This series started a couple of years ago when my husband Jonathan and I started taking turns choosing movies we care about a lot to share with each other. We abandoned the series as our lives got busy, but now we’re ready to give it another go, except now the subject isn’t quite as restrictive. We only have time for one or two movies a week now, so we’re still alternating choosing them, but not necessarily from those lists of personally meaningful films. We won’t write up everything we see, but whenever we see something that strikes us both, we will.
The Movie: In a Lonely Place
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Andrew Solt
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame
Info: 1950 USA, produced by Santana Pictures, released by Columbia Pictures
Date and Method Watched: 12 January 2014, recorded off TCM (why don’t I own this?!)
No sooner do I say we’re changing the parameters of this series when we watch a film that completely fits the old parameters. In a Lonely Place has been among my favorites for years – I still remember how leveled I felt the first time I saw it.
It’s a noir, yes, with a self-defeating main character (Dixon Steele, one of Bogart’s very best performances), but it’s also a melodrama, and a Hollywood Gothic, and a romance, and a tragedy. Sounds like a mess, and Steele is a mess, but the film is anything but. His struggling screenwriter hasn’t had a hit since before the war, but he’s still reluctant to go to the bother of adapting a sure-fire hit bestseller. He has a history of violence, which puts him under instant suspicion when a girl he was the last to see turns up murdered. He’s capable of great kindness, but rages at the merest slight. His future looks bright with the support of new girlfriend Laurel (a great role for Gloria Grahame), but even his expressions of love are colored by possessiveness.
Everything about the film is more complex than you expect – every time you think it’s going one way, it goes somewhere different, usually somewhere far darker even than other noirs of the time period. There’s no pat resolution for Dixon or Laurel, and by the end, you desperately want there to be. It packs one of the biggest emotional punches to the gut of any film I’ve ever seen.
I could go on listing all my favorite things or scenes in the film but then we’d be here all day. Seriously. I’ll make an itemized list available upon request.
There’s the Humphrey Bogart you know, and then there’s the Humphrey Bogart in this. His Dixon Steele is harsh, unrelenting, and absolutely amazing. I went into this film thinking that I would get something akin to his turn in Casablanca, but was pleasantly surprised when he went in a much more complex direction. In one moment he gives his washed out actor-friend the attention he craves, and in the next he nearly beats a stranger to death. We never really get to wrap our head around this tragic character, which is what makes him so damn interesting.
I loved all the story touches as well. Can’t say I’ve seen a noir before that featured a screenwriter as the lead. It was interesting to see him wrestle (however briefly) with adapting a trashy bestseller into a film, something I hope to one day cross off my screenwriting bucket list. The ending was a huge bummer too, which means I dug the hell out of it. My wife sure knows me well, and I am grateful she picked this one out.
I seriously need to get cracking on the rest of Bogart’s filmography.