Saturday, March 10, 2012

Out In The Be-Bop 1940s Night- Bonnie And Clyde For Innocents-Farley Granger’s “They Lived By Night”

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the 1940s film noir, The Live By Night

DVD Review

They Live By Night, starring Farley Granger, Catherine O’Donnell, Warner Brothers, 1948

Usually crime noir does not have an overriding social message, well, except the old chestnut that crime doesn’t pay, although for the rich a little maybe. Otherwise the genre back in the days, especially in the 1940s be-bop heyday of the genre, was pretty much police procedural stuff, and get the handcuffs out. Or maybe, every once in a while a stray femme fatale came carrying her scent and her sway across the room and turned some otherwise rational guy a little screwy. And anyone, any guy anyway, except maybe that screwy guy, will tell you that is just par for the course. And then get the handcuffs out. A film like the one under review, They Live By Night (a little over the top title by the way, bringing out visions of weird aliens, the space kind, or all night sex and drug romps), however, perhaps a little more melodramatically than necessary, tries to break some moral ground as well. And that proposition as presented in the film was none too pretty, then or now. Basically that once one runs down the criminal road, alone or with help, young or old, maybe even guilty or not guilty, the doors to salvation (read: rehabilitation in penal lingo) are closed. Ouch!

And the plot line and unfolding characterizations as the story proceeds go a long way toward driving that hard, if perhaps questionable, premise home. Bowie (played with a studied unworldly naiveté and socially immature confusion by a young Farley Granger) is a young lifer, the details of his imprisonment, except that he came from a broken home and was on his own early in life, do not concern us except to form the underlying basis for his eternal damnation. Wrong step number one. He broke, and was consciously broken, out of the big house along with and by a couple of very nasty career criminals. Wrong step number two. In gratitude, and frankly because he had developed a certain criminal panache while in stir, he aided the pair as the driver of the getaway cars when they went, naturally since they were not going to work in some diner for dimes and doughnuts, on a robbery spree to keep them in clover. And he got his share of the take, no questions asked. Not much to be sympathetic about. So far.

Here is where things get dicey. During the getaway part of the great jail break-out the trio was helped by one the career banditos’ brother (said bandito played by Howard DaSilva, a guy you do not want to cross, ever, especially if unarmed. Yes, especially if unarmed). And the brother, of course, had a daughter, Kee Kee (played just a little too naively and dreamily by Catherine O’Donnell), a young daughter a little unworldly in the world of fringe lumpen crime. Alone with a two-bit drunken father (and long gone mom) Naturally a young, good-looking and spirited criminal guy (who does those bank jobs just to get some dough to get himself straight with the law as he tells it to her later) and a young naïve, kind of tomboyish girl (although through the magic of cinema she gets to be pretty fetching by the end of the film), both socially immature and both desperate to find their place, some place, some small happy place in a world that they did not make, are “made” for each other. And that is where the moral part of the story comes.

By a process of elimination by the middle of the film Bowie and Kee Kee are trying, trying fitfully but trying, to break out of the old crime wave pattern and have little white picket fence existence, if not here maybe down Mexico way where the living is cheap, once Bowie gets straight with the law. But that fantasy was not to be. Bowie was forced (remember what I said about Howard DaSilva) to do that one hold-up job too many and the pair had to go on the lam. Wrong step number three. You already know what that means. They had dough, and each other, but the cards were stacked against them as no one will help them slip down Sonora way.

In the end, the lonely end, one of the banditos’ kin (on the other bandito’s side) “dimes” on him. There is more background to it like the kids getting off-handedly married, a no bells and whistles ceremony by the way, learning about sex enough in their wanderings to conceive a child, and desperately try to hang onto their cardboard dreams of a normal life. But the fate sisters were not kind, not this trip. Like I said, a little on the melodramatic pledging eternal love every other minute high side but a story that I could relate to having come within about two minutes of such a fate myself. Actually make that about one minute.

No comments:

Post a Comment