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Nicholas Ray and the Myth of the Open Road

One of Hollywood’s earliest and most influential lovers-on-the-run thrillers, Nicholas Ray’s debut film, They Live by Night, encapsulates the tension between mobility and entrapment that the open road came to represent in the middle of the twentieth century. Adapting Edward Anderson’s Depression-era novel Thieves Like Us as an impressionistic crime drama, the film centers on the doomed relationship between escaped convict Bowie (Farley Granger) and an innocent young woman named Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell). Despite their attempts to build a new life together, the couple find themselves with nowhere left to turn, as Bowie is pursued by the cops and hounded by his fellow fugitives. On our newly released edition, critic Imogen Sara Smith discusses the ways that Ray’s groundbreaking film—which anticipated his career-long fascination with outsiders—captures the perils of life on the lam and the symbolic resonance of the road in the American imagination.

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