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TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

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kingrat
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TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby kingrat » October 3rd, 2011, 7:13 pm

I thought either Dewey or ChiO would have this thread up and running, and I hope they will both provide some stimulating overviews for us. Through the month of October TCM will be recognizing the 100th anniversary of Nicholas Ray's birth. Every Tuesday evening they will show a number of his films. First up Tuesday, Oct. 4 will be:

55 DAYS AT PEKING
KNOCK ON ANY DOOR
IN A LONELY PLACE
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT
BORN TO BE BAD
A WOMAN'S SECRET


This group actually spans his Hollywood career from the three films he directed in 1949--THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, and A WOMAN'S SECRET--to his final Hollywood film in 1963, 55 DAYS AT PEKING, which was also partly directed by Andrew Marton and Guy Green.

This tribute will give us a chance to see some less familiar films and to revisit some of the better-known ones.

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MissGoddess
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby MissGoddess » October 4th, 2011, 8:49 am

Ray just missed my top 15 directors, and it wasn't easy to leave him off because I have really come to appreciate some of his films for the emotional honesty and intensity. I love emotional directors the most, I've learned, and it's a pleasure to discover "new" ones like Ray and Ophuls. The only one I haven't seen is A Woman's Secret. I'm very curious, Gloria Grahame and Maureen O'Hara are a strange combination.

In A Lonely Place is by far my favorite of this batch, followed by They Live by Night. I was disappointed by Born to be Bad, even though it has favorite Robert Ryan playing an unusually benign character. I think it would have worked better for me with a different actress in the lead. Someone I can more readily imagine driving men crazy than Joan Fontaine.
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ChiO
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby ChiO » October 4th, 2011, 9:50 am

Not certain how 55 DAYS AT PEKING (1963) got in there. The other five movies are his first five credits as a director in 1949-50 (Ray was the uncredited of director of ROSEANNA McCOY (1949), a Hatfield-McCoy movie with Farley Granger that I haven't seen).

Ray was a bit of an iconoclast and eccentric, but he came by that honestly. In a paen on Howard Hughes, whom he considered to be unfairly ridiculed, he wrote:

I studied and lived with the most outrageous egocentric of our times, Frank Lloyd Wright. I marched with the frail body and brilliant mind of Lord Bertrand Russell, drank a martini with FDR, and rejoiced at my father's death; but I flew with Howard Hughes.

Being prepared for what may seem outrageous -- often to my eyes a whirlwind of sentimentality and surrealism -- may help in watching his films. But not so much for tonight. In many respects, this grouping is of his most "normal" movies (now next week...oh, boy! Which, by the way, may be the best 24 hours of programming on TCM that I've ever seen.).

While every Ray movie is worth seeing, A WOMAN'S SECRET and BORN TO BE BAD are in the lower portion of my Ray list. It may be of some interest that Ray was not the Dory Schary's first choice for director of A WOMAN'S SECRET -- Jacques Tourneur was, but he turned it down, belying his reputation of directing anything that was handed to him. It has a fine cast and was written by Herman Mankiewicz, but it seems impersonal to me, and the best of Ray is very personal. I need to re-visit BORN TO BE BAD (after all, it has Robert Ryan), but it didn't seem as good as its title promised.

55 DAYS IN PEKING is a favorite epic. If ever an epic was made to deal with the personal and intimate, and still retain its sweep and action, this is one of them. Heston and Niven are wonderful and I may be the only guy who will watch and enjoy anything with John Ireland (and, yes, I've seen THE BASKETBALL FIX). Written by the ubiquitous Philip Yordan.

Ray gets Bogart, Derek and Macready to make KNOCK ON ANY DOOR better than it probably would have been in anyone else's hands. And having Burnett Guffey as the cinematographer doesn't hurt. Even if one still finds the misunderstood-kid-from-the-slums-that-society-created social melodrama narrative overwrought, it must be watched just to hear: Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse. And it is always a good thing to see a warm-up for REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (Derek's emotional breakdown foreshadows Mineo's performance) and BIGGER THAN LIFE.

Was Bogart ever better than in IN A LONELY PLACE? This has a well-deserved following here at SSO. With Guffey again. While being made, Ray was in Las Vegas intentionally losing all of his money while waiting for Grahame's divorce to be final, and best man J.C. Flippen pulled him from the craps table to the church to get married even though Ray's heart wasn't in it. Self-destructive? Did any of that transfer to Dixon Steele?

THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. Simply one of the finest debut feature films ever (was John Houseman lucky twice?). Romance and violence. Brilliant cast and cinematographer (George Diskant). Although there are three or four Ray movies that I enjoy more, everything is clicking here. If you only have time and space to record two of tonight's movies, this and IN A LONELY PLACE are the two to go for.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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ChiO
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby ChiO » October 4th, 2011, 9:53 am

Hey, MissG -- I was composing while you were posting. Looks like I agree with you.

I apologize.

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Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby MikeBSG » October 4th, 2011, 2:25 pm

"In a Lonely Place" is one of my favorites. A great film noir.

I was really impressed by the new biography of Nicholas Ray by Patrick McGilligan. I wasn't sure about buying it, then I read a couple of pages at the bookstore and bought it. Once I started it, I plowed through it. And I don't consider myself the world's strongest Nicholas Ray fan.

kingrat
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby kingrat » October 4th, 2011, 3:57 pm

Thank you to ChiO and MissG and Mike for the posts. The McGilligan biography sounds really good.

