Features

Five of the Best Nicholas Ray Movies

Five of the Best Nicholas Ray Movies They Live By Night

While still at school Nicholas Ray wrote a radio series that won him a scholarship to the University of Chicago. He studied architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright before working in theatre and radio in New York. After experience as assistant director to Elia Kazan on A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945) he directed They Live by Night, a touching tale of a young gangster and his true love, doomed in a world that has no that has no place for them. Made in 1947, it was not generally released until 1949, when it was more praised in France and England than the USA. He went on to make other stories of misfits and youngsters in trouble, notably Rebel Without A Cause his first big success. This was followed by a variety of assignments, culminating in two epics shot in Spain, that marked the end of his Hollywood career.

By this time he was becoming a cult director and his silence seemed to reinforce his integrity. He lived in Europe lor some six years, working on one unfinished film. He returned to live in New York and did some teaching at Harpur College, where he made We Can’t Go Home Again with his students.

His friendship with the German director Wim Wenders led to an acting appearance in The American Friend and a final collaboration, when he was dying of cancer, in Lightning Over Water. He married actress Gloria Grahame in 1948 and dancer Betty Itey in 1952.

Here though are our contenders for five of his best movies.

Five of the Best Nicholas Ray Movies They Live By Night

They Live by Night (1949)
In Ray’s directorial debut, his visionary style becomes clear from the opening scenes. Granger plays a naive young man drawn deeper into crime by two older, hardened outlaws (Howard Da Silva and Jay C. Flippen). Cathy O’Donnell nurses him to health after he’s injured in a robbery and a touching love affair ensues, made all the more poignant because the experience is new to them. Though Granger and O’Donnell want only to go straight and be together, Granger’s first step into crime sealed their fate. Based on the novel Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson, which was given a lighter treatment in Robert Altman’s 1974 version. The prison escape sequence was shot by a helicopter camera placed on a gyro-stabled mount. This was one of the very first feature films to utilize helicopter photography. Note too the Woody Guthrie contribution to the sound track.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva, Jay C. Flippen, Cathy O’Donnell, Ian Wolfe, Will Wright

Five of the Best Nicholas Ray Movies In A Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place (1950)
A stinging, no-holds-barred performance from Humphrey Bogart highlights this taut, noirish tale of paranoia. An unstable, temperamental screenwriter throws out a desperate emotional lifeline to starlet Gloria Grahame. She grabs on for a dangerous ride; when he’s suspected of murder, she confirms his alibi and then begins to wonder if one day she might be next. The down-at-the-heels underside to Hollywood glamour sets the tone of last-chance lives being led at the margins. One of director Ray’s greatest, and a marvelous role for the underappreciated Grahame, then Ray’s wife.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Carl Benton Reid, Martha Stewart

Five of the Best Nicholas Ray Movies Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar (1954)
Women wear the pants (and guns) in one of the oddest, and most rewarding, Westerns ever brought to the screen. Iconoclast Ray corralled his quarreling costars, Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge, long enough to get them brawling on-screen. McCambridge wants saloon owner Crawford to take her bar trade elsewhere or face a lynching. Crawford’s determined to stay, and when mysterious guitar-playing Brady (Lawrence Tierney’s younger brother) gets involved, the six-shooters come out?in the hands of the ladies. Mercedes McCambridge put her penchant for evil to further good use in 1973 when she provided the devilish voice of the possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Ernest Borgnine, John Carradine,

Five of the Best Nicholas Ray Movies Rebel Without A Cause

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
What could have been merely a teen-exploitation flick became, in the hands of director Ray (perhaps the greatest screen interpreter of alienated outsiders), a timeless study of maturity formed in rebellion and tragedy. James Dean’s brooding, troubled character (along with Brando’s character in “The Wild One”, 1954) also set the stage for the countless teen pictures to follow as the restless youth of the mid-’50s defined teen culture. Dean and his family settle in Los Angeles, the latest in a series of moves driven by Dean’s delinquency. Confused by his father’s surrender to his domineering mother, Dean tries to establish himself with fisticuffs and daredevil stunts. When he meets Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo at the police station, his pursuit of Wood leads to a deadly hot-rod showdown and a tragic run from the police. In the face of pursuit by the authorities, and with no effective adults to turn to, the three form an imitation family of their own until Backus finally finds the courage to reach out to his son. Ray dignifies the story with his characteristically careful compositions and by drawing electrifying performances from his cast. Academy Award Nominations: Best Supporting Actor: Sal Mineo; Best Supporting Actress: Natalie Wood; Best Motion Picture Story.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Dennis Hopper

Five of the Best Nicholas Ray Movies Bigger Than Life

Bigger Than Life (1956)
Star James Mason produced this dark psychodrama in which he stars as a small-town teacher who gets hooked on an experimental wonder drug. The film observes the resulting unraveling of his life. The drug causes ego inflation and soon his relationships with his wife and his son become abusive. Adapted from a New Yorker article, was director Nicholas Ray’s follow-up to his hit of the previous year, Rebel Without a Cause. Both films looked at the darker side of “normal” American life.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: James Mason, Walter Matthau, Christopher Olsen, Betty Caulfield, Kipp Hamilton, Rusty Lane, Barbara Rush, Robert F. Simon, Rachel Stephens, Roland Winters





Other posts featuring the following