So, given my experience with In A Lonely Place, I think I was expecting this to be a proper noir film. I guess it does follow some of those conventions – the tight close-ups, the snappy dialogues especially in the first couple of conversations between Granger and O’Donnell, the lighting and this sense of being trapped and things becoming increasingly claustrophobic over the course of the film. But in some other ways, this is so antithetical to a noir. Keechie is no femme fatale. In fact, the first time we see Keechie, she looks incredibly plain – less-than-perfect skin and wearing boyish-clothes. Also, Keechie is such a warm and protective woman. She seems almost motherly towards Arthur and that felt rather different from most noir films I’ve watched.
This film has such an amazing beginning, right? I loved the helicopter shots of the cars and being put right in the middle of the action right away. This whole movie has so many shots of cars and also inside cars. Cars are always helping people try and escape but somehow whoever/whatever they’re running from inevitably seems to catch up with them eventually .
And then we get that nice shot of the advertising billboard. So striking and memorable. I was really impressed with how visually stunning the first 5 minutes of this movie was and to think that this is a debut film!
And we see Arthur’s face properly in close-up perhaps for the first time and already he is hiding. Arthur looks so anxious and nervous right from this frame onwards that the few scenes in the film where he looks cheerful and happy are all the more efffective as a result. In general, I wasn’t super-impressed with him in terms of his acting prowess in this film at least but I can’t help but find his awkwardness endearing.
I was able to see a lot of parallels between this film and Rebel Without a Cause, possibly because I watched them one after the other. Here again, we have this sense of foreboding throughout the film and this awareness that this has to end in tragedy somehow. I also found the love story somewhat similar in that this sweet girl is in love with a boy she knows has too many ghosts to exorcise. Keechie and Arthur, like Jim and Judy are just two kids in love and you wish the world would just leave them alone .
Unfortunately though, Farley Granger is no James Dean, so overall, while I liked the film a lot, I found myself less drawn to the central character here. I really liked O’Donnell though and the way she goes from being this fast-talking girl to a girl in love and back again to a woman who asserts her disapproval of her husband’s actions, all worked really well for me. I think she is the reason I was able to stay interested in this couple’s fate. A lot of the other supporting performances are really good too. Both Chicamaw and Mattie are really great.
The film also feels a little dated in a way that the other Ray films I’ve watched don’t. This set of lines definitely made me cringe.
“I guess a woman is sort of like a dog. A bad dog will take things from anybody, but you just take a good dog, his master dies, he won’t take food from anybody, he’ll bite anybody that tries to pet him. There was a man back up home, after he died, his dog wouldn’t eat or drink and he just died too.”
The best part of the film is definitely the love story at the center. It’s this really great combination of the “outlaws on the run” theme, akin to Bonnie & Clyde or Pierrot le fou but the couple here always seems so sweet and sincere that one can’t help but wonder about the circumstances that have driven Arthur to this lifestyle. So in that sense, I think the film also has this cool social commentary layer without getting too heavy-handed about it at any point.
I am always very impressed by how successful Nicholas Ray seems to be at getting me really emotionally involved in films that are clearly so heightened and melodramatic. Also, with how he is able to put in these moments of such complete joy and sweetness in the midst of so much tragedy (lots of that in Rebel Without A Cause as well and that awesome breakfast scene in In A Lonely Place comes to mind too).
Like this scene on the bus when Arthur is stuck with an infant in his hand, it made me smile and then I felt really sad because I realized that Arthur would probably never get to hold a baby of his own :'(.
And then when Arthur and Keechie fight, that scene just broke my heart.
“You don’t see me knittin’ anything…Do ya?”
*Sigh*. But then they make up and decide to dress up and go out – she in her grey flannel and him in his double-breasted.
Two other scenes I really liked a lot. First, the song at the restaurant. I love that this scene is never rushed. He lets the singer finish her song, thereby giving Arthur and Keechie and us the time to enjoy these moments of happiness together.
And the other scene is the one where Arthur goes back to the place where they got married. The man has moved on to the new couple who have come in to get married. We hear the chirpy exchange between the proprietor and the couple but the camera stays on Farley’s face as it loses it’s last shred of hope.
This is probably my least favorite of the films I’ve watched so far in this series. I had a good time with it and I liked it quite a bit. It’s not my fault that he made so many good films!