So far we all seem to see these six films in roughly the same order of merit. IN A LONELY PLACE is my favorite Ray film. Were Bogart and Grahame ever better? I actually think that KNOCK ON ANY DOOR has a good script, but isn't very well directed because Ray's heart isn't in courtroom drama with a social conscience. Other directors would have fit the material better. John Derek can't act, though he looks the part for a young hoodlum called Pretty Boy.

One intriguing aspect of Ray's work is that he is much more aware of, and willing and able to portray, same-sex feelings that almost all of his contemporaries. There's some brief but interesting comment in Richard Barrios' SCREENED OUT. Let's consider three of the films from tonight's group:

IN A LONELY PLACE - Barrios mentions how some people see the minor character of the masseuse as being lesbian; he thinks this is reinforced by the way Ray shoots the scene.

BORN TO BE BAD - Mel Ferrer plays an artist who says he spends most of his time reassuring husbands that he's harmless. Fans of MIDNIGHT will see Mel as playing the Rex O'Malley role to Joan Fontaine in the Mary Astor part. The amazing thing is that Ferrer, often wooden as a leading man, is really good, with much more energy than usual.

A WOMAN'S SECRET - These comments will make the film seem more interesting than it really is. Both Maureen O'Hara and Gloria Grahame are interested in Melvyn Douglas. Maureen also seems to have a crush on Gloria. In some films Melvyn Douglas doesn't project much sexual energy, but this is the only one I've seen where he seems sexually ambivalent. It's sort of a George Sanders character, where he's definitely interested in women, but you keep wondering what else is going on.

Another director might work to avoid these implications; Ray works to include them.

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ChiO
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby ChiO » October 4th, 2011, 4:49 pm

The McGilligan biography is now on my list. I really liked his biography of Fritz Lang.

KNOCK ON ANY DOOR has a good script, but isn't very well directed because Ray's heart isn't in courtroom drama with a social conscience.

I agree just enough to disagree. Ray's heart probably isn't in a courtroom drama. It is too confining -- not in the sense of space, but decorum and required social behavior. Social conscience? Who had more than Nicholas Ray? (And Stanley Kramer is not an acceptable answer.)
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Mr. Arkadin
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby Mr. Arkadin » October 4th, 2011, 5:11 pm

Pressed for time again, but this might be of some help:

viewtopic.php?f=18&t=3583

kingrat
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby kingrat » October 4th, 2011, 6:14 pm

ChiO, off the top of my head, I think these directors would probably have done a better job with KNOCK ON ANY DOOR: Kazan, Zinnemann, Preminger, Wise, Huston. Wyler and Negulesco if the two main female roles had been beefed up, which wouldn't have been a bad idea.

Courtroom drama doesn't seem to play to Ray's strengths. I don't see him as a social conscience guy, either. Two lonely individuals against the world, as in several Ray films, feels very different to me. Of course, if the young Marlon Brando had been playing Pretty Boy, things might have gone much better.

RedRiver
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby RedRiver » October 4th, 2011, 6:18 pm

If you only have time and space to record two of tonight's movies, this (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT) and IN A LONELY PLACE are the two to go for.

Absolutely and positively.

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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby CineMaven » October 5th, 2011, 8:55 am

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gz6ZNIWAEfw&feature=related[/youtube]
A sheer hoot!
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ChiO
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby ChiO » October 5th, 2011, 11:38 pm

KR wrote:
Two lonely individuals against the world, as in several Ray films, feels very different to me.

I've been thinking about that all day (guess I'm just one lonely individual with way too much time on my hands).

I don't see any Ray film being limited to that description. Sure, there's THEY LIVE AT NIGHT and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (three, not two, lonely individuals against the world; maybe four, if one includes Mr. Stark). But they are about much more than that. And it's not the way I'd describe, for example:

KNOCK ON ANY DOOR
IN A LONELY PLACE
ON DANGEROUS GROUND
THE LUSTY MEN
JOHNNY GUITAR
BIGGER THAN LIFE
BITTER VICTORY
PARTY GIRL
KING OF KINGS
55 DAYS AT PEKING
YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN


Maybe we are universes apart on a definition of "social conscience", but I view many -- and probably most -- of Ray's films as a full-frontal attack on societal mores and institutions, and the individual's place within -- or, more accurately, alienated from -- them. That, to me, exhibits a social conscience. And, it's important to add, made with an incredible eye and ear.

A Preminger version of KNOCK ON ANY DOOR would be interesting. Certainly more detached, but still interesting. (No evidence of love for Otto in the poll; quite a shame.) As for the rest, well, I'll stick with Ray's version. A case of a trivial difference in taste, no doubt.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

RedRiver
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby RedRiver » October 6th, 2011, 9:35 am

Wonder why I hear so little about YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN. Is it an American film? Was it a hit? It just never seems to come up.

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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby Gary J. » October 6th, 2011, 10:10 am

I believe you mean WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN (73).

If you want to find this you'll have to troll the film societies of the larger metropolis areas. In fact, I read where it recently played in NY this past month.
Like all of Rays work the last decade of his life, this film was rarely seen and never even got an official release during his lifetime. It's like a Welles project, a semi-documentary mash of various film making techniques that Ray continually tinkered with up to his death.
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RedRiver
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Re: TCM Tribute to Nicholas Ray

Postby RedRiver » October 6th, 2011, 12:16 pm

That explains a lot. I was thinking it was from the Thomas Wolfe book.


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