Review: They Live by Night

They Live by Night is a classic film noir based on Edward Anderson book Thieves Like Us.

This is also director Nicholas Ray’s first film, a pretty good start to an amazing career. This film stars Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger as a young couple in love. They would go on to team up again in Anthony Mann’s Side Street a few years later. I reviewed that film here:

This film starts out with a quick scene before the credits role of our happy couple. We than flashback to three men in the process of a prison escape. We see Granger and his two cohorts played by Howard Da Silva and Jay C. Flippen. There is an interesting scene here, where Ray shot from a helicopter for a bird’s eye view of our trio fleeing. This is one of the first action scenes ever shot from a helicopter(pretty amazing idea for a first time director). As our hero has a bum foot or ankle, he hangs by a billboard as his fellow escapees move on to their destination and will send help back for him. When a truck pulls up we meet Cathy O’Donnell as the farmer’s daughter there to take him to meet his friends. We can see the attraction right away between our two leads as she drives him to her father’s farm. As the trio regroup they decide the best move is to rob a bank to raise some money to make their getaway. Will they succeeded? Will our happy couple live happily ever after?

I’m not sure if Edward Anderson wrote this story as a fictional tale of Bonnie and Clyde or not, but it at least had to be a huge influence. This is a twisted love story in more than a few ways. This film is a must see for film noir fans, though I would not rank it among my favorites and maybe my expectations were to high going in. This is a good film and when you know it is Ray’s first film, I do appreciate it. I hope to read the book on which this film is based someday and revisit this film again.

Favorite Tidbit: Another film was made in 1974 based on this novel as well. It goes by the novel’s title Thieves Like Us and stars Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall. I have not seen this film but may have to watch both of these films back to back for an interesting double feature.

Review: Side Street

Side Street is a film noir from 1949, directed by Anthony Mann based on a story and a screenplay by Sydney Boehm.  This stars Farley Granger as our protagonist and Cathy O’Donnell as his pregnant wife.

This story is confusing and full of plot holes but a fun noir to watch.  This film starts with a women blackmailing some important business man.  A guy behind a door has a gun to make sure this goes down like it is supposed to.  We then find this girl floating in the water, dead!  Granger is working as a part-time mail carrier(because a full-time mail carrier would be too honest to do this?)  He delivers mail to a lawyer’s office and finds a sign which says “out for 15 minutes and will be back soon”.  Granger finds the door is accidentally left unlocked.  He goes in the office and tries to open a filling cabinet, it is locked.  So he leaves, sees an ax for firefighting and brings it back to open the cabinet.  He grabs a file, puts into his bag, not looking at it, and takes off.  Now a voice over for the film is telling us our mail carrier has 50 cents in his pocket and would or wouldn’t you in that situation steal a few hundred dollars? There ends up being $30,000 in the file. This is where you have to start suspending your rational thinking!  Why would a lawyer with $30,000 in his office not lock the door?  But that is not the biggest questions here! How or why does Garager know that in the second drawer down, the last file in the cabinet has any money in it at all?  He grabs it without looking in the file and without looking in any other drawer or file?  Why does he think there is a few hundred dollars in it and not more, or any for that matter?  Anyway he dumps the file, goes to his parent-in-laws where him and his wife now live, because they have lost everything in a failed business and are starting over.  His wife is pregnant and due anytime now.  He gives her some cash and says she can now get a real doctor and a room at the hospital to have her baby.  He tells her, he got a new job up north and a pay advance and has to leave right away to start work.  He gives the cash to a friend telling him it is a present for his wife and needs to hide it with him so she doesn’t find it.  So as the plot thickens our hero has the police, a lawyer and some murdering blackmailers all looking for him while he runs through the streets of New York City to give the money back to its rightful owner and figure out the mystery on his own.

So this synopsis is just part of the suspend disbelief you need to enjoy this film.  If you do I think you will enjoy the ride.  It is stylishly filmed and even though you don’t always know quite what is going on and why, it is a fun watch.  We also get a few cameo appearances worth seeing.  Jean Hagen plays a lounge singer, who is our closest thing to a femme fatale in this film. Charles McGraw plays a small part as a deep voiced hard-nosed cop.  Also Paul Kelly as our police captain is very good.

I think most film noir fans will find this film enjoyable, I did.  Sometimes life doesn’t make sense so why should a classic film noir?