Bigger Than Life: The Films of Nicholas Ray
February 3–April 12

"There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforward there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray." – Jean-Luc Godard

With his centennial year just ended and the recent restorations of some of his most daring works, now is the perfect time to explore the work of Nicholas Ray (1911-1979), one of postwar Hollywood's definitive filmmakers.

A unique talent who made films both quintessentially of their time and forward-looking, Ray's searching nature and innate contrariness inform all of his work. A much in-demand director throughout the 1950s, Ray made films in a variety of genres, including several distinctive films noir (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, IN A LONELY PLACE, ON DANGEROUS GROUND). The landmark REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE vaulted James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo to stardom and was a template for all teen-angst-oriented films to come over the next two decades. That film's distinctive visuals — a boldly expressionistic use of bright color and widescreen CinemaScope — would henceforth become a Ray hallmark ("What Welles was to deep focus, Ray was to CinemaScope." – Robin Wood).

Ray's films, almost never overtly political, are always implicit navigations of the political versus the personal — institutional, industrial society versus the wayward hopes, fears and desires of the individual. Somehow the Hollywood wunderkind was both an insider and an outsider. To an unprecedented degree for a Hollywood director working in the 1950s, Ray admitted paradox into his work, including a penchant for character duality, even self-deception; stories that examined the tyranny of conformity but also the terrible freedom of liberty; and happy endings — some studio-imposed — shaded by distrustful unease.

Ray's influence is legendary. Francois Truffaut called him "the poet of nightfall." Jean-Luc Godard famously wrote, "Le cinema, c'est Nicholas Ray." An exemplar of auteur film theory — and deservedly so — Ray's films are intensely personal, poetic and visually articulate ("It was never all in the script. If it were, why make the movie?" – Ray), qualities that give them the spark of life, and keep them alive with possibility, many decades later.


"The most romantic and haunting young-criminals-on-the-run movie ever made." – Jim Jarmusch

"This boy...and this girl...were never properly introduced to the world we live in...To tell their story...THEY LIVE BY NIGHT." Nicholas Ray's stunning directorial debut is a deeply felt, richly detailed adaptation of Edward Anderson's depression-era classic "Thieves Like Us," a crime story that's really about love struggling to survive in a cruel, unforgiving world. Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell are memorable as film noir's version of Romeo and Juliet. – Courtesy of the Film Noir Foundation.

DIR/SCR Nicholas Ray; SCR Charles Schnee, from the novel "Thieves Like Us" by Edward Anderson; PROD John Houseman. US, 1949, b&w, 95 min. NOT RATED


Fri, Feb 3, 9:45; Sat, Feb 4, 5:45; Wed, Feb 8, 9:20; Thu, Feb 9, 9:20


Grilled by the cops under suspicion of murder, tempestuous screenwriter Humphrey Bogart gets a phony alibi courtesy of girl-next-door Gloria Grahame, but their ensuing love affair is interrupted by his repeated bouts of insane rage — could he really be the killer? "Never were despair and solitude so romantically alluring" – Geoff Andrew.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Andrew Solt, Edmund H. North; PROD Robert Lord. US, 1950, b&w, 94 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Feb 11, 9:30; Sun, Feb 12, 7:10; Wed, Feb 15, 7:15; Thu, Feb 16, 9:20


If ALL ABOUT EVE is the grande dame of unrepentant, underhanded social climbing, BORN TO BE BAD, also released in 1950, is its bratty kid sister. Joan Fontaine subverts her ingenue image as a smiling, scheming young social climber who sows seeds of discontent between her guardian Joan Leslie and Leslie's fiance Zachary Scott, marries the wealthy but wimpy Scott herself, then seduces her main squeeze, he-man novelist Robert Ryan. Mel Ferrer delights as a catty society painter, the only one immune to Fontaine's wicked charms, and something of a Greek chorus to her rise and fall.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Edith Sommer, Charles Schnee, from the novel "All Kneeling" by Anne Parrish; PROD Robert Sparks. US, 1950, b&w, 94 min. NOT RATED


Sun, Feb 12, 9:10; Mon, Feb 13, 9:25; Tue, Feb 14, 5:15; Wed, Feb 15, 5:15

60th Anniversary!

