some bits on They Live by Night (and Gun Crazy), cobbled together from my writing in different back issues of The Dark Pages…
a little about the writer who dreamed up the source material:
Edward Anderson, a Texas born writer, made the rounds at dozens of newspapers before getting turned on to the pulps when he sold a boxing story. He embarked on a hobo-ing journey through the southwest, bumming it on the rails, all the while gathering valuable information that resulted in his 1935 novel Hungry Men. In the time spent waiting for that work to sell, Anderson churned out more stories, this time for the true-crime and mystery pulps, with loads of researching assistance from his wife. Anderson’s next idea for a major project was based on the desperate young outlaws and criminal couples whose exploits were making depression-era news, most notably Bonnie and Clyde. From a jailed cousin, Anderson gleaned prison “colour” and enough inside gossip to put together 1937’s Thieves Like Us. He worked briefly as a screenwriter, while awaiting the book’s release, but by the time the work was turned into the film They Live By Night, Anderson had long since gone back to working as a reporter, drifting ever further from tinsel town and literary glory and into alcoholism. He died in 1969, back where he started, writing at a Texas paper.
from another issue, a look at Cathy O’Donnell and some random connections to Peggy Cummins:
“Boy meets Girl” is a great plot archetype for more than a romantic movie. The Bonnie & Clyde variations are equally popular, if not more potent, structure for crime stories, because there are few things more compelling than a couple glued together by crazy and/or obviously doomed love, and few movies are better examples of that dynamic than Gun Crazy and They Live by Night. The two leading ladies, They Live by Night’s Cathy O’Donnell and Gun Crazy’s Peggy Cummins couldn’t be more similar. Or more different. Both actresses were born in 1925, and these two films came out only a year apart, which placed them in their first, best and most memorable noirs at the same time in their lives. Both actresses had some trouble leading up to, or involving the release of these noirs. O’Donnell had made a strong debut in 1946 with The Best Years of Our Lives, but instead of being a quick follow-up role to capitalize on her newfound fame, They Live by Night tripped up on its way into theaters. The movie was finished, but when RKO ownership changed hands, Howard Hughes shelved it for a while, giving the reason that he thought the film lacked sex appeal, and RKO eventually released it without fanfare.
Peggy Cummins had in 1945 been the subject of a massive publicity buildup as the bright new discovery who would star in Forever Amber, but was unceremoniously dumped from the production. She made a few other films before appearing in Gun Crazy, which was to be her last Hollywood role. The gritty, low budget classic also gave her juicy material that by far outdid any naughtiness she lost the chance to play in Forever Amber. And therein are found the huge differences between the two actresses’ approaches and roles. O’Donnell is sweet, saintly, suffering, and serves as the only thing keeping her man on a straight and narrow path, while Cummins is a seductive siren who shoves her man right off it. O’Donnell promises safety and security, dreams of a happily ever after with Farley Granger, and sees love as the couple’s salvation. Cummins, on the other hand, lures lover John Dall to danger, makes him proves his love by participating in ever greater evil because she wants a partner in crime, as well as an audience for it. For two films which, at first glance, bear many similarities in theme and genre, and basic biographical facts of the lead actresses, it shows you both the potential of the genre and the talent of those ladies, that you end up with two such distinct performances and wildly different characters.
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