Thursday, March 25, 2021

Capsule Reviews Part 2 - The Films of Nicholas Ray


Run For Cover (1955) – Nicholas Ray’s Run For Cover is a solid, entertaining western starring James Cagney as cowboy Matt Dow, who, along with his new friend Davey (John Derek), is falsely accused of train robbery. Eventually cleared of the crime, Matt is then hired by the townsfolk (the very people who suspected him in the first place) to be their new sheriff. He meets and falls in love with Helga (Viveca Lindfors), the daughter of a Swedish farmer named Swenson (Jean Hersholt, in his final screen role), and even talks Davey into being his deputy. But when a group of outlaws robs the bank, Matt learns that the life of a small-town sheriff isn’t without its dangers, and even your closest friends can become your enemies. Arguably a bit old to be playing a western hero (he was in his mid-50s), Cagney is nonetheless quite good as the sheriff who is as honest as the day is long (he proves this in the opening scene, when he and Davey are being hunted by a posse for their supposed role in holding up a passing train). And it’s his character, who always stays true to his principles, that makes Run For Cover as good as it is. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Party Girl (1958) – Party Girl was a studio assignment for Nicholas Ray; he didn’t have a hand in writing the screenplay, nor was he involved in the film’s post-production. Still, even with his limited input, it turned out to be a damn good movie. Set in Chicago during the days of Prohibition, Party Girl stars Robert Taylor as high-profile attorney Tommy Farrell, whose primary client is mob boss Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb). Farrell eventually falls in love with dance hall girl Vicki Gaye (Cyd Charisse), and after undergoing an operation to fix his bum leg (the result of a childhood injury), he promises Vicki that he’s through representing criminals. But Rico has no intention of cutting his “Golden Boy” loose, and threatens to hurt Vicki if Farrell walks away. The romance between Farrell and Vicki is well-handled, and the movie even features a handful of exhilarating dance numbers, where Charisse (a veteran of Hollywood musicals) struts her stuff to great effect. Yet it’s the mob-related sequences in Party Girl that really impressed me. Cobb delivers an electrifying performance as the occasionally out-of-control Rico; in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, he hosts a party to honor a colleague, then proceeds to beat the man of the hour senseless. In addition there’s a late montage depicting a gangland war that is positively mesmerizing. Party Girl may not be pure Nick Ray, but in moments such as these his unique touch is on full display. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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