Rodeo veteran Robert Mitchum, off the bulls since taking a bad spill, tries his hand at mentoring and managing the career of eager Arthur Kennedy, who quickly rises through the ranks. Kennedy's wife Susan Hayward wants him to settle down and quit while he's ahead, but he's drawn to the rowdy rodeo lifestyle — and despite her anger, she's drawn to Mitchum. One of Nicholas Ray's best, most underappreciated films, and one of Mitchum's finest performances.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR David Dortort, Horace McCoy, from the novel by Claude Stanush; PROD Jerry Wald. US, 1952, b&w, 113 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Feb 18, 3:15; Sun, Feb 19, 6:20; Mon, Feb 20, 8:30

60th Anniversary!

After nearly beating a perp to a pulp, tightly wound city cop Robert Ryan gets sent to the country for some cooling off. Now billeted to a wintry mountain village, Ryan must not only investigate the recent murder of a child but also quell the villagers' thirst for vengeance and vigilantism, led by the dead child's father, Ward Bond. The killer's trail leads to the lonely farmhouse of Ida Lupino, a blind woman whose self-reliance and inner peace intrigue Ryan, as she may hold the key to the case — and his destiny. This exquisite film noir ranks among director Nicholas Ray's very best work.

DIR/SCR Nicholas Ray; SCR A. I. Bezzerides, from the novel "Mad with Much Heart" by Gerald Butler; PROD John Houseman. US, 1952, b&w, 82 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Feb 18, 5:35; Tue, Feb 21, 9:30; Wed, Feb 22, 9:30


"A fairy tale, a hallucinatory Western...the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST of Westerns, a Western dream." – François Truffaut, Cahiers du Cinéma

"JOHNNY GUITAR might well be the best bad film in the history of film." – Christian Viviani, Positif

Nicholas Ray's surreal Western is a genre subversion, political allegory, Freudian fairy tale and out-and-out camp classic. In the Arizona territory, self-made woman Joan Crawford wears the pants as a saloon proprietor, land owner and railroad speculator. Sterling Hayden is Johnny Guitar, but Crawford knew him back when he was gunfighter Johnny Logan, and her lover. Their attempt at reconciliation is threatened by a dangerous love triangle among Crawford, her sometime lover The Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) and her bloody-minded rival Mercedes McCambridge intent on seeing Crawford hanged for a crime she did not commit.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Philip Yordan, Roy Chanslor, from the novel by Chanslor; PROD Herbert J. Yates. US, 1954, color, 110 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Feb 25, 5:00--just added!; Sun, Feb 26, 5:45; Tue, Feb 28, 6:45


"Few films have examined the confusions of an entire generation with such fervor or remains for many the American movie of the 1950s." – Geoff Andrew, "The Films of Nicholas Ray"

"You're tearin' me apart!" wails James Dean in Nicholas Ray's touchstone of teen angst and nobody-understands-me melodrama, an Eisenhower-era anticipation of the even sharper generational rift to come in the 1960s. Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo give breakout performances as troubled teens, who, like Dean, are badly in need of real friendship. Ray's sensitive direction, dynamic storytelling and brilliant use of WarnerColor and the CinemaScope frame have ensured that this film has remained alive and vital across multiple generations.

DIR/SCR Nicholas Ray; SCR Stewart Stern, Irving Shulman; PROD David Weisbart. US, 1955, color, 111 min. NOT RATED


Fri, Mar 2, 4:40; Sat, Mar 3, 7:00; Wed, Mar 7, 9:10


Tagline: "Jane Russell Shakes Her Tambourines and Drives Cornel Wilde!" Though born and raised in a Los Angeles gypsy clan, independent-minded Cornel Wilde prefers to make his own way in the world, even going to work in gadjo society as a dance instructor. Railroaded into an arranged marriage with Jane Russell by his gypsy king brother Luther Adler, Wilde skips out on their wedding night. But as Adler explains, in gypsy marriage, love comes later. A ravishingly sensual sensory experience — brilliant color, CinemaScope grandeur and transporting moments of music and dance — with earthy good humor to boot.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Jesse Lasky, Jr.; PROD Harry Tatelman, Howard Welsch. US, 1956, color, 85 min. NOT RATED


Sun, Mar 4, 11:00 a.m.; Tue, Mar 6, 9:35


"Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse." So says jaded "Pretty Boy" John Derek, a young Chicago hoodlum with a lengthy rap sheet, on trial for the killing of a cop. Proclaiming his innocence, Derek requests attorney Humphrey Bogart, himself a kid from the slums who made good, to defend him. Bogart thinks Derek is basically a good kid, just a product of a bad environment. Is he? "Both archetypical 'Ray film' and archetypical social-conscience drama." – Geoff Andrew, "The Films of Nicholas Ray."

