Tag Archives: Nicholas Ray

XL Popcorn – Rebel Without A Cause

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 704/1007Title: Rebel Without A Cause
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1955
Country: USA

Much like Jeff Buckley, the early death of James Dean propelled him to the heights of ‘what if’ stardom thanks to exceptional work in a small number of films. Discounting uncredited roles in his very early career, Dean only has three films on his resume – all classics. Of the three, he received Oscar nominations for two of them: Rebel Without A Cause is the omission from this incredible track record (as in the same year he received a posthumous nomination for his work in Giant).

Where I enjoyed, but was not blown away by, his role in Giant  – I found myself utterly captivated by James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. He leads an incredibly trio of performances of himself, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo (who both received Oscar nominations for this film). There is no doubt that the film belongs on his young shoulders with a performance that is as psychologically considered as it is powerful.

I’ve put off watching Rebel Without A Cause for years as I assumed it would be one of those films that I would get annoyed by some whining teenage leads. However, no matter what the title tells you – there is definite cause behind all the behaviours of the three leads (apart from Sal’s character killing puppies… that’s just psychotic, even if he has been abandoned by both of his parents).

Parents, and parenting, is at the heart of all of this. The three lead characters all need different things from their parents which they’re not being given. Dean’s Jim is desperate for his father to be someone to aspire to, Wood’s Judy wants her father to show that he cares and Sal’s Plato just wants someone to show that he is loved.

Rebel Without A Cause has gone down in history for many a reason. Not only does it show the big ‘what if’ over James Dean’s career as well as breaking ground in telling a story aimed at teenage angst, but it also features some interesting homosexual undertones in Plato’s hero worship of Jim. Whilst I don’t think it’s overtly sexual, Plato clearly craves love and acceptance from a sincere male figure – it’s just that he imprinted on the ridiculously attractive Jim.

It’s a tragic melodrama done in the way that Nicholas Ray knows best. I thought he would be able to top Bigger Than Life for me and yet here we are. Man, I love Golden era Hollywood.

XL Popcorn – In A Lonely Place

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 678/1007Title: In A Lonely Place
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1950
Country: USA

It’s been a while since I last watched a film because of an episode of the You Must Remember This podcast, but having heard about the (weird) life of Gloria Grahame I knew that I had to see her in action. Since In A Lonely Place received a special shout-out, as it was shot when Gloria Grahame and then-husband Nicholas Ray were going through a separation (after he caught her in bed with his 13-year-old son, who she would later marry).

The stories of what was going on behind the scenes of In A Lonely Place already make this an interesting film to watch; the fact that this film also features possible career best performances from Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in a quintessential film noir classic is an added bonus.

At the heart of In A Lonely Place is suspicion and how it can completely ruin people’s lives. For most of the film we see the developing love between Bogart’s violent writer character and his neighbour, played by Grahame. They are the architypal star-crossed lovers where their distrust for each other – her’s because he is suspected of murder, his because of what he perceives as actions signposting her infidelity – is what ultimately destroys them.

However it’s worth remembering that, at every point in this film, we are made aware that Bogart’s character has a history of violence. It’s also signposted that he has previously broken the nose of one of his girlfriends… so despite the fact that it is distrust that breaks them apart, I cannot help but feel that she made a lucky escape.

Whilst there are many light moments in this film the two most memorable scenes are ones imbued with violence. Apart from the film’s ending, which I won’t go into, the most memorable scene is when the two leads are driving home after a beach picnic goes sour. En route, Bogart’s character gets into an altercation with another motorist… where he nearly kills the other guy by bashing his head in with a rock.

All these breadcrumbs and violent outbursts help to create this palpable sense of uncertainty. Both the audience and Grahame’s character cannot help but become more and more suspicious that Bogart’s character did indeed asphyxiate a woman and dump her body from a moving car. The finale is explosive and whilst it isn’t as shocking as the original ending, one cannot but feel a palpable sense of dread.

