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Ray, Nicholas (1911-1979)  
 
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Despite these difficulties, Ray directed six commercial films between 1955 and 1958. Ray intended the first of these, Hot Blood (filmed 1955, released 1956), as a fulfillment of his long-standing interest in gypsy culture. However, this project was marred by his conflicts with the lead actors, Jane Russell and Cornel Wilde, who gave ineffective performances. Although Ray intended the same combination of stylization and naturalism that he achieved in Johnny Guitar, budget restraints compelled him to make the picture entirely in the studio. The result is a highly artificial production that does not convey the character of gypsy life.

Although now recognized as an important film, Bigger than Life (1956), a provocative exploration of materialism and addiction in America, was a critical failure and commercial disaster, despite a compelling performance by James Mason. Under duress, Ray next undertook the western The True Story of Jesse James (1956). Although forced to abandon his own highly original conception for the narrative, he introduced several elements that indicate the impossibility of knowing the true history of the folk hero.

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Believing that he would obtain more favorable working conditions in Europe, Ray arranged to direct Bitter Victory (filmed 1956-57, released 1957) for Columbia European. However, he had even more conflicts with producer Paul Graetz than he had had with Howard Hughes. Against Ray's wishes, Graetz insisted that the film should star the popular German actor Curd Jürgens, even though he was not well suited to the lead role of a psychologically tormented British officer. Worried by Ray's heavy drinking and gambling, Graetz rigorously limited his access to funds and tried to persuade Gavin Lambert to serve as an informant. Refusing to betray his friend, Lambert was dismissed from his positions as scriptwriter and production assistant.

Despite the difficulties encountered in the production, largely shot on location in the Libyan desert, Bitter Victory is a moving exploration of rivalry and emotional conflicts between two officers (Jürgens and Richard Burton) as they struggle to display heroism. Despite--or perhaps because of --their involvement with the same woman, there are subtle homoerotic undertones to their interactions.

Returning to America, Ray next directed Wind Against the Everglades (filmed 1957-58, released 1958), produced by Budd and Stuart Schulberg. From the beginning, Budd Schulberg, who wrote the script, made it clear that he intended to control every facet of the film. During the course of production, Ray quarreled violently with him and other members of the cast and crew. The production was also troubled by severe weather that delayed location work in the Everglades, illnesses of several cast members, and financial problems. The heavy media coverage of the production woes, which blamed Ray for everything that went wrong, significantly damaged Ray's reputation.

Following two contentious productions, Party Girl (1958), Ray's last commercial film in America, was notably free of strife. Although a relatively conventional film noir, it is distinguished by Ray's bold settings and camerawork. Unfortunately, the efficient production of Party Girl did not suffice to improve Ray's reputation in the film industry.

Aware of his growing regard in Europe, Ray decided to move there, where he hoped to find more opportunities. Before leaving the United States, he married Betty Utey on October 13, 1958 in the midst of the woods near Grangley, Maine. Ray and Utey had two children: Julie Christina, born January 10, 1960, and Nikka, born October 1, 1961. By January 1964, Utey and Ray had moved thirteen times. Unable to endure this nomadic existence, Utey separated permanently from Ray at this point.

European Interlude

Before leaving the United States, Ray had already begun developing plans for The Savage Innocents, an Italian-British co-production (1959), concerning the impact of Western traders and missionaries on Eskimo culture and on the natural environment in Arctic regions of North America. Ray did extensive filming in the northernmost reaches of Canada despite the difficulties imposed by severe winter conditions.

Unfortunately, a substantial portion of the film shot in Canada was destroyed in a plane crash, and Ray was obligated to recreate several important scenes at Pinewood Studio, London. The resulting gap between natural and artificial settings mars the film.

The film marks a notable shift in Ray's style of direction, as he sought to encourage a less stylized method of acting. More concerned with authenticity than professional polish, he insisted that a significant part of the cast be Native Canadians without formal training as actors. Expecting an Arctic version of Johnny Guitar, European critics were disappointed and largely dismissed the film.

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