Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top Ranked Films of Nicholas Ray

Nicholas Ray
4 titles, 80th in points with 10,267

Nicholas Ray was a maverick and innovative American director who had great influence on other younger directors, especially in Europe. Before directing, Ray was close friends through radical theater in New York with Elia Kazan, and when Kazan got his first directing job for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, he hired Ray as first assistant director, which was Ray’s introduction to filmmaking. His films usually featured alienated characters, existing in their own solitude.

These are all the films of classic American director Nicholas Ray that made the top 1000 in our 2011 update of the Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Net, all polls.

1. Rebel Without a Cause (1955) #265
2. Johnny Guitar (1954) #387
3. In a Lonely Place (1950) bw #392 My favorite Bogart performance, a great underrated film
4. Bigger Than Life (1956) #793

Just Out of the Top 1000
5. They Live by Night (1948) #1089
6. Lusty Men, The (1952) #1404

He’s really underrated here as all six of these films could be in the top 1000, and In a Lonely place could be ranked much higher, certainly in the top 150.

My favorite of Ray’s (and a candidate for my all-time top 100) is the underappreciated In a Lonely Place, which features Humphrey Bogart’s most complex, vulnerable performance, as well as Gloria Grahame’s most memorable and subtle; she won a supporting Oscar® for something far much less than this in The Bad and the Beautiful, with a tiny part as a southerner’s shallow wife. It’s about a screenwriter (Bogart), who hires a girl to pre-read a novel for him to get her ideas before he turns it into a screenplay, and the girl shows up dead the next day; he’s the last person to see her alive, so he’s the prime suspect. Gloria Grahame is a neighbor who lives in the same small quadraplex of apartments, and who can see who comes and goes into Bogart’s apartment below hers. Grahame was also Ray’s second wife, but it ended disastrously after Ray caught her in bed with his son from his first wife. (She later married his son, Anthony Ray; of Grahame, he said “I was infatuated with her, but I didn’t like her very much”)

I thought Rebel Without a Cause a little too laden with melodramatic histrionics, but still it’s a classic of teen angst, just a bit melodramatic in parts - what’s with all the weeping? Normal people have these same feelings without responding this way, though I guess you could argue that James Dean externalized through acting what most people keep bottled up inside due to social decorum. Ray let Dean both inprovise and direct some scenes, even though he was a stage actor in his first film, and he certainly created a memorable debut. Both Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo were 15-yr olds, and both were nominated for supporting acting Oscars®. I liked it, but would flip Lonely Place and Rebel in my rankings. The public prefers Rebel, obviously.

Johnny Guitar is a very offbeat western, a film Ray himself hated making. It features Sterling Hayden as a singing gunslinger and boyfriend of Joan Crawford, who runs a bar in the middle of nowhere - but he’s hardly in the Gene Autrey-Roy Rogers mold, after all, this man was Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove (1964), and he’s always a little offbeat. This western also has perhaps the only all-female gunfight in cinema, certainly at that point in history.

They Live By Night is Ray’s first film, and is another about alienation of youth, like the later Rebel. This should probably be in the top 1000, it’s close at #1089. The Lusty Men is another good film for Robert Mitchum, and is a modern western worth seeing; it’s a better than average rodeo story, but not quite Hud (1964) either.

Ray’s career ended far too abrubtly, after making the big budget films King of Kings (1961), and 55 Days in Peking (1963) - he had a major heart attack during the filming of Peking and retire from filmmaking.

Here’s an excellent biography on him at IMDB, from fan Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, it’s the longer one here labels mini-biography, but’s it’s pretty thorough -

The Nicholas Ray Foundation, which has this quote from Ray, “Film recognizes neither time nor space, only the limits of man’s imagination”

Ray Quotes:
As a human being, Joan Crawford is a great actress.
If it were all in the script, why make the film?
The imagination is a pretty precious source of protection.
The closer I get to my ending, the closer I am getting to rewriting my beginning.

See the full list of top ranked 100 directors here: Top Ranked 100 Directors, 2011 Edition

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