Tag Archives: Humphrey Bogart

He Says, She Says: In a Lonely Place

in-a-lonely-place

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

in_a_lonely_place-posterDirector: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Andrew Solt
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame
Info: 1950 USA, produced by Santana Pictures, released by Columbia Pictures
Chooser: Jandy
Date and Method Watched: 12 January 2014, recorded off TCM (why don’t I own this?!)

She Says…

Jandy-avatarNo 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.

He Says…

Jon-avatarThere’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.

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.

Great Scenes: The Big Sleep

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Originally posted on Row Three.

There’s pretty much nothing I don’t love about Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep – Bogart’s world-weary but somehow still idealistic private eye Philip Marlowe, the chemistry between him and Lauren Bacall (now an off-screen couple starring in their second film together), the cast of colorful supporting characters like Martha Vickers as Bacall’s crazy sister, the witty and caustic script, the florid dialogue, yes, even the fact that some of the mystery isn’t even resolved. I love the very messiness of it. But when I think back about The Big Sleep, the scene that usually pops into my head is essentially extraneous to the main mystery, is unrelated to Marlowe’s relationship with Bacall’s character, and is basically an all-but-unnecessary interlude to the entire rest of the film. I’m talking about the scene where Philip Marlowe goes to a pair of rare bookstores to follow up on a clue.

Now, there are two parts to the scene, set in two bookstores. The first is plot-essential, as Marlowe follows up on a clue that leads him to Geiger’s Rare Books – it is Geiger who holds the promissory gambling notes that are being held over the Sternwood family. It’s really the second half of the sequence in the second bookstore that I find so memorable, but I’ve included both in the clip merely because Bogart delights me so much in the first part. Marlowe affects an effeminate persona with far more ease than you’d expect, presenting the brusque clerk with a erudite proto-nerd in search of rare editions. But Geiger’s is a front, as Marlowe is hoping this conversation will prove, and he is correct – the clerk sluffs off his queries without ever realizing the books he mentions don’t exist, while surreptitiously motioning a suspicious-looking character into the back room. I love that even after their business is complete from a plot perspective, she goes out of her way to attack him for saying “CER-amics” instead of “cer-A-mics,” understanding at some level his contempt for her and determined to regain the upper hand – he rebuffs with a backhanded slag suggesting the superficiality of her knowledge, leaving her little recourse beyond a childish retort.

After Marlowe establishes that Geiger’s bookshop ain’t all about the books, the plot requires him to wait a little while so he can tail Geiger to find out more. This could be done in a number of ways, none of which necessitate the second half of this sequence. But instead, we get a tiny little evocative scene as Marlowe goes to the bookstore across the street ostensibly to get a description of Geiger, where the girl DOES know something about rare books, confirming what we’d already guessed about Geiger’s being a fake. More importantly, she’s a quick study and figures out almost before Marlowe tells her what he’s up to, and gives him a description of Geiger with a level of observation worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Her immediate connection to Marlowe is both a mutual admiration based on intellect perceived in a matter of seconds and an attraction based on the promise of a brief but memorable encounter with a detective (a rather dashing and dangerous profession, at least in the minds of those who read novels, as she likely does) – she doesn’t hesitate at all to close her shop to spend an hour alone with this man, a stolen interlude before she puts her glasses back on and returns to the librarian-esque stereotype of her job and he walks out the door to continue his romanticized detective work.

Watching this scene, it feels like there’s a whole story here, a whole movie that could be written from this woman’s point of view about her brief involvement with this mystery. We hope she turns up again in the story we see, but she does not. Her character doesn’t even have a name. Yet she feels like a fully-formed character, and Dorothy Malone gives her far more of a personality and a presence than the script really necessitates. In a mere three and a half minutes of screen time, she manages to make us forget about Lauren Bacall’s existence in the film, and make her single scene as memorable as anything else in this supremely memorable film. I’ve only seen Malone in this and in Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (for which she won a well-deserved supporting Academy Award ten years after The Big Sleep), but based on those two roles alone, I salute her.

Film on the Internet: Casablanca

Time to start a new series! I love that time. This series has come about because a few people who have been finding my Film on TV series useful have recently decided to cancel their cable – making recommendations from TCM, Sundance, and IFC less useful. So I’m going to supplement that set of recommendations with a series that highlights films available to watch online.

This comes with its own set of caveats. The online streaming service with the largest library is Netflix, and you have to be a Netflix subscriber to use it. Still, I imagine a large portion of film lovers already have a Netflix subscription – if you do, hopefully I’ll be able to highlight some things on Instant Watch that you may not know about or didn’t realize were available to stream. I know when I was initially researching for this, I found a TON that I had no idea were available.

I’ll also throw in a few films from time to time that are available on hulu, which is completely free (aside from having to watch periodic brief ads). The overriding downside to both hulu and Netflix Instant Watch is that they are only available in the United States. I apologize for that, but as far as I know, there are no sites offering legal free (or subscription-included) streaming movies worldwide.

Casablanca

Available on Netflix Instant Watch.

I decided to kick off the series with one that most everyone knows and has probably seen, but it’s always worth seeing again. I promise I’ll get into more eclectic stuff soon, but I didn’t want to throw something super-obscure out there the first time. ;)

Casablanca

Casablanca tells a simple story of a world-weary American ex-patriot making a living off the masses of people escaping Europe through Morocco in the midst of World War II and the woman he never expected to come into his life again, pleading with him to help her resistance-leader husband fleet to safety in America. It sounds like any other war-time story – a touch of romance, a touch of intrigue, a bit of cynicism, a bit of nobility. Not much seems to set it apart from the dozens of other war-inflected films made in the early 1940s. It’s based on a play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” that, in its original incarnation, proved to be ironically titled – it was never even produced.

Bought by Warner Brothers as a vehicle for their then-major star George Raft, it eventually went to the less-proven Humphrey Bogart (his breakout roles in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon had come only a year or so earlier – prior to that he’d been knocking around Warner’s backlot playing two-bit gangsters and villains). Bogart’s sad eyes and sardonic line delivery gave Rick Blaine a depth that Raft could never have managed. The cast filled out with Swedish beauty Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and wonderful supporting staples Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall. Warner’s sturdy and reliable Michael Curtiz took the directing reins, but most people agree that producer Mervyn LeRoy was really the strongest driving force behind the film – even possibly adding the famous final line (“Louis, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship”) himself late in the editing process. For a very complete and accessible look at the production of Casablanca – which was so chaotic it’s amazing the film got completed at all – see Aljean Harmetz’s great book Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca.

The success of the film, though, is centered on the perfect combination of the film’s brilliant dialogue (by Julius & Philip Epstein and Howard Koch) and all of the actors’ flawless delivery of it. Lines like “We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “Round up the usual suspects” (not to mention the misquote “Play it again, Sam”) have entered the common lexicon not only of film buffs, but of the cultural at large. In less capable hands, Rick’s ultimate noble decision could seem corny or self-righteous, but Bogart’s performance and the character given him by Koch and the Epsteins doesn’t allow that to happen. Rick remains a difficult-to-decipher, complex character to the end – a character full of both nobility and cynicism, both love and guardedness. I’m not always wholly convinced that his final act is not one of self-protection rather than self-sacrifice.

Here’s a bit of the scene where Ilsa requests Sam to play “As Time Goes By” and she and Rick first see each other again. The whole thing is available to stream from Netflix Instant Watch.