If not Nicholas Ray's greatest movie, then surely the rapturous culmination of his palpable desire to do a musical -- The Taming of the Shrew recomposed from the vantage point of Cinemascope and Jane Russell's wry half-grin, with results as thrilling as any Donen bonanza. The Romany community is the other side of Rebel Without a Cause's Los Angeles, an outcast society no less beset by strictures yet awash in fervent music, dance, flashing emotion. The weary Gypsy King (Luther Adler) learns of an incurable illness (the X-ray machine from Bigger Than Life makes an appearance) and seeks a successor, but his younger brother (Cornel Wilde) is a roving hothead introduced jumping off a blonde's cerulean convertible, and "so stubborn he double-crosses himself." A marriage is arranged to quell Wilde's wanderlust; the bride (Russell) schemes with her folks to run off with the payment, yet her father (Joseph Calleia) is overcome with feeling at the altar and cannot go through with the ruse. The honeymoon is spent with furniture hurled out the window, the morning brings a blotto cartwheel by the camera and Russell's sublime ditty of amused acceptance ("We're thrown together, it's our fate / The deal was made and here we are"). Ray's gypsy universe is a series of orgasmically colliding hues (beaded curtains at the fortune teller's shop plus neon, with crimson never too far off), often prone to abstraction yet always brought back to earth with a jangly romantic gesture or two. The outside world, by contrast, is a circle of trailers and, when Wilde confronts a gadjo impresario via a passionate jig, a glass pane to be grandly shattered. This is too marvelous for words, really, though Godard gave it a valiant try in Cahiers du Cinéma, name-checking D.H. Lawrence, Renoir, and Van Dongen before proclaiming it "nothing but cinema." Ray's own statement on his filmic approach, meanwhile, is voiced smilingly by Adler in the middle of a dance orgy: "Not to be burned is not to live." Cinematography by Ray June. With Jamie Russell, Mikhail Rasumny, Nina Koshetz, and Helen Westcott.
--- Fernando F. Croce