Bigger Than Life: The Films of Nicholas Ray

  • April 25, 2015 — June 6, 2015

Nicholas Ray (1911-1979) was one of the most innovative and consistently entertaining filmmakers of the Hollywood studio era, remaining legendary for his intense personality, fierce individuality, and restless creative growth. Coming up through the left-wing Theater of Action in New York City followed by the Federal Theatre Project (alongside John Houseman and Elia Kazan), Ray was known as an “actor’s director” for his tendency to allow the actor to define their own role. Despite a relatively short career and working within myriad generic confines—Westerns, film noir, melodramas, and “social problem” pictures—at disparate studios, Ray managed to infuse his films with distinctive visual and thematic style and iconic results. His brash yet sensitive portrayals of American individuality and the collective in flux earned Ray his place among the great American filmmakers; devotee Jean-Luc Godard enthused, “There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforward there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray.”

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They Live by Night

Directed by Nicholas Ray

After working with Elia Kazan for many years as an assistant, Ray’s directorial debut is the first in a significant


Knock on Any Door

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Nearing the end of a highly productive era at Warner Brothers, Humphrey Bogart started his own company, Santana Productions, and


A Woman’s Secret

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Written and produced by the esteemed Herman Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane), Ray’s second feature for RKO concerns aging, cosmopolitan singer Marian

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In a Lonely Place

Directed by Nicholas Ray

In this second of two collaborations with Humphrey Bogart, Ray portrays the murderous side of the movie business, Bogart starring

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The Lusty Men

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Shot primarily in Pendleton, Oregon, The Lusty Men was produced during the Howard Hughes RKO era, a period of relative


Rebel Without a Cause

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Ray reinvigorated and expanded upon the generational-crisis motif of his earlier works in this Warner Brothers-made, mythical tale of a


Bigger Than Life

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Moving to 20th Century Fox for this indictment of traditional masculinity in the American home — in addition to the

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On Dangerous Ground

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Injecting atmosphere and detailed character development to an already very strong script by A.I. Bezzerides, Robert Ryan stars as Jim

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Party Girl

Directed by Nicholas Ray

A latter-day mob tale made for glamorous MGM—ironic, at that most softboiled of studios—Ray follows the gritty gangster classics of

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King of Kings

Directed by Nicholas Ray

King of Kings, Ray’s second film for MGM, is truly his “epic” (featuring narration by Orson Welles!), a lavish historical


Lightning Over Water

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Ray, dying of cancer, fought hard to make this last film, a document of his final days in New York

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We Can’t Go Home Again

Directed by Nicholas Ray

In 1971, Ray, at the invitation of experimental filmmakers Larry Gottheim and Ken Jacobs, took a teaching post at SUNY

Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Widely cited as an allegory for the anti-Communist hearings overseen by the House Un-American Activities Committee that led to the