This boy…

Watching THEY LIVE BY NIGHTS (LES AMANTS DU NUIT, according to my rather bluish French DVD) as a mini-tribute to the late Farley Granger, was struck all over again by how this, the first Nick Ray movie, really doesn’t move, cut, frame or talk like anything else from the period. From the dynamic (and hazardous-to-shoot) opening helicopter shot, which doesn’t say “1949″ at all, to the terse dialogue, leaving everything important unspoken (we wait the whole film for an “I love you”), which seems like it may have been written with ’30s zip in mind, but is delivered more ponderously, emphasising the ellipses.

Farley, of course, is a minor miracle — arguably too sweet and innocent for someone who’s been in prison seven years on a murder rap, but Ray didn’t have a problem with occasional sentimental distortions for dramatic effect. Granger, and Cathy O’Donnell, never had this poetic effect again, despite reteaming in Mann’s SIDE STREET. She plays the first half with no makeup, which also seems very un-49, although Fiona noted that she’d discovered a comb and lipstick by the halfway mark — a little transformation akin to Natalie Wood’s move from sharp reds to soft pinks in REBEL.

Of course, knowing what we now know about Ray and Granger, dressing O’Donnell as a boy in her first scene takes on a deliciously subversive flavour.

You know, I’ve never watched Altman’s THIEVES LIKE US, because I’m slightly afraid of what it might do to my experience of this movie. Altman had the freedom and courage to go the distance with realism, but what I love about the Ray includes how close to a poetic form of reality he can get, within so many studio strictures.

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4 Responses to “This boy…”

  1. Altman’s movie is nice (espeically its ending) but it’s a completely different animal than Ray’s film. Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall aren’t Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell and make no attempt at trying to be anything like them.

  2. Well, a nice ending, that has me intrigued. Altman oversaw some of the most beautiful endings of his day, notably in McCabe and Mrs Miller.

  3. David Boxwell Says:

    Altman roots his film more closely to the source novel and its period (mid-to-late 30s). He’s gritty, less ethereal, and romantic than Ray. Both versions are great.

    O’Donnell’s last words, a benediction whispered in the last shot, kill me every time.

  4. She’s so great in it. She has a slight tendency to overdo the sugar in some of her other roles, but that’s only because she’s a real actress: given a saccharine part, she PLAYS it. She’s very funny in The Amazing Mr X. A shame her brother-in-law never gave her a really interesting role (her part in Ben-Hur being one of the most thankless of all time: her leper scenes were used as standbys, so she was brought in every day, made up as a leper, waited around to be used, went home. For MONTHS.)

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