Rebel Without A Cause (1955), the most well known and well played of Rays films, is up first in this week’s Cinematheque double feature which also marks the end of the Nicholas Ray retrospective. I must admit that I do feel a little foolish writing about such a seminal piece of cinematic history but I shall press on nonetheless. This inter-generational classic stars James Dean as Jim Stark who cannot relate to his peers and does not take well to the authority around him. At his new school he meets Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo) as well as the school gang which is headed by Buzz.
Ray manages to highlight the growing post-war economic prosperity, alongside the alienation that teenagers are experiences in a forever widening generational-gap. The epitome of sex, drugs, & rock ‘n’ roll is portrayed fabulously by the young cast.
To end the evening is Party Girl (1958) yet another film lauded by those of the nouvelle vague and known for Ray’s use of a strikingly rich colour-pallet. Set in Chicago in the 1920s the film stars Robert Taylor as mob lawyer Thomas Farrell. After meeting dancing girl Vicki Gaye (Cid Charisse) Farrell decides to leave the mob business yet mob boss Rico Angelo threatens to hurt Gaye, forcing Farrell to make some quick decisions and learning that drama can happen not just in the court room, but in real life as well.
And so ends Melbourne Cinematheque for July. After taking a brief hiatus to make room for the Melbourne International Film Festival (21 July- 7 August, which you should all be going to) it shall return August 17th with a three-week look at Masahiro Shinoda.
They live by night
Up first this week is another of Ray’s film noirs- They Live by Night (1949)- Ray’s first feature and the one he is seen as having the most creative control over. This film is also believed to be the first to use a helicopter as a tracking shot for action rather than just for landscape.
We are introduced to ‘Bowie’ Bowers (Farley Granger) as he escapes prison after being wrongly convicted of murder. With two others- Chicamaw and T-Dub- he plans to rob a bank and use the money to hire and lawyer and clear his name. On the way though he meets ‘Keechie’ Mobley (Cathy O’Donnell) and the two quickly marry and decide to live a life of honour. Though with Bowie’s past always following them, this Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque-couple (though they beat out Bonnie and Clyde by a good twenty years) face danger from all sides. They Live By Night is the start of many of Ray’s recurring themes; the pressure on adolescence, couples being torn apart, violence, a past that continues to surface and tested loyalties.
A move away from film noir now and towards Hollywood Western’s with Johnny Guitar (1954). Lauded by Truffaut as the pinnacle of Westerns, this is a story about Vienna (Joan Crawford who, alas, doesn’t wear her famous shoulder-pads throughout the film) who owns a saloon and shares a bed with The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady). The rest of the town attempt to drive Vienna out for she supports the new railroad being built and they all believe The Dancin’ Kid is responsible for a string of robberies. When Vienna’s old lover, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) arrives and wins Vienna back the trouble really begins- for both Vienna and the townspeople.
At the time of release many saw Crawford’s performance as merely adding to her decline as a Hollywood star and her younger and more attractive female stars didn’t help the matter. Visually, the film is striking with bold colours jumping out of the barren landscape and the poetic and floral dialogue parted audiences.
A Lonely Place
By Eleanor Colla
Nicholas Ray (1911-1979) was an American director who has been payed homage to within the works of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Win Wenders, Martin Scorsese, and numerous others. And now, cinematheque takes its turn.
Known for traversing numerous genres, styles, themes and narratives, Ray payed great attention to the social and sociological concerns of post-war America. He was particularly concerned with the challenges facing the post-war youth; the new-found freedom of a generation who had not experienced war is present in many of his films. To open the three week retrospective is a Humphrey Bogart ‘Hollywood valentine’ double feature: In A Lonely Place (1950) and Knock On Any Door (1949)
In A Lonely Place has Bogart playing Dixon Steele, a scriptwriter accused of murdering a girl he brought home with him one evening; with the honourable intention of getting her to explain the plot of a book he is too tired to read. Although he is cleared by his neighbour Laurel (Gloria Grahame) and the two begin a relationship Laurel’s suspicious begins to overtake her romantic feelings. Steele’s unknown past of violent outbursts begins to come between them; all while trying to avoid the policeman (Frank Lovejoy) who refuses to leave Steele alone. A true film noir that comments on the pitfalls of success and the pressure to do even better.
Knock on any door
Knock On Any Door is another noir and with Bogart playing Andrew Morton, a lawyer who has risen up from the slums. Against the advice of his colleagues Morton takes up the case of Nick Romano (newcomer John Derek) who has been accused of murdering a policeman and is facing execution. Morton takes the angle that due to both emotional distress and having grown up in the slums, Romano is not as responsible for his actions as he is merely a killer by circumstance, not by nature. Filled with flashbacks, witty dialogue and courtroom drama, Ray’s third feature highlights personal causes and conflicts when it comes to crime and court.