You Can’t Go Home Again: The Ballard of Nicholas Ray (Part 2)

5 Jul

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.

Johnny Guitar

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.

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