They Live by Night

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Total Count: 20


Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,172
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Movie Info

"This boy...and this girl...were never properly introduced to the world we live in." With this superimposed opening title, director Nicholas Ray inaugurates his first feature, They Live by Night. Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell play a "Bonnie and Clyde"-type fugitive couple, who in trying to escape their past are hell-bent down the road to Doom. Despite their criminal activities, Bowie (Granger) and Keechie (O'Donnell) are hopelessly naïve, fabricating their own idyllic dream world as the authorities close in. The entrapment -- both actual and symbolic -- of the young misfit couple can now be seen as a precursor to the dilemma facing James Dean in Ray's 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause. A box-office disappointment upon its first release, They Live by Night has since gained stature as one of the most sensitive and least-predictable entries in the film noir genre. The film was based on a novel by Edward Anderson, and in 1974 was filmed by Robert Altman under its original title, Thieves Like Us.


Farley Granger
as Bowie Bowers
Howard Da Silva
as Chickamaw
Ian Wolfe
as Hawkins
William Phipps
as Young Farmer
Harry Harvey
as Hagenheimer
Regan Callais
as Young Wife
Frank Marlowe
as Mattie's Husband
Jim Nolan
as Schreiber
Charles Meredith
as Commissioner Hubbell
Myra Marsh
as Mrs. Schaeffer
Tom Kennedy
as Cop-Bumper Gag
Stanley Prager
as Short Order Man
Fred Graham
as Motorcycle Cop
Lewis Charles
as Parking Lot Attendant
James Dobson
as Boy at Parking Lot
Lynn Whitney
as Waitress
N.L. Hitch
as Bus Driver
Ralph Dunn
as Policeman
Boyd Davis
as Herman
Guy Beach
as Plumber
Gail Davis
as Girl at Parking Lot
Curt Conway
as Man in Tuxedo
Chester Jones
as Waiter in Nightclub
Eula Guy
as Mrs. Havilland
Will Lee
as Jeweler
Jane Allen
as People
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News & Interviews for They Live by Night

Critic Reviews for They Live by Night

All Critics (20) | Top Critics (4)

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

    Oct 22, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    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.

    Jun 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.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…
  • Might be the best debut feature in movie history. A stunning examination of intimacy mixed with apprehension that showcases why Nicholas Ray is one of the all-time greats.

    Feb 2, 2019 | Full Review…
  • It's not quite a film noir. It's not quite a teenage romance. It's not quite a crime picture. It's not quite like anything to come before it.

    Oct 30, 2018 | Rating: 5/5 | 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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