Nicholas Ray

020-nicholas-ray-theredlist

Birth Name: Raymond Nicholas Kienzle

Date of Birth: August 7, 1911

Date of Death: June 16, 1979

Number of Films that Nicholas Ray Made with Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Lowdown

According to the Sperber/Lax Bogart bio, Director Nicholas Ray “had an affinity for pictures about the disaffected…” Collaborating with Bogart on the back end of the icon’s career, and also during what some may argue as the most disaffected portion of the actor’s artistic and political life, Ray was there to capture Bogart on screen in a way that was more deeply personal than any other director in his filmography.

The more I read on Ray, the more I’m in awe. The man lived a Forrest Gump-like life in the best possible ways, collaborating over his career with such varied talents as Frank Lloyd Wright (they parted over politics), Elia Kazan, Alan Lomax (a personal hero as I listen to his work daily), Woody Guthrie, and even the great James Dean among many others. Perhaps best known for his work with Dean on Rebel Without a Cause, what a tragedy it is to hear that they’d planned to collaborate on more films together before Dean’s untimely death.

While Ray and Bogart worked together twice, the bigger story might be all the times they almost worked together but fate intervened. Bogart wanted to do a version of The Old Man and the Sea with Ray directing. (Bogart best friend Spencer Tracy would go on to film it a year after Bogie’s death.) Ray was also in the mix to direct Beat the Devil at one point. (How DIFFERENT would that film be with the emotionally charged director in the power chair?) And Bogart also talked with Ray on another project, The Ferry Boat Story, that never came to fruition because Bogart decided to make The Caine Mutiny.

Regardless, we do have two wonderful films in which they worked together. I’m more than elated to place Director Nicholas Ray into The Usual Suspects today!

The Filmography

Knock on Any Door – 1949

Knock On Any Door Poster

Knock on Any Door was the first movie produced by Bogart’s film production company, Santana, and I would have to say that it was a great film for Bogart’s crew to start with – despite the fact that neither Director Ray nor Bogart were satisfied with the final results.

Based on the bestselling book by Willard Motley, Bogart handpicked Ray after being impressed by his directorial debut in They Live by Night. There have been reviews written that accuse this film of doing some over-the-top grandstanding, preaching on the dangers of social injustice. I couldn’t disagree more. How our country treats the lower class is most definitely not a black and white issue, and I think Director Ray makes sure to leave us on an authentic moment of uncertainty at the end of the film. People that we might consider “bad guys” aren’t always bad guys. Heroes we look up to sometimes make life and death mistakes. Knock on Any Door is less a movie about our country’s war on poverty, and more a film about our societal struggle with the flawed criminal justice system.

Bogart’s wonderful here as attorney Andrew Morton. I’ve read more than a few blogs and reviews that compare his final courtroom scene here to his ending moments as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. I would agree with that on a lot of levels, but the role of Andrew Morton is much more restrained as it builds towards the big speech at the end. And while both men are essentially breaking down emotionally, Morton’s scene is more of an emotional breakthrough – something that Director Ray was so incredibly deft at handling.

You can read my original post on the film here.

In a Lonely Place – 1950

lonely place

An emotional punch in the gut, Director Nicholas Ray reportedly wrote many of the relationship scenes between Bogart and costar Gloria Grahame based on his own failing marriage. As you can guess, this film is good with tension.

What is so interesting to me about this film is that it raises questions about the responsibility that society bears on handling the behavior of unstable people. Bogart’s Dixon Steele has proven to be a valuable member of society with a lot to contribute to the arts. He could have continued to thrive during his personal struggles with the proper support from their peers. Ray though, crafts a story in which we get to watch Steele systematically tumble one step after another into a deep state of rage and distrust for those around him, finally sabotaging his personal relationships and career.

Good, good, good, good film. You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

 

Knock on Any Door – 1949

Knock On Any Door Poster

My Review

—Definitely Deserves a Watch—

Bogie Film Fix:

4 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Nicholas Ray

The Lowdown

An attorney (Humphrey Bogart) who escaped a history of crime and poverty must defend a young hoodlum (John Derek) accused of murdering a policeman.

What I Thought

First of all, before you watch this film, don’t read any of the reviews or synopses on the web. A few of them actually give away the ending in the first paragraph, and it always bugs me a little bit that people think they can get away with that because it’s a “classic” movie.

Knock on Any Door was the first movie produced by Bogart’s film production company, Santana, and I would have to say that it was a great film for Bogart’s crew to start with. Based on the bestselling book by Willard Motley, Bogart handpicked Director Nicholas Ray after being impressed by his directorial debut in They Live by Night. It’s a partnership that would go on to produce one of my favorite Bogart films, In a Lonely Place, and Ray would later helm one of cinema’s most loved classics, Rebel Without a Cause.

