50DMC #12: Favorite Male Performance

The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.

Today’s prompt: What’s your favorite male performance in a movie?

Holy crap. Do you know how many performances I’ve seen in my life, when you consider that every film probably has, on average, three to five performances that would qualify? There’s absolutely no way this answer will have any long-term viability. Or possibly any short-term viability. Confession: I prewrote all of the entries up to this one, then scheduled them all, and have put off writing this one for about two weeks because I couldn’t figure out how to approach it. Now time’s almost up, and I’ve got to bite the bullet and just choose one. So I’m just choosing the first one that came into my head, which I certainly like a lot. Is it my favorite? Who knows. But I certainly love Humphrey Bogart as a performer, and Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place contains his best performance, if you ask me. And you are asking me. Obviously.

Bogart generally played within a fairly set range of tough-talking, sad-eyed characters – gangsters, world-weary war vets, grizzled prospectors and the like. He brought his persona along with him to every role, making him a top contender for Greatest Movie Star lists but not usually for Best Actor ones. He did, in fact, win a Best Actor Oscar for The African Queen, but I think that role (and that movie, for that matter) pales in comparison with the previous year’s In a Lonely Place. Bogart’s In a Lonely Place character Dix Steele is a screenwriter whose name was made before the war, but he’s had little luck since and is generally considered to be washed up. He also has a reputation for his violent temper. We see this break out in a bar fight early on, but we also see his surprisingly sensitive side as he talks with a washed up Shakespearean actor. There are also times, as new love interest Laurel (Gloria Grahame, who also gives a career-best performance here) supports him as he starts writing again, that he is genuinely giddy with happiness. But other times, as when a murder investigation in which he is a suspect draws and closer and closer to him, paranoia and anger get the better of him. Dix is a complex character, capable of great sympathy and vulnerability, but with rage simmering under the surface, ready to erupt with scary intensity. Bogart plays him perfectly, taking a role that’s almost tailor-made for him and running with it to utmost.

This clip comes closer to the end of the film, so it’s spoilery in some ways, but not for the very end. It does contain kind of a cross-section of Dix’s character, though.