Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Ryan Gosling To Star In 'Blade Runner 2' Ryan Gosling To Star In 'Blade Runner 2' Watch: New Trailer For 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Flies Into The Galaxy Watch: New Trailer For 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Flies Into The Galaxy Watch: First Teaser Trailer For Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' Watch: First Teaser Trailer For Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' 'Macbeth,' Todd Haynes' 'Carol,' Pixar's 'Inside Out' Lead 2015 Cannes Film Festival Line-Up 'Macbeth,' Todd Haynes' 'Carol,' Pixar's 'Inside Out' Lead 2015 Cannes Film Festival Line-Up Watch: Zack Snyder Teases The Full Trailer For ‘Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice' & Upcoming IMAX Event Watch: Zack Snyder Teases The Full Trailer For ‘Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice' & Upcoming IMAX Event Ryan Gosling & Edgar Wright Talk 'Lost River,' Shooting In Detroit, And Advice For First Time Filmmakers Ryan Gosling & Edgar Wright Talk 'Lost River,' Shooting In Detroit, And Advice For First Time Filmmakers Netflix & Marvel's 'Daredevil': The Pros, The Cons, The Verdict Netflix & Marvel's 'Daredevil': The Pros, The Cons, The Verdict Netflix's 'Daredevil' Is An Awesome Achievement And Marvel's Most Graphic & Grounded Effort To Date Netflix's 'Daredevil' Is An Awesome Achievement And Marvel's Most Graphic & Grounded Effort To Date Watch: Action-Packed Footage In 2 New “Avengers: Age of Ultron’ TV Spots, Plus Watch Interviews With The Entire Cast Watch: Action-Packed Footage In 2 New “Avengers: Age of Ultron’ TV Spots, Plus Watch Interviews With The Entire Cast Watch: Trailer For 'The Great Beauty' Director Paolo Sorrentino's 'Youth' Starring Michael Caine & Rachel Weisz Watch: Trailer For 'The Great Beauty' Director Paolo Sorrentino's 'Youth' Starring Michael Caine & Rachel Weisz Joss Whedon Says He's Not Making 'Avengers: Infinity War' Because It's "A Young Man’s Game" Joss Whedon Says He's Not Making 'Avengers: Infinity War' Because It's "A Young Man’s Game" Watch: Take 7 Minutes And Learn The History Of Film Editing Watch: Take 7 Minutes And Learn The History Of Film Editing 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' Called "Amazing" And "More Emotional" With "Insane Action" After First Screening 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' Called "Amazing" And "More Emotional" With "Insane Action" After First Screening Joss Whedon Calls 'Jurassic World' Clip "70s Era Sexist" Joss Whedon Calls 'Jurassic World' Clip "70s Era Sexist" The 20 Most Anticipated Films Of The 2015 Tribeca Film Festival The 20 Most Anticipated Films Of The 2015 Tribeca Film Festival The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki

The Essentials: 5 Great Films By Nicholas Ray

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist June 15, 2012 at 1:51PM

While adored by the French and the Cahiers Du Cinema coterie that went on to become the rebellious French New Wave -- which spawned the oft-quoted Jean-Luc Godard phrase "cinema is Nicholas Ray" -- the American filmmaker never really received his due outside of the one film of his that most moviegoers have seen (and even then, they’re possibly unaware that he directed it): “Rebel Without A Cause.” And while that iconic 1950s film, with its audacious, expressionistic colors, its passionate angst and anguish, its mix of quiet machismo and vulnerability, is perhaps the cornerstone of many of Nicholas Ray’s films -- vibrant melodrama on the surface, percolating emotional agony within -- it’s certainly just the tip of iceberg when it comes to the director’s career.
6
Nicholas Ray

While adored by the French and the Cahiers Du Cinema coterie that went on to become the rebellious French New Wave -- which spawned the oft-quoted Jean-Luc Godard phrase "cinema is Nicholas Ray" --  the American filmmaker never really received his due outside of the one film of his that most moviegoers have seen (and even then, they’re possibly unaware that he directed it): “Rebel Without A Cause.” And while that iconic 1950s film, with its audacious, expressionistic colors, its passionate angst and anguish, its mix of quiet machismo and vulnerability, is perhaps the cornerstone of many of Nicholas Ray’s films -- vibrant melodrama on the surface, percolating emotional agony within -- it’s certainly just the tip of iceberg when it comes to the director’s career.

Starting out as a would-be actor, Ray moved to moved to New York where he appeared in the great Elia Kazan's theater debut. This led to Ray’s breakthrough Hollywood experience, as an assistant on Kazan's debut film, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945) and after only two more years of assisting on other pictures -- plus directing a Broadway production and a TV show -- the director was given his first shot by RKO with “They Live by Night,” which was delayed by two years thanks in part to Howard Hughes’ takeover of the studio.

Impressionistic and intimate for its time, "They Live By Night" wasn't your average film noir, and launched Ray’s particular and idiosyncratic search for the human condition, often marked by its bold melodramatic veneer and its sympathies for youthful outcasts and alienated anti-heroes. What tethered Ray’s body of work was a focus on emotionally bruised, sensitive tough guys and misfits with tremendous longing. On the set of Ray's 1953 Western "The Lusty Men," the relentless digging for the emotional essence of a scene in what was supposed to be just a rodeo drama with a love triangle, prompted star Robert Mitchum -- who joked that the film only had 17 pages of a script and the rest was improvised -- to dub Ray a “mystic.”

Bisexual, with a notorious, awful predilection for toxic relationships ("In A Lonely Place" actress Gloria Grahame eventually married Ray's son after their tumultuous union dissolved; rumors of an affair with the 16-year-old Natalie Wood -- Ray was 27 years her senior -- caused friction between him and Dennis Hopper), life outside of Ray’s filmmaking career was rough, to say the least, and his fondness for alcohol and heavy drug use saw the filmmaker shunned by Hollywood by the time the early 1960s arrived. After collapsing on the set of “55 Days at Peking” in 1963, Ray would not direct again until the mid-1970s, and for all intents and purposes his career was by then over.

Ray died in 1979 of lung cancer as he was filming "Lightning Over Water," which was meant to be a collaborative documentary about the nature of life and death with devoted Ray apostle Wim Wenders (who also cast him in a small role in 1977’s “The American Friend”), but ultimately ended up as a harrowing chronicle of Ray’s decay and death.

But while largely critically ignored and/or underappreciated for much of his career, Ray has always had his champions among cinephiles. As mentioned, the French New Wave adored him during his 1950s heyday (François Truffaut was another major admirer), and subsequent generations have rallied behind him, such as Wenders, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Philip Kaufman (who once tried to mount a biopic of his life), Oren Moverman (who wrote it), Curtis Hanson and many more. Yet still, even by cinephile standards, Ray’s work is relatively unknown. Perhaps that’s slowly changing: The Criterion Collection released their first Ray film (“Bigger Than Life”) in 2010, and hopefully that’s just the beginning of what will usher in a new era of appreciation for the filmmaker. With 24 features made during a 16-year period (and one feature and a few shorts made in the '70s afterward), Ray burned the candle brightly, but at both ends, likely to his own detriment. Still, he left an indelible body of work that at its worst is worth sifting through, and at its best provides moments of inspired, stylized and highly eccentric genius. On the 33rd anniversary of his death, we present five Nicholas Ray essentials you need to watch. Head to page 2 for more.

This article is related to: Nicholas Ray, The Essentials, Features, On This Day In Movie History, Feature


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates