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940 Ratings

They Live by Night

Directed by Nicholas Ray
United States, 1948
Crime, Film noir, Romance


In the ’40s, three prisoners flee from a state prison farm in Mississippi. Among them is 23-years-young Bowie, who spent the last seven years in prison and now hopes to be able to prove his innocence or retire to a home in the mountains and live in peace together with his new love, Keechie.

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They Live by Night Directed by Nicholas Ray
François Truffaut called They Live by Night “the most Bressonian of American films,” and while his characterization was overzealous, there’s more than just these performer resemblances to link the two directorial sensibilities… Like many Bresson films, Ray’s debut is a genre movie featuring only the bare minimum of generic trappings, one that favors the quiet dramas of decision-making and one-on-one commiseration to the louder spectacles that occur, often unseen, to push the plot along.
August 15, 2017
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A remarkable debut as well as an agonizingly pure love story — the most lyrical film of the director’s career… “They Live by Night” was a favorite of my college film professor, and as a class projectionist I saw it many times — running scenes in slow motion or playing only the soundtrack. As a result, I know the movie nearly by heart. And its emotional power is undiminished. I may be recalling my own youth (as well as Ray’s), but just thinking about this film can choke me up.
July 28, 2017
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They Live by Night stands out from most films of its time through its tight merging of sounds and images. George Diskant’s moody, low-key photography favors faces up close and bodies, as witnessed by the five characters’ first reunion in Mobley’s cabin. Lighting combines with an equally moody sound design carefully devised like a jazz score: internal rhymes, object tracks, song lyrics commenting on the story become instead of mere devices the very fabric of the film.
June 13, 2017
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What are people saying?

  • tidal waif's rating of the film They Live by Night

    It takes lily-of-the-valley snow to make the specks of blood stand out on it. Ray needs seraphic Innocence to set off the compound misguided violence of reckless media scoops & law-enforced correctives. It's not his setting out to fight the losing battle of inner options vs. quantifiable results that makes his wistful film quite whispery but that infatuation, like picture overbrightening, dazzles all fathomable depth

  • Duncan Gray's rating of the film They Live by Night

    Seen today, They Live By Night looks less like a B-movie masterpiece than a stepping stone, the first crack in a dam that would explode a decade later. There was romantic fatalism before—You Only Live Once, etc.—but Ray's film adds a vital generation gap. He had a way with photographing young people that could turn a pensive Farley Granger close-up into Byronic poetry. But then Farley Granger had to open his mouth.

  • El Biffo's rating of the film They Live by Night

    Great debut by Nicholas Ray, but I just can't take Farley Granger as anything more than a pretty Hollywood face. He's in some very good films, but in every one of them, I wish that they'd cast a more serious actor. This film is still quite good, but not nearly as good as the re-make by Robert Altman, THIEVES LIKE US. (Forgive me for comparing apples and oranges-such different films, but both based on the same book).

  • Ghostman's rating of the film They Live by Night

    They Live by Night is one of American cinema's great debuts & introduction to one of American cinema's greatest filmmakers, the legendary Nicolas Ray. Although it has the genre trappings of a noir picture, at its heart, They Live by Night is a great romantic picture. It's a beautiful film about young lovers struggling to be together in an unjust world where material value is more important than people & love; [cont.]

  • VincentVendetta's rating of the film They Live by Night

    I used to wonder what attracts American filmmakers to the lovers on the run sub-genre through the years, and through the tragic, fresh eyes of Nicholas Ray it all makes sense. It is the story of youth, of a new generation hoping against hope to escape the violent sins of their fathers. It is the birth and death of American innocence.

  • Wee Hunk's rating of the film They Live by Night

    There's two types of Communists in Hollywood. Howard da Silva, who gets blacklisted, and Nicholas Ray, who gets to have a career protected by Howard Hughes. The most ridiculous scene in this movie is the one where the policemen sympathize with the outlaws on the run. Pure insanity.

  • Michael Harbour's rating of the film They Live by Night

    A lovers on the run movie that focuses on the romance without compromising the criminal endeavors that drive the plot. It's a remarkable first feature from Nicholas Ray, showing right from the start his ability to create beautiful films about people who don't fit into society.

  • josé neves's rating of the film They Live by Night

    "Desire" list: this is the film were Farley Granger's beauty acquires a component that would make him irresistible, as a young man on the run, along with the wonderful Cathy O'Donnell, a misfit who also would start Nicholas Ray's great adventure on film. It's as a victim that his handsome face attracts a whole eroticic component, which makes him one of the most disturbing figures of post-classicism actors.

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