They Live by Night (1948)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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.
Classics , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
RKO Radio Pictures


Farley Granger
as Bowie Bowers
Howard Da Silva
as Chickamaw
Helen Craig
as Mattie
Will Wright
as Mobley
Marie Bryant
as Singer
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
Dan Foster
as Groom
James Dobson
as Boy at Parking Lot
Lynn Whitney
as Waitress
N.L. Hitch
as Bus Driver
Ralph Dunn
as Policeman
Paul Bakanas
as Shadow
Boyd Davis
as Herman
Kate Lawson
as Tillie
Guy Beach
as Plumber
Byron Foulger
as Lambert
Teddy Infur
as Alvin
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
Russ Whiteman
as People
Jane Allen
as People
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for They Live by Night

All Critics (15) | Top Critics (4)

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

Full Review… | October 22, 2007
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.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
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.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A cinema of anxiety and sensuality, with a streak of instability and a peculiar combination of the folksy and the Cocteau-abstract

Full Review… | May 22, 2011

Nicholas Ray established himself as a major talent to watch with his feature debut, one of the best noirs of the 1940s as well as a lyrical variation on the theme of lovers on the run, splendidly played by Granger and O'Donnell.

Full Review… | March 31, 2009

Audience Reviews for They Live by Night


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 Hutchings
Jonathan Hutchings

Super Reviewer


it might be the first film noir i ever saw. anyway i remember it fondly. rip bowie

Stella Dallas
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

Solid noir is full of despair but well told and acted with assurance.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

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