Young innocent love gets the crime noir treatment in my review for They Live by Night (1948)
What’s going down?
It starts with a car racing down the road. Desperate. Almost out of control. Turning at breakneck speed they jump the road into a siding. Four men. A brutal punch up. Four become three. The car is burnt out. They make a run for it. The younger of the two drags his foot. It’s twisted. He’s left behind with a promise. Lay low and he’ll be picked up. Darkness falls. A car pulls up with a female driver. Get in. They arrive at her home and he’s greeted by the other two men.
Three escaped convicts. Freshly busted out of jail. The leader has a lazy white washed eye. His name is Chickamaw. The other guy goes by T-Dub. His head is square, a tough punch ready thug but he’s not stupid. The youngest with the limb is Bowie. A 23 year old. Innocent to the outside world. Imprisoned for manslaughter since his 16th year. Equally innocent and wide eyed the young girl, Keechie, looks at him. Soon first time love will carry these two through troubling times. Banks will be robbed. Loyalties with be tested. Love will be put on trial. People will die. Can these two young souls live a life free of danger and capture? Or are they doomed from the beginning?
“They’ve got money to spend and no chance to spend it. All the time knowing one thing! Sooner or later they will be caught. Every time they hear “knock knock knock” on a door, their hearts will jump a foot. And a heart can only take just so much!“
The main players
Cathy O’Donnell is Keechie
Farley Granger is Bowie
Howard Da Silva is Chicamaw “One-Eye” Mobley
Jay C. Flippen is Henry “T-Dub” Mansfield
Helen Craig is Mattie
Will Wright is Mobley
Tagline – Desperate… Hunted… Yet so in love! This is their story… The one the screaming headlines never told!
Sure I’ve seen them in something?
Both Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger star together in another test of love whilst chaos reigns down around them in the excellent Side Street (1950) which I reviewed a few years ago.
Farley gets caught up with Robert Walker on Strangers on a Train (1951) from Alfred Hitchcock as well as his Rope (1948) with James Stewart. Though I don’t believe I’ve seen any other Cathy O’Donnell films. I do keep meaning to watch The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Sadly it looks like she died way too young.
Chicamaw “One-Eye” Mobley is played by Howard Da Silva. He’d played a Deputy Police Chief in the excellent Fourteen Hours (1951). He’s been in many films though I don’t know many others I’m afraid. I have seen the excellent The Blue Dahlia (1946) and really want/need to see The Lost Weekend (1945).
Jay C. Flippen who plays T-Dub is also a familiar face. You can find him in brilliant The Killing (1956), The Wild One (1953) and I hope to see Winchester 73 (1950) very soon. As with all the films and actors please feel free to recommend other films you think I would like.
Notes on production?
This film is one way to show off your directing skills as They Live By Night was Nicholas Ray debut film sat in the big chair. The film is an adaptation by Ray, with additional screenplay by Charles Schnee, of a 1937 novel by Edward Anderson called Thieves Like Us.
I’m very interested to know how the book differs from the film. One thing that stands out is the names like Chickamaw and Keechie. They sound more Native American names? Was this the case in the book?
Also director Robert Altman would also make the film in 1974 using the books originals title, Thieves Like Us. With Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall taking the parts of Bowie and Keechie. Hows it hold up? Have you see it?
Hits like a sledge hammer
The opening scene beat down is pretty tough. I guess he was the driver of the commandeered car they had hijacked on their prison break. It’s off camera but you see raised elbows as blow after blow smash down unforgivably on the poor souls body.
Chickamaw – “Anyone gets in my way! I’ll STOMP EM!“
Who’s that lady?
I love spotting little scenes within club nights in films. Ones that feature a little spotlight on a dancer, a singer or a musician. Quite often they are just table dressing the background however it’s the ones that shine through and really grab your attention that I so adore seeing. This time it was the singing delights of Marie Bryant. A singer, dancer and choreographer. Gaining the title of “one of the most vivacious black dancers in the United States“. She had danced and sang for jazz legends like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. She taught actors how to dance like Marlon Brando, Debbie Reynolds, Ava Gardner and Betty Grable to name a few. She worked alongside Gene Kelly who is quoted to have said she was “one of the finest dancers I’ve ever seen in my life“.
She did a rather saucy dance number in 1938 here and this wonderful singing and dancing duet here with Bli-Blip Paul White and Marie Bryant with the Duke Ellington and his Orchestra is a delight.
In They Live By Night Marie sings and dances a little money hustle with the house band. The song is “Your Red Wagon“. She has a beautiful voice and a killer smile. Yep she made me smile ear to ear.
A fun thing I Learnt
Film Gris! A whole new genre of movies I’d never heard of. It’s so cool that I’m always learning doing this blog. It sounds like they can center on a more leftist tone of the years around 1947 and 1951. Coming around the time of the communist investigations within the film studios. A couple of key points that differ noir and gris is that film gris can be more pessimistic and can blame society for criminal behavior rather than the individual. Looking forward to learning more.
This one keeps popping back in the memory banks as I continue with my everyday. Little digs, jab now and then, to remind me of scenes. It keeps creeping up on me. My only gripe with it was Cathy O’Donnell’s character. When we first meet her she moody, steadfast and had an air of toughness to her. She’s innocent but wary and curious. However as soon as she leaves her drunken fathers home she becomes all smoochy. I know, I understand, first time love. Still, I was expecting her to be more Bonnie to Bowie’s Clyde. In my head I had imagined her being the driving force between the two. Now that is not meant as criticism on the film just my initial thoughts and preconceptions before I went in. Purely my doing. The more I think about the film the more I liked it. I thank Pam over at All Things Thriller for the nudge to watch it. Thank you.
Wolfman’s rating 8.5/10 IMDB 7.5/10
Feel free to recommend me related movies and any other trivia if you wish. Keep having fun at the movies…. Mikey Wolf