They Live by Night

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95%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 22

81%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,184
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Movie Info

Wrongly convicted for murder as a teen, "Bowie" Bowers (Farley Granger) breaks out of prison with two other criminals, Chickamaw (Howard da Silva) and T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen). While hiding out, Bowie meets Chickamaw's niece, Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell), and they bond. Wanting to clear his name, Bowie decides to participate in a robbery with the others, so he can afford a lawyer. As he gets drawn further into crime, Bowie contemplates running away with Keechie and starting over.

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Critic Reviews for They Live by Night

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (21) | Rotten (1)

  • There's no attempt at sugarcoating a happy ending, and yarn moves towards its inevitable, tragic climax without compromise.

    October 22, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • Passionate, lyrical, and imaginative, it's a remarkably assured debut, from the astonishing opening helicopter shot that follows the escaped convicts' car to freedom, to the final, inexorably tragic climax.

    June 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Although it -- like others -- is misguided in its sympathies for a youthful crook, this crime-and-compassion melodrama has the virtues of vigor and restraint.

    May 20, 2003 | Full Review…
  • A key film noir of the 40s, this was Nicholas Ray's first film as a director (1949), and the freshness of his expressionist-documentary style is still apparent and gripping.

    January 1, 2000 | Full Review…
  • One of the most potent of all romance-minded crime dramas.

    August 15, 2020 | Rating: 9/10 | Full Review…
  • I find the protagonists played by Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell very soft. [Full review in Spanish]

    July 23, 2020 | Rating: 6/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for They Live by Night

  • Aug 23, 2018
    First-time director Nicholas Ray does a good job of threading the needle between a romance and film noir/heist film with 'They Live by Night'. There is such a natural feeling to the actors and story-telling, and Ray keeps up a good, brisk pace for most of the film. Three convicts break out of prison at the beginning of the movie, a couple of older guys (Howard Da Silva and Jay C. Flippen) and one of the two's son (Farley Granger), who believes he was in there unjustly to begin with. He wants to raise a little money to hire a lawyer to clear his name, and makes the mistake of committing new crimes to do that. He meets a beautiful, smart young woman (Cathy O'Donnell), and soon the two of them are on the run, making this a forerunner of that kind of film. I'm not as sure about Granger, and liked him better in 'Strangers on a Train', but O'Donnell is just wonderful. She has strong scenes throughout the movie, starting with those where she tries to talk sense into him. Her imploring eyes and minimal makeup are very effective at conveying the fundamental truth of innocence and simplicity. As the two fall in love, they have this lovely exchange while driving, her head on his shoulder: "I like you so much. I don't know much about kissing. You're gonna have to show me." "I don't know too much about it myself." "We'll learn together." That sounds a little syrupy as I read it now, but it worked for me at the time. The film does get a little melodramatic, and while there are scenes which I adored, there are others which are a little cloying. On the other hand, there is a quite a bit of realism here as well. To give us this, and to create interest, Ray shoots from a helicopter, and from the backseat of the getaway car during a robbery. He also creates a natural feel in his scenes, sometimes bordering on having actors slightly out of focus. We're sometimes informed of events after the fact, relieving us of the tedium of seeing it all, and again, keeping us interested. The dialogue seems authentic, and the supporting cast is very strong. Even the character names add a certain feeling - 'Keechie', 'T-Dub', 'Chicamaw', etc The film trundles a bit towards its inexorable end, but its last scene is strong, and touching.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 28, 2011
    A little too sentimental for my taste, but the film's influence is clearly apparent. Nicolas Ray's sympathy for criminals and of youth culture is on full display, and his innovative overhead helicopter shots is impressive (especially considering that, at the time, using those shots were only used for establishing shots, not to follow action). A clear precursor to Bonnie and Clyde and many famous "love on the run" films.
    Jonathan H Super Reviewer
  • Sep 05, 2010
    Solid noir is full of despair but well told and acted with assurance.
    jay n Super Reviewer
  • Oct 18, 2009
    You gotta love those classics! "They live by night"is yet another reason why you should. Even though it might get a bit melodramatic at moments for my own standards, by any other standards it's one of the movies that defined film-noir, future-to-come road movies and that always desired but never realised "escape to Mexico". Nicholas Ray does a robust job directing it, O'Donnel and Granger work out swell as a couple and there you have it, a film that any romantic oughts to see.
    Anastasia B Super Reviewer

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