The news that classic film actor Farley Granger recently passed away may have come as a surprise to those who weren’t aware that he was actually still with us. Seemingly as unassuming in real life as he was in many of his silver-screen roles, Granger’s Hollywood career was marked by his exceedingly good looks and a determination to make it as an actor on his own terms.
One of Granger’s best performances was one of his first, in the 1949 film noir They Live by Night. The movie was the first project helmed by director Nicholas Ray, who so believed in Granger’s talent that he fought the studio to cast the young star in the lead role of Bowie. Ray’s belief was not misplaced: Granger turns in a masterfully bittersweet performance. Night was filmed in 1947 under the title Thieves Like Us before being shelved for two years. Director Alfred Hitchcock saw a private screening of the film in the interim, and this led to his casting Granger in his next project.
It was an auspicious pairing, for Granger’s most notable career roles would be in two films for Hitchcock: 1948’s Rope and 1951’s Strangers on a Train. There is an almost stalwart (some would even say “wooden”) air to his performances in these films. And true enough, in both roles, Granger is not the one who attracts the audience’s eye. In Rope, he’s the subordinate partner in crime to John Dall, whom you can practically see chewing the scenery at times, and in Train, Granger is completely overshadowed by Robert Walker, whose Bruno Anthony is a masterpiece in screen villainy. Still, there is a sense of quiet desperation that Granger brings to each of his characters in these films that is ultimately quite effective.
When leading roles on screen dried up, Granger moved predominantly into television roles in the late 1950s. He even bought out his own contract with Samuel Goldwyn’s studio, a move that almost bankrupted the actor, so that he would have the freedom to choose whatever projects he wished. Granger left Hollywood altogether in the early 1960s to concentrate on the Broadway stage, but returned to the screen for a series of films in the 1970s. Still, his resurgence was short-lived, and he moved back into television roles in the late 1970s, appearing on several soap operas and guest-starring on shows such as The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote.
Granger retired from acting in 2001. He published his memoir, Include Me Out, which detailed his career and his many love affairs with notable figures ranging from Ava Gardner to Shelley Winters to Leonard Bernstein, in 2007. Ever handsome and gracious both on and off the screen, Granger passed away on Sunday at the age of 85.