, Michael Steel, Bill Williams and Jeff Donnell.
They Live By Night was George Diskant's first effort as a director of photography. Some scenes for the film were shot in the San Fernando Valley, including Canoga Park, Van Nuys and RKO's eighty-acre ranch in Encino, in Culver City, Newhall and Rancho Santa Anita in Arcadia, and in Griffith Park and Benedict Canyon in Los Angeles. Second unit shooting was done in Providencia and Flintridge, CA. The film's opening action sequence was shot by a helicopter camera, placed on a gyro-stablized mount. At the time of this production, aerial helicopter photography was quite uncommon. During production, Granger broke his ankle while making a leap from a freight train. The total budget of the production was $808,397. The picture was first released in Great Britain in late 1948, where it was a "surprise hit," according to Los Angeles Times.
Modern sources add the following information about the production: In addition to uncredited writers Brown and Andrews, Dudley Nichols contributed to the script. In March 1946, RKO turned the entire project over to producer John Houseman. Houseman, who had worked with Ray on two Broadway productions and at the Office of War Information, had earlier brought the novel to Ray's attention, and by April 1946, Ray had completed a treatment of the story. After Houseman convinced RKO to hire Ray as a screenwriter, Ray wrote a second treatment, submitted in August 1946. The project was then shelved until early 1947, when Dore Schary became RKO's head of production. Ray then worked with screenwriter Charles Schnee on the script, the first draft of which was finished in May 1947.
Having read the script, RKO leading man Robert Mitchum asked to play one of robbers, but was told by the studio that he couldn't play a criminal, or die, in a picture. Ray tested folk singer Pete Seeger, who did not make his motion picture debut until 1964, for a role. In the modern interview, Ray recalls that he made Cathy O'Donnell work in a gas station for two weeks prior to rehearsals. Several scenes were cut in the final editing stage, including one in a dance hall in which a young couple explains the southern expression "your red wagon" ("it's your business"). Modern sources list Gene Palmer as an assistant editor. The film lost $445,000 at the box office. In 1974, Robert Altman directed Thieves Like Us, a second version of Anderson's novel, starring Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall and released by United Artists.
Released in United States Fall November 5, 1949
Released in United States November 1971
Released in United States August 1997
Released in United States 2013
Released in United States Fall November 5, 1949
Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Film Noir) November 4-14, 1971.)
Released in United States August 1997 (Shown at Locarno International Film Festival (50 Years of American Film) August 6-16, 1997.)
Shown at Locarno International Film Festival (50 Years of American Film) August 6-16, 1997.
Released in United States 2013 (Revivals)