Nicholas Ray (born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle) (August 7, 1911–June 16, 1979) was an American film director.
Coming from a radio background, Ray directed his first and only Broadway production, the Duke Ellington musical Beggar's Holiday, in 1946. One year later, he directed his first film, They Live By Night. It was released two years later due to the chaotic conditions surrounding Howard Hughes' takeover of RKO Pictures. An almost impressionistic take on film noir, it was notable for its extreme empathy for society’s young outsiders (a recurring motif in Ray’s films). It was influential on the sporadically popular sub-genre often called “love on the run” movies, concerning as it does two young fugitive lovers on the run from the law. (Other examples are Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, and Robert Altman’s 1974 remake of They Live By Night, Thieves Like Us.) The New York Times gave the film a positive review (despite calling Ray's trademark sympathetic eye to rebels and criminals "misguided") and acclaimed Ray for "good, realistic production and sharp direction...Mr. Ray has an eye for action details. His staging of the robbery of a bank, all seen by the lad in the pick-up car, makes a fine clip of agitating film. And his sensitive juxtaposing of his actors against highways, tourist camps and bleak motels makes for a vivid comprehension of an intimate personal drama in hopeless flight."
Ray made several more contributions to the film noir genre, most notably the 1950 Humphrey Bogart movie In A Lonely Place about a troubled screenwriter, and On Dangerous Ground, a police thriller.
Other minor film noirs he directed in this period were Born to Be Bad and A Woman’s Secret.
Ray's most productive and successful period was the 1950s, although his sympathy for society's outsiders and rebels clearly predated the 1960s counterculture. It was in the mid '50s that he made the two films he is best remembered for. 1954’s Johnny Guitar was an influential, proto-feminist western much loved by French critics (François Truffaut called it "the beauty and the beast" of the western). In 1955, however, Ray directed the iconic Rebel Without a Cause. Its legendary status had much to do with its star James Dean, whose premature death followed soon after the film’s completion. Looking past its main attraction these days as a vehicle for the poster boy of a generation, Rebel Without a Cause distilled much of the essence of Ray’s cinematic vision: expressionistic use of colour, dramatic use of architecture and an empathy for social misfits.
Rebel Without a Cause was Ray's most successful film as well as his personal favorite, and made stars out of the three main leads James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. Ray engaged in a tempestuous "spiritual marriage" with Dean, and awakened the latent homosexuality of Mineo, through his role of Plato — who would become the first gay teenager to appear on film. During filming it was rumored that Ray began a short-lived affair with Wood, who was also (at the time) involved with Dennis Hopper; This created a tense atmosphere between both Ray and Hopper, only to be reconciled later on in life. When Rebel was released in 1955, the film had a revolutionary impact on moviemaking and youth culture, virtually giving birth to the contemporary concept of the American teenager.
In 1956, Ray directed the melodrama Bigger Than Life starring James Mason as a small town school teacher driven insane by the effects of new wonder-drug Cortisone.
A bisexual and heavy user of drugs and alcohol, Ray found himself increasingly shut out of the Hollywood film industry in the early 1960s. After collapsing on the set of 55 Days at Peking (1963), he would not direct again until the mid-1970s. In 1970 at a Grateful Dead concert at the Fillmore East, Ray ran into Dennis Hopper, who asked Ray to join him at his ranch in Taos, New Mexico, where he was editing his new film, The Last Movie. Hopper helped Ray secure a position at Harper College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University in upstate New York. From 1971 to 1973, Ray taught filmmaking where he and his students produced We Can't Go Home Again, an autobiographical film employing multiple superimpositions. In the spring of 1972, Ray was asked to show some footage from the film at a conference. The audience was shocked to see footage of Ray and his students smoking marijuana together. An early version of the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973, but Ray, never satisfied with the project, continued editing it until his death in 1979. Shortly before his death he collaborated on the direction of Lightning Over Water (also known as Nick’s Film) with German director Wim Wenders. He died of lung cancer on June 16, 1979 in New York City.
Certain French New Wave directors and critics (most notably Jean-Luc Godard) held Ray in high regard. Wim Wenders' films are indebted to Ray, from the casting of Rebel Without a Cause's Dennis Hopper and the expressionistic use of colour in his own film The American Friend, to the title of sci-fi film Until the End of the World (which were the last spoken words in Ray’s biblical epic King of Kings).
A film about Ray, Interrupted, has been announced for 2007, to be directed by Philip Kaufman.
In the decades after his professional peak, Ray continues to influence directors to this day:
"There was theatre(Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforth there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray."