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He Says, She Says: 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.

Favorite Films, One Letter at a Time

I rarely organize my collections alphabetically, at least not as the major organizational tool, since the letter the title starts with is usually less meaningful than the year it was made or the genre that it’s in. But there’s a meme going around film blogs (starting with Blog Cabins) to choose one favorite film that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Forcing you to pick something from each letter is generating some interesting results, so I thought I’d give it a try. (Other entries I’ve seen include: Only the Cinema, Film Doctor, The House Next Door, and Spoutblog.)

Shameless self-promotion – this task was made a lot easier since I recently completed a full list of all the films I’ve ever seen over at my archive site. Still working on the ancillary lists organized by year and rating, but the by title one is done.

AThe Adventures of Robin Hood (1938; Michael Curtiz & William Keighley)
BBand of Outsiders (1964; Jean-Luc Godard)
CCity of Lost Children (1995; Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
DThe Double Life of Veronique (1993; Krzysztof Kieslowski)
EElection (1999; Alexander Payne)
FThe Fountain (2006; Darren Aronofsky)
GGentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953; Howard Hawks)
HA Hard Day’s Night (1964; Richard Lester)
IIn a Lonely Place (1951; Nicholas Ray)
JJFK (1991; Oliver Stone)
KKey Largo (1948; John Huston)
LLock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998; Guy Ritchie)
MMulholland Drive (2001; David Lynch)
NThe Naked Kiss (1964; Samuel Fuller)
OO Brother Where Art Thou (2000; Joel & Ethan Coen)
PPersona (1966; Ingmar Bergman)
QThe Quiet Man (1952; John Ford)
RRear Window (1954; Alfred Hitchcock)
SSunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927; F.W. Murnau)
TThe Thin Man (1934; W.S. Van Dyke)
UThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964; Jacques Demy)
VVertigo (1958; Alfred Hitchcock)
WThe Women (1939; George Cukor)
XX-Men (2000; Bryan Singer)
YYoung Frankenstein (1974; Mel Brooks)
ZZodiac (2007; David Fincher)

Anyone else reading this, please feel free to post your own. Consider yourself tagged.

Best of 2006

I’m not quite finished with the December reading/watching recap, but since publishing “best of” lists is the thing to do at the end of the year, I figured I could go ahead and do that. And by “best of 2006” I mean “best that I saw or read in 2006,” because, as usual, I was not proactive enough at theatres and new release bookshelves to give any sort of a best movies or books released in 2006 list.

Top Ten Films I Watched in 2006 (none of the lists are in any particular order…most are chronological of when I saw them, because that’s the order of the records I started from)

Honorable Mentions

Ten Films You Probably Haven’t Seen But Ought To

Some Films I Really Had Gotten to St. Louis Before I Had to Go Back to Waco:

Top Ten Books I Read This Year

Top Five TV Shows (network only; I can’t keep track of cable)

Top Five Guilty Pleasure TV Shows (by this I mean either that they aren’t really GOOD, but I like them, or merely that I enjoy them, but not in a substantial, fannish way)

On the subject of TV shows, 24 will probably be joining the first set of TV shows this spring, and American Idol will certainly be joining the “guilty pleasure” set in LIKE TWO WEEKS! Just so you know, this blog will likely be taken over by American Idol fever after the premiere on January 16th.

March Reading/Watching Recap

I’m a month behind again! Hey, I’ve been putting more effort into watching and reading than writing. (No, really. I’ve been busting through my goals pretty well this year. I’m practicing for grad school, when I hear I’ll have half as much time to do twice as much work. We’ll see.)

Also, some day I’m going to write about something other than movies and books. Really. I promise.

Reactions, not reviews, blah blah blah jaffacakes.

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