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR John Monks, Jr., Daniel Taradash, from the novel by Willard Motley; PROD Robert Lord. US, 1949, b&w, 100 min. NOT RATED


Thu, Mar 15, 7:20; Wed, Mar 21, 9:30

Restored 35mm Print!

Suburban schoolteacher James Mason moonlights as a cab dispatcher to make ends meet, a fact he hides from wife Barbara Rush and son Christopher Olsen. But his secret comes out after he collapses and is diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal disease. Treated with the new "miracle" drug cortisone, Mason recovers, but also develops a manic personality and delusions of grandeur, becoming increasingly unhinged as he doubles and triples his dosages. Part medical melodrama, part psychological thriller, this film packs multi-layered allegorical implications about American life in the 1950s. "Douglas Sirk meets Oliver Sacks." – Jonathan Lethem.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Cyril Hume, Richard Maibaum, from an article by Berton Roueché; PROD James Mason. US, 1956, color, 95 min. NOT RATED


Fri, Mar 16, 5:10; Sat, Mar 17, 5:40; Mon, Mar 19, 5:10; Tue, Mar 20, 5:10; Thu, Mar 22, 7:00


Young idealistic game warden Christopher Plummer attempts to root out a gang of poachers led by Burl Ives, who teaches Plummer a deadly lesson: "Eat or be ate is the law of the 'glades." Years ahead of its time in its environmental concerns and confidently rejecting simplistic good-versus-evil storytelling, the film demands rediscovery today. The boondoggle production — cast and crew fell ill with fever in the Florida swamps, Ray and the screenwriter/producer brothers Budd and Stuart Schulberg battled for control and Warner Bros. worried about runaway costs and an ever-evolving storyline — nonetheless yielded one of Ray's finest, most personal films.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Budd Schulberg; PROD Stuart Schulberg. US, 1958, color, 93 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Mar 24, 3:30; Tue, Mar 27, 7:00


A cultural misunderstanding between two men from different worlds — Inuit hunter Anthony Quinn and traveling missionary priest Marco Guglielmi — results in the priest's death and the native hunter being accused of murder. Maligned and misunderstood at the time of release, the film has earned a cult audience of admirers over the years, including Bob Dylan, who riffed on the film in his song "Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)." "In its ecological, ethnographic and political concerns, it's arguably as significant and ahead of its time as WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES." – Geoff Andrew, "The Films of Nicholas Ray."

DIR/SCR Nicholas Ray, from the novel "Top of the World" by Hans Rüesch; PROD Maleno Malenotti. US, 1960, color, 110 min. NOT RATED


Sun, Mar 25, 3:30; Wed, Mar 28, 7:00

Double Feature:

Nicholas Ray's retelling of the James gang legend combines crackling CinemaScope action sequences with lyrical remembrances by Jesse James' reflective brother Frank (Jeffrey Hunter), devoted wife (Hope Lange) and long-suffering mother (Agnes Moorehead). Ray had imagined James Dean or Elvis Presley in the lead, but the very young Robert Wagner gives a solid performance as the enigmatic outlaw whose multifold identities included Missouri farm boy, Confederate soldier, member of Quantrill's Raiders, train-robbing gangleader and, finally, a wanted man whose real life no longer lived up to the legend.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Walter Newman, Nunnally Johnson; PROD Herbert B. Swope, Jr. US, 1957, color, 92 min. NOT RATED

Followed by:

Ray's adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh short story "The Man Who Liked Dickens" for the television series GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATER stars Joseph Cotten as an American adventurer who, after falling ill in the Amazon, convalesces in the home of Thomas Gomez, the mayor of a remote village. Once recovered, Cotten discovers that his host is in no rush to see him leave.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Charles R. Jackson, from the story by Evelyn Waugh; PROD Leon Gordon. US, 1954, b&w, 30 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Mar 31, 12:30; Sun, Apr 1, 7:20


"ROUGH AND READY! THE TRUTH ABOUT THE 'MODELS,' 'ACTRESSES' AND 'DANCERS' WHO PLAY WITH FIRE...AND OFTEN GET BURNED!" A neglected noir melodrama from director Nicholas Ray, ripe for rediscovery. In Prohibition-era Chicago, dancer/call girl Cyd Charisse and lame mob lawyer Robert Taylor decide to help each other go straight, against the wishes of Charisse's gangster boyfriend Lee J. Cobb. One of the best non-musical roles for Charisse, who still gets to show off her dancing skills in two show-stopping, hip-shaking numbers. "The best work Charisse ever did." – David Thomson.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR George Wells, based on the story by Leo Katcher; PROD Joe Pasternak. US, 1958, color, 99 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Mar 31, 5:30; Tue, April 3, 7:00

Uncut Version!

