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They Live by Night

After working with Elia Kazan for many years as an assistant, Ray’s directorial debut is the first in a significant line of now-legendary “couple on the lam” works so prominent in American cinema. Bowie (Farley Granger, hot off of Hitchcock’s Rope) is a wrongly convicted of murder, escapes prison with two pals who have plans to rob a bank to fund their getaway. Bowie is hurt during the heist and left to get caught while the others escape, but Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), one of his partners’ nieces, comes to his aid and shelters him from the fuzz. The two grow close, but when Bowie’s erstwhile partners return with plans for one more heist, Bowie must face his meager prospects head-on. The film greatly impressed a generation of famous cinephile critics—among them François Truffaut—and helped usher in the concept of film noir as we know it today.

Genres: Noir, Crime, Drama

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