With In A Lonely Place ticked off, I have now seen three of the four Nicholas Ray films on the 1001 list. All I have left to see is Rebel Without A Cause, which is arguably one of the most iconic films to come out of the 1950s. How will that stand up to In A Lonely Place, Johnny Guitar and Bigger Than Life? Who knows, but it certainly has a lot to live up to.

XL Popcorn – Johnny Guitar

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 598/1007
Title: Johnny Guitar
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1954
Country: USA

If, like myself, you are a gamer you’ll have heard Johnny Guitar‘s main theme on one of the Fallout: New Vegas radio stations. My first exposure to this film was as a side-mention on The Celluloid Closet – a documentary about the representation of LGBT in Hollywood movies. Now that I have seen it… I am not too sure I get the LGBT vibe from this film, which probably means it’s more obvious in the book.

Anyway. I object to this film being called Johnny Guitar. He is not the main character in this film or, to be honest, one that matters too much. The central figure is Vienna, a bar and gambling den owner in the Old West who counts a known outlaw amongst her clientele. She is the film. I know that the central role of Vienna will, in part, be Joan Crawford ensuring her own screentime, but she was the person who secured the rights to the novel… so fair enough really.

Now, whilst Johnny Guitar is technically a western it did not always feel like one. It manages to tick the boxes by having a shoot-out, a number of explosions and a scene where criminals are hanged, but there’s more than this.

As engrossing as this film is it can feel like it has been shot in a version of a heightened reality. Maybe a lot of this is due to the particular nature of Joan Crawford herself. Her character is fascinating to watch, but she sure does feel out of place in the Johnny Guitar world. Everything is so purposeful and you can tell someone with a precise eye put some of the shots together; the shot with the piano immediately springs to mind.

Oh and how could I forget the character of Emma. Seriously, this woman has some huge hatred for Vienna and, for me, it’s never explained in a way that truly satisfied me. In essence, her blind hatred and indomitable need to destroy Vienna is meant to show up the McCarthy witch hunts of the time. She has it out for Vienna and knows just which political buttons to push and which people to intimidate in order to get her way.

It is an odd little film, but my how the time flew as I watched it.

XL Popcorn – Bigger Than Life

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 584/1007
Title: Bigger Than Life
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1956
Country: USA

We take for granted that there are many films being made at the moment that are able to deal with concepts like mental health and addiction. In fact, if you want to get an Oscar nomination, many actors gravitate to these sorts of roles. However, back in the 1950s these films were not commonplace.

Films like The Snake Pit and The Lost Weekend were able to make such an impact not only because they were great films but also because they brought to the mainstream topics that we don’t tend to talk about in polite society. The same thing can be said about Bigger Than Life which deals with prescription drug addiction and, eventual, psychosis.

Not enough can be said about how fantastic James Mason is in this film. He portrays Ed, a school teacher who is prescribed cortisone to help treat a condition that would eventually kill him. We now know what can happen when people are given high doses of cortisone for a long period of time – when this film is set these side-effects were only just starting to emerge.

The main side effects we see here are mood swings, depression, anxiety, change in personality and the eventual psychosis that ramps up in the film’s final act. Mason has to bring his character through all of these changes that make him going from being a generous and hard working man to an abusive and high-handed man.

There is a scene in a parent-teacher conference that feels like one of the moments where Ed is starting to cross lines he would have never crossed before. As a former teacher I can understand that some of his comments are things he always felt (like how one of his young students could be outsmarted by a gorilla – that made me laugh) but then there is one quote I found particularly interesting:

“Childhood is a congenital disease – and the purpose of education is to cure it.”

You can plot the rest of the film (including his literal and rather shocking interpretation of The Binding of Isaac) from this statement. His continuing breakdown and abuse of his wife and son all stem from this idea of his. The more you listen to him the more and more fascist some of his outbursts become. In 1955, that will have been downright shocking.

Speaking of shocking, the penultimate sequence of this film with its carnivalesque music in the background is fantastically done. You fear for the wife and son as Ed goes through a complete psychotic break is palpable.

It’s only when you remember this is James Mason and the year of production is 1956 that you are able to discount certain outcomes. Still, this is one of those films that feels nearly forgotten and it’s a downright shame.