They Live By Night (1948)

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They Live By Night is a story you've seen before. A young couple steeped in a life of crime   find themselves on the run, living off of their stolen loot and their love for each other. Kit loves Holly in Badlands (1973), and Clyde loves Bonnie, but in this love-on-the-run trifecta, no love is quite as beautiful as Bowie and Keechie's. 

Farley Granger plays Bowie, a young man just out of a seven year stint on a false murder charge, and Cathy O'Donnell plays Keechie, the skilled, unhappy daughter of a criminal. Bowie teams up with Chickamaw and T-Dub, the older, tougher bank robbers who initially helped him escape prison. However, unlike his partners, earnest Bowie has every intention of only using his share of the bank spoils to hire a lawyer to clear his name of the false murder accusations. No surprise, Bowie and Keechie fall in love and intend to absolve themselves of the criminal life, with a hot warrant out for Bowie's arrest weighing heavy on the newlywed life. And so begins the on-the-run portion of the story. 

Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell are perfectly cast in this semi-noir adventure. Almost a decade before James Dean writhed upside-down on a couch, afoul with teenaged angst, Farley Granger manages to convey that same emotional immaturity and vulnerability so beautifully. Perhaps Nicholas Ray is the key to unlocking that quality in his actors. Cathy O'Donnell likewise, belongs to this film, radiating purity and naiveté but keeping a stern air of resilience. Together, they have a kind of untouchable innocence and hope that even in the act of a crime, we can't help but empathize with the young couple. 


This was Nicholas Ray's first feature film and no surprise his incredible command of both action and romance transcends all his work. Ironically, They Live By Night was originally advertised as a "hot" thriller, a heart-pounding criminal chase. But the reality of They Live By Night is that while it sees its fair share of action, it is beautifully tender and heartfelt. 


They Live By Night (1948)
Dir. Nicholas Ray
Starring Farley Granger, Cathy O'Donnell
95 minutes | USA

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