The official word: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nicholas Ray, director of such memorable films as They Live by Night (1947), In a Lonely Place (1950), Johnny Guitar (1954) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955). In October, TCM will set aside each Tuesday night to celebrate the legendary filmmaker with 19 of his movies, including the Oct. 25 world television premiere of We Can’t Go Home Again (1976/2011), Ray’s visionary, unfinished film. Premiering alongside that experimental work will be Don’t Expect Too Much (2011), a revealing new documentary directed by Susan Ray, last wife of the director.
In an exclusive article for tcm.com, the first in an ongoing series of monthly articles for the website and TCM’s Now Playing guide, filmmaker Martin Scorsese writes, "...of all the great American filmmakers, Ray is the one whose work many of us associate most powerfully with youth." Ray, who studied under luminaries like Frank Lloyd Wright and Thornton Wilder, began his career with a splash by directing the Broadway production of Duke Ellington’s Beggar’s Holiday in 1946. One year later, he was in Hollywood working on his film debut, They Live by Night, an unflinching look at a gang of criminals and a romance that blossoms in the wake of a bungled robbery.
They Live by Night is one of five early Ray films airing Oct. 4, the opening night of TCM’s celebration. A forerunner to Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the film is remarkable for its early express of two Ray hallmarks: a sympathetic view of rebels and innovative photography. Both are on full display in the high-octane opening scene, a bullets-flying car chase that marked the first time in Hollywood history that an action sequence was shot from a helicopter.
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On Oct. 11, TCM will lead off the night with Ray’s most popular and enduring films: Rebel Without a Cause, the teen-angst classic starring James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, and Johnny Guitar, the gender-bending, color-saturated western starring Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge and Sterling Hayden. Oct. 18 will open with three TCM premieres: Bigger Than Life (1956), The True Story of Jesse James (1956) and Wind Across the Everglades (1958).
TCM will look at Ray’s final films on Oct. 25, beginning with his last Hollywood production, 55 Days at Peking (1963). The epic film, which stars Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven and future Japanese director Juzo Itami (credited as Ichizo Itami), drove the director to the point of collapse, forcing him to quit the film halfway through shooting.
After leaving Hollywood and living for several years in Europe, Ray became a professor at Binghamton University in upstate New York. From 1971 to 1973, he and his students collaborated on the highly experimental film We Can’t Go Home Again, a journalistic collage that incorporates numerous film formats and images into a single frame to unfold interrelated stories simultaneously. Ray continued shooting and editing on it until 1976. He always intended to return to it and bring it to a finished form, but illness and death intervened. Susan Ray – in collaboration with the EYE Institute Netherlands and the Academy Film Archives, with support from the Venice Mostra, RAI, Gucci, The Film Foundation and the Cinematheque Francaise – has restored the film to its full expressionistic beauty and reconstructed the soundtrack to a new clarity by returning to the original audio recordings. This newly restored and reconstructed version will premiere on TCM on Oct. 25.
TCM’s presentation of We Can’t Go Home Again will be followed by the premiere of Susan Ray’s documentary, Don’t Expect Too Much. The film, which debuted recently at the Venice Film Festival, traces the bold experiments with multiple image, journalistic filmmaking and the teaching of collaborative cinema undertaken in We Can’t Go Home Again. The documentary includes numerous never-before-seen clips from the Nicholas Ray Archive in which Ray is seen and heard transmitting his knowledge of filmcraft. Also included are interviews with directors Victor Erice and Jim Jarmusch and many of the original cast and crew of We Can’t Go Home Again.
The following is a complete schedule of TCM’s centennial celebration of Nicholas Ray (All times Eastern. Premieres in bold.)
Tuesday, October 4
8 p.m. – Knock on Any Door (1949)
10 p.m. – In a Lonely Place (1950)
11:45 p.m. – They Live by Night (1949)
1:30 a.m. – Born to be Bad (1950)
3:15 a.m. – A Woman’s Secret (1949)
Tuesday, October 11
8 p.m. – Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
10 p.m. – Johnny Guitar (1954)
Midnight – Flying Leathernecks (1951)
2 a.m. – On Dangerous Ground (1951)
3:30 a.m. – The Lusty Men (1952)
Tuesday, October 18
8 p.m. – Bigger than Life (1956)
9:45 p.m. – The True Story of Jesse James (1956)
11:30 p.m. – Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
1:15 a.m. – Bitter Victory (1958)
3:15 a.m. – Hot Blood (1956)
Tuesday, October 25
8 p.m. – 55 Days of Peking (1963)
11 p.m. – We Can’t Go Home Again (1976/2011)
12:45 a.m. – Don’t Expect Too Much (2011)
2 a.m. – The King of Kings (1961)
5 a.m. – Party Girl (1958)