They Live by Night (1948) Innocent Love, Crime, On The Run, Film Gris & Marie Bryant

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.

Cutting remarks

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.

Rating score

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


12 thoughts on “They Live by Night (1948) Innocent Love, Crime, On The Run, Film Gris & Marie Bryant

  1. Film Gris…I didn’t know…Interesting. I’m always learning from my fellow bloggers. It’s fun. Much better than school. Ha!
    “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!” Ha! That’s so great! I love it!
    The names…yes, Keechie and Chicamaw were Native American in the book. The exploits of the couple were along the Texas/Oklahoma border and there are lots of Native Americans in Oklahoma. Plus, Edward Anderson was half Native American himself so…Anyway, Thieves Like Us was his perception of Bonnie and Clyde. He had a romantic notion of them and a deep distrust of the law from his own experience. Lots of people viewed law enforcement negatively during the Great Depression.
    I totally agree with you on the sudden evaluation of Keechies character, but that was Ray’s way of sanitizing their relationship–although they did get married in the movie, not in the book. And, of course, there was a sexist bent to the film in that true love would bend the will of this tough girl and turn her to mush. In the book, she has been abused so that’s the reason for her toughness. In reality, Bonnie was a brash character that would duke it out with Clyde when he got in her face too much, but Clyde was the undisputed leader. Bonnie was very much like his Hell’s Angel ole’ lady.
    I really loved Cathy O’Donnel portrayal of Keechie. I thought it was very realistic, despite the constrains put on it by Ray and society in general. The ending, where she looks defiantly into the camera as she hold Bowie, is so poignant and true to me.
    Well, I’ve written a book. I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliant post, Mikey.
    BTW…I love that tid bit about Marie Bryant. Fascinating. I’m going to read more about her. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Let me fetch my specs, pour a glass of wine and settle in to this book, I mean comment hehe.
      An awesome comment at that Pam.
      The names did make me wonder. How cool Anderson was part Cherokee too. I’m gonna have to get the book and see for myself the changes. Yeah it did make me think that her character would of been better portrayed in the book. Darn Mr Ray for making her a tad wet in the film. But don’t get me wrong I really liked her character too. Mr Ray made up for it with that end glare straight into the camera as she cradles the crumpled letter. Perfection. Yes the love story and heartbreak was very realistic. Maybe, just maybe, that me wishing her to be all feisty and tough might not of worked in the narrative of the film as well. Who knows. I am gonna keep a look out for the book.
      Also that last image I put of her driving and comforting Bowie is so sweet, so loving, so caring. It’s a film that keeps giving a little more each time I think about it.

      I do love that saying you come up with Pam…… “Hell’s Angel ole’ lady”
      You know what I’ve fell a little in love with Marie Bryant. I’ve watched the duet she does with the Bli-Blip song with Paul White about 10 times.

      Thanks again Pam and thanks so much for the super comment filled with info.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t seen this one in many years. Thanks for triggering the memory banks. Flippen a great character player who just turns up on so many films . You never catch him really acting. He was in that Duke film I watched last month Hellfighters and had one of the films best scenes towards the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, I like this one…one of the first noirs I ever saw, and my introduction to one of my favorite actresses, Cathy O’Donnell. I’ve never read the book or seen the remake, so I can’t help you there, and I was going to recommend ‘Side Street’, forgetting that you’d already seen it, so…I think I’m worthless to you today!

    And what the hell…film GRIS? I’ve NEVER heard of this term before, and with all the reading I do of film noir, I’m surprised I haven’t seen or heard any mention of it (unless it’s maybe a relatively new term). So thanks for that introduction, Mikey…most interesting. Although now I’m compelled to create a noir category of my own, just to one-up you: film bleu….any noir film that makes me feel sad at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Go for it Todd, Film Gris! A grey tone of black. Maybe they arn’t as dark as the noir. Yeah you could well be right that it could be a newer term? Could be an excellent subject for you movie site? Definitely be fun researching it and I be eager to read it if you do.
      For a second I thought all those Film Bleu ones were the ones on the top shelve with a triple X brand on the cover! But where they are more exciting it did make me laugh thinking of the genre making you feel sad at the end. Whereas the former makes you feel shame at the end LOL.

      Side Street was really very good. I liked that one very much. Haha you never worthless bro. You always bring a smile here 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t know about “FILM GRIS” either! Interesting, very interesting. Anyhow, the remake, Altman’s Thieves Like Us, is pretty great too. Altman’s version (a gorgeously drab-looking movie) feels a bit more authentic. Like a grungy version of the super-stylish Bonnie & Clyde (1967).

    Liked by 1 person

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