There have been reviews written that accuse this film of doing some over-the-top grandstanding, preaching on the dangers of social injustice. I couldn’t disagree more. How our country treats the lower class is most definitely not a black and white issue, and I think Director Ray makes sure to leave us on an authentic moment of uncertainty at the end of the film. People that we might consider “bad guys” aren’t always bad guys. Heroes we look up to sometimes make life and death mistakes. Knock on Any Door is less a movie about our country’s war on poverty, and more a film about our societal struggle with the flawed criminal justice system.

Although I’m not giving it a perfect score on the “Bogie Film Fix,” as much of film centers around John Derek (and rightly so), I would say this that one’s a must see for anyone hankering for some classic older Bogart.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s wonderful here as attorney Andrew Morton. I’ve read more than a few blogs and reviews that compare his final courtroom scene here to his ending moments as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. I would agree with that on a lot of levels, but the role of Andrew Morton is much more restrained as it builds towards the big speech at the end. And while both men are essentially breaking down emotionally, Morton’s scene is more of an emotional breakthrough than a breakdown. Morton’s scene is one of stark realization about the hopelessness sometimes created by the judicial process. Queeg’s madness is more personal, and any realizations of it are much more self-reflective.

Bogart has some great scenes as he attempts to mentor his young client, and it’s a lot of fun to see him battling it out in the courtroom with the District Attorney (George Macready) in a battle of wits as they attempt to sway the jury over the young defendant’s life.

Quiet, reflective, occasionally torn and brooding, Bogart plays this one close to the chest and it works. I loved the fact that he didn’t initially want to take the case, but was sort of guilted into it by his girlfriend (Candy Toxton). This worked in the film’s favor as at several points, Bogart’s reluctance is conveyed through the doubt he carries about his client.

Both Bogart and John Derek are strong in this film, and it’s well worth your time to check it out based on their performances alone.

The Cast

John Derek plays Nick Romano, the young man from the wrong side of the tracks who is accused of murder. This is Derek’s film, as he’s front and center for most of the scenes, and he handles it well. Derek’s able to give us the emotional rollercoaster of someone who’s got the potential to accomplish anything, yet because of bad luck and poor decisions, he can’t seem to keep his life on the straight and narrow. I’m not all that familiar with Derek, but I’d love to see if he has another role as powerful as this one.

Allene Roberts plays Derek’s love interest, Emma. It’s not a huge role, but she does a great job with it, and her side story with Derek is one of the more haunting parts of the film. Director Ray does a good job of showing us the tragedy of a young couple’s relationship going sour after so much initial promise.

George Macready is PERFECTLY cast as Assistant District Attorney Kerman. From the scar on his cheek to his ruthless badgering of witnesses, Macready is the standout scene stealer in this film and I’m anxious to check out his other work. Anyone who can get me to hate them for an hour and a half before finally garnering my sympathy is a solid actor in my book.

Candy Toxton (as Susan Perry) plays Bogart’s love interest, social worker Adele Morton. It’s a small role, but she makes the most of her scenes. I bought the fact that Toxton was able to convince Bogart to take the case based on his own past indiscretions. While I wish that she’d had a little more meat in the script, I can’t complain as she does her supporting job well.

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart was great at emotional breakdowns onscreen. While his last courtroom scene here has a more sympathetic spin on it than his final explosions in The Caine Mutiny and In a Lonely Place, it’s a real testament to Bogart’s skill that he could so convincingly show such a powerful emotional investment in his roles. Bogart was superb at playing characters that were forced, often against their will, to live in the “gray areas” of life.

The Bottom Line

Not a perfect film, but a wonderful showcase for Bogart and Derek with lots of great tension.

In a Lonely Place – 1950

lonely place

My Review

—Amazing Film, Amazing Role— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Nicholas Ray

The Lowdown

Screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) falls under suspicion of murder after a woman he invites to his apartment winds up dead.  A small time actress (Gloria Grahame) provides Steele’s only alibi, and they begin to fall in love after she becomes his typist.

What I Thought

There could be a great film lecture solely devoted to the subject of paranoia and anger as it relates to the two main characters in The Caine Mutiny and In a Lonely Place.  Here again, much like Captain Queeg, Dixon Steele is a brilliant and respected man who’s brought low by his personal demons and tragic flaws.  Any hope that he can rise above his problems is repeatedly dashed by the friends and acquaintances around him who will not let him forget his shortcomings.

