They Live by Night (1949)

“They’re thieves – just like us.” The first feature film of director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause), They Live by Night was based on Edward Anderson’s 1937 novel Thieves Like Us. Classic film noir story of couple on the run features Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train) as Arthur “Bowie” Bowers and Cathy O’Donnell as “Keechie” Mobley. Bowie keeps trying to escape from a life of crime but he inevitably gets pulled back in by criminals Chicamaw “One-Eye” Mobley (Howard Da Silva) and Henry “T-Dub” Mansfield (Jay C. Flippen). This is the kind of film where you know things are going to end tragically after the celebrated opening scene (shot using a helicopter). They Live by Night was completed in 1947 but Howard Hughes took over RKO Pictures and shelved the film for two years. It was a box office bomb but gained recognition later when the critics at Cahiers du Cinema started taking notice of Ray’s influence. Film would make a great double feature with Gun Crazy (1950). For an entirely different take on the material, check out Robert Altman’s 1974 film, Thieves Like Us, which starred Keith Carradine as Bowie and Shelley Duvall as Keechie. Flippen portrayed “Happy Spangler” on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

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