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Nicholas Ray: A Stranger Here Myself

Getty Images / Archive Photos / Pictorial Parade

Decades after his death, director Nicholas Ray remains one of cinema’s most enigmatic strangers.

One of America’s most influential filmmakers died June 16, 1979, but you’d be forgiven for never having heard of him. Despite being cited by internationally-renowned directors like Martin Scorsese, Jean-Luc Goddard, Francois Truffaut, and Wim Wenders, Nicholas Ray remains at best a cult figure in the United States, a favorite of film noir aficionados and lovers of weird cinema, but a director who remains on the fringes of cinematic history.

Born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle in Wisconsin, Ray was an early student of Frank Lloyd Wright before he moved to New York and became involved with the Theatre of Action in the 1930s.

Ray’s greatest commercial success came with 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause, a film remembered for, among other things, its excellent use of color.

His vivid palette is best displayed in what was arguably his strangest film, the bizarre Johhny Guitar starrring Joan Crawford. The western was shot in Trucolor, a cheap, shortlived two-color process used in many Roy Rogers films.

Ray was never a feel-good director. New Yorker critic Anthony Lane wrote that one emerges from his films "with the dizzying suspicion that men and women are like planets and moons, each following a predestined curve, repeatedly tugged or slung away by the gravity of other bodies."

"I’m a stranger here myself," announces Sterling Hayden as Johnny Guitar. Decades after his death, Ray remains one of cinema’s most enigmatic strangers.