John Greco wrote:
Three men escape from prison, two seasoned bank robbers T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen) and Chickamaw (Howard Da Silva) along with young Bowie (Farley Granger) who was innocently convicted of murder. The three men rob a bank. When Bowie is injured he is brought to Chickamaw’s brother’s place where he meets Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), Chickamaw’s tomboyish niece. After another bank job, the young lovers take off to get away from Bowie’s two thug partners and a life of crime. Unlike Bowie, his two cohorts quickly blow their share of the money and want Bowie for another bank job which goes bad resulting in T-Dub’s death. Bowie and Keechie are again running only this time instead of running to a new life they are running from the law and straight toward a tragic end.
Joanne Laurier wrote:
They Live by Night is relatively rare in American film history for its combination of left-wing views and intense lyricism. Virtually all of the scenes of the couple are moving and painful. The situation is one of the most heart-breaking imaginable: two young people in love whose possibility of having a life together is obliterated by an unfeeling, uncaring social set-up.
Ray is clearly determined to show that some of the most oppressed and naïve people, maligned as “trash” or even, in the case of Bowie, as “a ruthless, cunning criminal” (the novel), are full of hope and purity and innocence. There is hardly any movie that compares with They Live by Night on that score.