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.