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Knock on Any Door

Nearing the end of a highly productive era at Warner Brothers, Humphrey Bogart started his own company, Santana Productions, and gave the young Nicholas Ray—who impressed Bogart on the strength of the as-yet-unreleased They Live by Night—a major opportunity to direct the first film for the fledgling company. The product is this taut “law noir” that sees Bogart in good-guy territory, playing lawyer Andrew Morton who is determined to free Nick Romano (John Derek), a young criminal who shoots a cop in the heat of the moment after a string of petty crimes and personal tragedy. Morton, himself made good after a childhood spent on the hard streets of New York City, sees larger societal problems at play, with Nick—and others like him—the victim. However, George Macready’s by-the-book district attorney stands in the way. Far ahead of its time in its critique of institutional power and the death of the American Dream, Knock on Any Door slots into Ray’s filmography as an under-appreciated gem.

Genres: Drama, Noir, Crime

Other Films by Nicholas Ray

Johnny Guitar

Widely cited as an allegory for the anti-Communist hearings overseen by the House Un-American Activities Committee that led to the Hollywood blacklist of 1955, Johnny Guitar is one of the fiercest Westerns ever made. Vienna (an unforgettable Joan Crawford), a saloon owner in a small Arizona town, walks a fine line between the conservative townsfolk,

We Can’t Go Home Again

In 1971, Ray, at the invitation of experimental filmmakers Larry Gottheim and Ken Jacobs, took a teaching post at SUNY Binghamton in the fledgling film production department. The major project to come out of the period is this film, an experimental meta-narrative centering on a teacher (Ray) and his students (played by his real-life students),

Lightning Over Water

Ray, dying of cancer, fought hard to make this last film, a document of his final days in New York City. Wenders, by then a close friend of Ray’s, comes to New York after being on location shooting a noir in Los Angeles. What follows is Ray, with Wenders’ tender assistance, reminiscing about his life

King of Kings

King of Kings, Ray’s second film for MGM, is truly his “epic” (featuring narration by Orson Welles!), a lavish historical ensemble drama chronicling the life of Jesus Christ (Jeffrey Hunter), but still very much a Ray film in its intimate focus on individual crises. The film’s main temporal focus is the lead-up to Jesus’ crucifixion,

Party Girl

A latter-day mob tale made for glamorous MGM—ironic, at that most softboiled of studios—Ray follows the gritty gangster classics of the 1930s by crafting the center of Party Girl’s story on mafia lawyer Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor), who has a sterling record defending crooks and murderers. Farrell, in the course of his work for archetypal