© 1949 RKO Radio Pictures

They Live By Night (1949)

Nicholas Ray’s directorial debut features a very young Farley Grainger as a man who was wrongly convicted of murder. The famous opening scene, the first in which a helicopter was used to shoot actors, has him on the run, having broken out of prison with two hardened criminals. When the younger man is hurt, he hides away behind a billboard while the other two promise to return with a car. Instead, the daughter of a local farmer finds him, and takes him home. They fall in love and spend their married life running from the law. This film was shot in 1947, before Grainger appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, but wasn’t released until 1949, as Howard Hughes was in the process of taking over RKO, and a lot of films got pushed to the sidelines. But a lot of Hollywood insiders were able to screen this film in the interim, helping to build a reputation for Grainger and Nicholas Ray. They Live by Night became a kind of template for couple-on-the-run movies, like Gun Crazy and Bonnie And Clyde, and also explored themes that Ray would return to an many of his later films, especially Rebel Without a Cause. While it is good considering its low budget and cast of newcomers, I wouldn’t exactly call it a classic of film noir.

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