Director Nicholas Ray gets a superb performance out of Bogart, and other than a final act that lasts a few minutes longer than it should, this is a tight and thrilling movie.  Like Queeg, we think that we know the facts behind Steele’s situation.  Didn’t we see Mildred leave his apartment?  Shouldn’t we be sure that he had nothing to do with her death?   We should, but Director Ray plays Steele’s behavior so sporadically violent that even we start to question his possible involvement in the girl’s death despite what we’ve seen.

What is so interesting to me about this film and The Caine Mutiny is that they both raise questions about the responsibility that society bears on handling the behavior of unstable people.  Both Queeg and Steele are valuable members of society with a lot to contribute.  Both men could have continued to thrive during their personal struggles with the proper support from their peers.  Both men though, eventually crash – falling into deep states of rage and distrust for those around them, finally sabotaging their personal relationships and careers.

Nicholas Ray is certainly a very gifted director and has assembled a capable cast, a tight script, and a solid eye for using his main star to anchor this great film.

The Bogart Factor

I hate to read that Bogart talked poorly of this film in his later years.  Several of his biographies credit his dislike of the film to the fact that the character of Dixon Steele might have been too close to his own reality.  Both Steele and Bogart are incredibly charming and talented men who struggled to contain a deeper, sometimes alienating, bitterness.

Bogart’s negative feelings could also have been residual bitterness from the fact that Warner Brothers refused to loan his production company, “Santana Productions,” the services of Lauren Bacall for the film.  I would imagine that missing out on working with his wife, as well as the knowledge that their real-life relationship could have added an incredible weight to the film, might have made him a little sour on the experience.

All that being said, this is absolutely some of Bogart’s very best work, as he plays Steele’s societal detachment as a double edged sword that both aids his charm, while still leaving his character open for question when it comes to the murder.  We don’t want to believe that Steele’s guilty, but we have to admit that he’s probably capable.

Bogart is just so doggone charming that you want to hang out with him, share a drink, and shoot the bull.  At the same time, there’s such a painful vulnerability in Bogart, especially during his final scene with Gloria Graham as he leaves her apartment, that we can hardly look at him without great pity.  We see the face of a man, again like Queeg, who’s left stripped of everything he once thought important – an open wound of emotion with nowhere left to turn.

It says a lot about the enduring love for Casablanca, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The Caine Mutiny that this performance for Bogart isn’t mentioned more often.  Everything key to his talents and onscreen presence is displayed here.

The Cast

Gloria Grahame plays Laurel Gray, the woman who falls for Steele and begins to doubt his innocence and stability as the film progresses.  Knowing that Gray could have been played by Bacall is a big shadow to hang over the role, but Grahame is very, very good.  She’s pretty, charming, and even though it’s not overtly stated, her character is obviously dealing with her own baggage in life.  It’s a suitably understated performance, and it makes me want to see more of her filmography.  (Other than her much treasured role as Violet in It’s a Wonderful Life of course!)

Frank Lovejoy plays Detective Brub Nicolai, Steele’s good friend and the investigating officer of the murder.  He is great in the role, and has good chemistry with Bogart.

Art Smith is Steele’s aging agent, Mel Lippman.  Used mostly for comedic effect, Smith does have an amazing scene with Bogart in a restaurant bathroom after being slapped during one of Steele’s rage-filled outbursts.

Robert Warwick is Charlie Waterman, an aging actor and friend of Steele’s who has fallen into the bottom of a bottle after his career has flat lined.  According to A. Sperber’s Bogart, Warwick worked with Bogart early on in his stage career and was a big encourager for the young actor to keep at his craft.  (p. 434).  For that alone, I’ll give Warwick a big nod here!

Classic Bogie Moment

When Bogart wants to flip a switch from amiable to crazed, I’m always amazed at how fast he can make the transition.  One moment in particular comes when Dixon Steele is explaining to Detective Brub and his wife about how the murder might have taken place.  Much like the mental breakdown during the cross examination scene of The Caine Mutiny, there comes a moment when the character seems to lose himself within his own rationalizations, and a wild-eyed look takes over:

in a lonely place 2

There was also a specific moment at the end where we see a very common mannerism that Bogart would use in multiple films for his characters when they begin to become crazed –

in a lonely classic

The open hands at the hips, as if he’s ready to draw a gun or strangle someone, often come out when Bogart’s characters are at their most physically dangerous, and it’s a little trait that adds an extra dimension of tension here.

The Bottom Line

Undeniably one of the best performances in Bogart’s very rich filmography.