North Africa, WWII: Possessed of clashing temperaments, British army captain Richard Burton and major Curt Jürgens are battling not only each other, but also for the affections of Jürgens' wife Ruth Roman, the woman they both love. This rift threatens to undermine their daring undercover raid on German headquarters in the Libyan desert. Fighting to survive in the harshest of conditions after their dangerous mission goes bad, both bravery and honor are put to the test.

DIR/SCR Nicholas Ray; SCR René Hardy, Gavin Lambert; PROD Paul Graetz. US, 1957, b&w, 102 min. NOT RATED


Sun, Apr 1, 1:00; Mon, Apr 2, 7:00

Double Feature:

"I can't teach you how to make a film. Filmmaking is an experience," Nicholas Ray told his class at Harpur College (now part of SUNY Binghamton) in 1971, some ten years since his last Hollywood film. He planned to teach his students filmmaking by making a film together. The result was WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN, an ambitious experiment in collective filmmaking, documentary-fiction hybridization, frame fragmentation and multi-image collage. While reflective of Ray's personal and political concerns at the time, the film was still unfinished when he passed away in 1979, but has since been completed and restored by his widow, Susan.

DIR/SCR Nicholas Ray; SCR Tom Farrell, Susan Ray. US, 1976/2011, color, 90 min. NOT RATED

Restored by EYE Film Institute, Netherlands, and The Academy Film Archive in collaboration with the Nicholas Ray Foundation. Print courtesy of The Academy Film Archive.

Followed by:

Susan Ray's documentary examines her late husband Nicholas Ray's stormy relationship with Hollywood, from stardom to exile and lost years in Europe, culminating in his return to America and career reinvention as the guiding creative force behind the collaborative magnum opus WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN. Featuring rare and never-before-seen archival footage, plus interviews with Ray fans and fellow filmmakers Victor Erice and Jim Jarmusch.

DIR/SCR/PROD Susan Ray. US, 2011, color/b&w, 70 min. NOT RATED


Fri, Apr 6, 7:00; Wed, Apr 11, 7:00

*Introduction by film historian Foster Hirsch, April 7

Producer Samuel Bronston's follow-up to EL CID was this epic treatment of the Boxer Rebellion. Massive sets built in Spain recreated 1900 Beijing, when the trade delegations ("foreign devils") of Great Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US banded together to withstand the civil war. Charlton Heston plays a lionhearted US marine, David Niven a staunch British ambassador and Ava Gardner a scandalous Russian widow. It was a troubled shoot for director Nicholas Ray, then suffering from personal and health problems; he was ultimately sacked by Bronston. Still, the actors' fine performances reflect Ray's keen direction.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Bernard Gordon, Philip Yordan; PROD Samuel Bronston. US, 1963, color, 154 min. NOT RATED

*Film historian Foster Hirsch has authored over a dozen books on film and theatre, including the acclaimed "The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir." Hirsch, currently at work on a book about the cinema of the 1950s, will introduce and discuss 55 DAYS AT PEKING (April 7) and KING OF KINGS (April 8), two controversial epics Nicholas Ray directed for producer Samuel Bronston.

Sat, Apr 7, 4:20*; Sun, Apr 8, 6:30; Tue, Apr 10, 7:00

*Introduction by film historian Foster Hirsch, April 8

Jokingly nicknamed I WAS A TEENAGE JESUS at the time of its release, Nicholas Ray's uniquely realistic retelling of the life of Jesus Christ has aged far better than many other biblical epics in vogue at the time. Jeffrey Hunter plays Christ as a man whose radical ideas about peace and love make him a threat to the delicate balance of power in Roman-occupied Judea (Ray's preferred title: THE MAN FROM NAZARETH). The poetic narration, penned by Ray Bradbury and read by Orson Welles, was introduced in post-production as an editing fix — a minor miracle in itself, in that it worked so well.

DIR Nicholas Ray; SCR Philip Yordan; PROD Samuel Bronston. US, 1961, color, 168 min. NOT RATED

*Film historian Foster Hirsch has authored over a dozen books on film and theatre, including the acclaimed "The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir." Hirsch, currently at work on a book about the cinema of the 1950s, will introduce and discuss 55 DAYS AT PEKING (April 7) and KING OF KINGS (April 8), two controversial epics Nicholas Ray directed for producer Samuel Bronston.

Sun, Apr 8, 3:00*; Thu, Apr 12, 7:00