For all his apparent obsession with analysing the negative impact non-traditional families had on children, Nicolas Ray really didn't seem able to get past an artificial idea of childlike innocence. It's one of the things that diminishes Rebel Without a Cause, and it's an even bigger problem in his first film, They Live By Night, a Bonnie and Clyde-ish couple on the run story. It's beautifully shot, expressionistic noir black and white, and the two young leads are remarkably vulnerable. But the film loses its way with a rather mundane plot about a young man being destroyed by choosing the wrong side of the law.
Farley Granger as the young man, Bowie (pronounced like "booey" in "Bababooey") comes off very much as a blander prototype for James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause. Granger's not committed to the performance like Dean was, so it leaves bare Ray's rather uninteresting equation of boy's mom gets divorced, boy heads to ruinous bank robber lifestyle.
The main reason to watch the movie is Cathy O'Donnell, who plays Keechie, Bowie's girlfriend. He describes her when she wakes up one morning as looking like a kitten and, damn, she sure was that cute.
But she also gives a much more effective performance than Granger. The innocent girl who runs away with the first guy she falls for, and the young wife whose 1940s maternal and housewife instincts tragically kick in, Keechie's not the most excitingly written character, either, but O'Donnell kind of breaks your heart. She manages both to come off as credulous and smart. When things go wrong, the looks on her face show complete understanding of what's happening even as you know she was never really equipped to deal with it.
I just want to hug her.
Granger, meanwhile--looking at Wikipedia, I see I've seen him starring in two Alfred Hitchcock movies, Rope and Strangers on a Train, and on each occasion I've seen him in a movie, I've totally forgotten about having ever seen him or heard of him before. This guy cannot make an impression.
Twitter Sonnet #388
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