I Was Interrupted

The combination in Nicholas Ray’s films of thematic obsession and stylistic eloquence earned him recognition as an exemplary auteur and made him an inspiration to younger filmmakers. Such films as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and JOHNNY GUITAR, admired by cinephiles everywhere, establish Ray as an authentic master of expressive composition in widescreen and color. Although his name is not as familiar to the general public as those of Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford (to say nothing of Cecil B. DeMille and Steven Spielberg), readers with a more than superficial interest in the American film will welcome this gathering of observations, revelations, and insights by an American original.

In passages from a never completed autobiography, readers encounter Ray as a tortured, self-destructive alcoholic who, having achieved sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous, looks honestly and lucidly at what many might see as the wreck of his life. It was a life characterized by personal betrayals, broken marriages, bouts with something close to madness. He lived to the age of sixty-eight, but his last completed film, 55 DAYS AT PEKING, was made when he was only fifty-two. Ray also looks without blinking at the cancer that finally killed him. Nicholas Ray was a flawed human being, but there is much to admire in the man he turned out to be.

A large part of the book consists of transcripts of classes Ray conducted toward the end of his life at Harpur College and New York University. These provide insight into Ray’s approach to the art of direction and will be of value to any reader interested in film directing, especially as it involves the relationship of director and actor. These sections of the book may also be read, of course, as part of the story of Ray’s struggle for self-knowledge and self-validation.

The book includes a useful biographical outline by Bernard Eisenschitz. Finally, one must acknowledge the moving and illuminating introduction by Susan Ray, Ray’s fourth wife. In her depiction of the man and of their relationship, readers can hear the voice of love without illusion.