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In a Lonely Place (1950)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
An aging Hollywood screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) is accused of killing a woman but that doesn't stop his neighbor (Gloria Grahame) from falling in love with him. This is a very hypnotic film noir type film from director Nicholas Ray that has a wonderful mystery and a pretty good love story, although it begins to drag a bit towards the end. The real highlight here is the incredible performance from Bogart, which certainly ranks among the best of his career. Bogart does a brilliant job at showing the characters depression and his ugliness but he also manages to show why the woman would love him.
Ostensibly billed as a film noir, this dark psychological drama is less
of a thriller and more a study of bruised souls and the transitory
nature of relationships. Humphrey Bogart is magnificent, (it may be his
best performance), as Dixon Steele, a Hollywood scriptwriter whose
violent outbursts makes him the prime suspect when a hat-check girl he
had taken home is later murdered while Gloria Grahame is also superb as
the neighbour who provides him with an alibi and subsequently falls in
love with him.
Bogart's guilt or innocence is not the issue here. What concerns us is his precarious mental state and how his relationship will pan out. (As he is the 'hero', and Bogart, we make the assumption that he is innocent but unlike conventional who-done-its the identity of who then might be the actual killer ceases to concern us). Nor is Steele's occupation of any real note, (his interest in murder could just as easily be explained if he were a policeman or a doctor). This is not a particularly convincing movie about the movie business; it seems almost irrelevant that it is set in Hollywood, but it fits perfectly into Ray's oeuvre as a study of men and women failing to cope, for whatever reason, with the pressures around them. In this respect it is a perfect companion piece to the likes of "Rebel Without a Cause" or "Bigger than Life" or "Bitter Victory". It is certainly one of his best films, darkly pessimistic and thoroughly engrossing.
Remember that crazed, bitter expression on Rick's face when he first
lays eyes on Ilsa in Casablanca? Now imagine that same expression
stretched out over 90 minutes.
That's "In A Lonely Place" to me, one of the great lost-soul movies ever made, and a testament to the depth of its lead actor, Humphrey Bogart. It's not his best film, just maybe his best performance.
Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a once-hot screenwriter in Hollywood who has been running on empty since returning from the war. Then he becomes a suspect in the murder of a hat-check girl, a circumstance that oddly leads to Dixon finding the love of his life, a blonde neighbor named Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). Will Dixon and Laurel find happiness, or will the murder case, and its window into Dixon's darker half, blow them apart?
"In A Lonely Place" is set in Hollywood, but doesn't play by its conventions. It's a film noir, a crime drama from the 1950s featuring a loner and shot mostly at night, only it doesn't fit the noir formula. Laurel is pretty, cool, and mysterious, so she should be a femme fatale a la Barbara Stanwyck. Only she isn't. Dixon is suspected of murder, but there is little doubt he's not guilty. The murder itself is of minor consequence; it's the investigation that's fatal to Dixon, exposing the sociopath who lies beneath.
"Don't you like to talk anymore?" Dixon is asked near the beginning of the film by one old flame. "Not to people who have my number," is Dix's reply.
What attracts Laurel to Dixon, his "interesting face" she points out to a police captain near the beginning of the film, turns out to be a mask. We see it slip, enough to concur with the one character in the film who sees Dixon straight, a policeman's wife played fetchingly by the improbably named Jeff Donnell. "He's a sick man, Brub," she tells her husband. He says Dix's just exciting. "He's exciting because he isn't moral," she replies.
The brave thing about Bogart's performance and Nicholas Ray's direction is how it makes us agree with her. We see, as only she does, the look on Steele's face when he describes how he would have killed the hat-check girl if he was writing it into his screenplay. He's not completely blasé about her, he does send flowers to her house, but he still makes bad jokes about her demise, even to her boyfriend. Sensitive, he's not.
In the early part of the film, we are inclined to take Steele's side anyway, because he's Bogart and because the official voice of disapproval, Capt. Lochner, is such a bluenosed bore. But the great thing about "In A Lonely Place" is how we are challenged from that view by his developing relationship with Laurel. It's a chick flick for guys that way, a romantic film that deals with male insecurities. What man can't identify with Bogie when he stands at Laurel's door, clenching his hands nervously as he waits for her to open it?
Not everything about "In A Lonely Place" is great. It just misses the classic level for me on account of some trite dialogue, weak supporting work, and a lame score. But Bogart himself is great. His lisp never seemed so pronounced, nor the bags under his eyes so heavy. Here, he makes his star power fuel his art like few screen legends ever have, a performance on a par with that of Laurence Olivier in his greatest screen role, "Richard III." Just try not looking at that interesting face.
( Mild Spoilers) Released some four years earlier then the far more
famous and successful "The Cain Mutiny" where Humphery Bogart played
the role of the neurotic and mentally unstable Captain Philip Francis
Queeg. The psychological suspense drama "In a Lonely Place" has Bogart
in the lead role of Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steel a forerunner to
Queeg but a much more complicated man. Steel inability to control his
hair-trigger temper is what makes him in the film the prime suspect in
a murder case.
Within the first ten minutes of the movie we see Steel involved in two fights over something an average person would walk away from and forget. First a road altercation and later at "Paluls" restaurant when Steels friend, 1920's romantic idol Charlie Waterman (Robert Warwick), was insulted and humiliated by the drunk and obnoxious Junior,Lewish Howard, Steel almost belted Juniors a** into one of the customers table.
Not having a hit in years Steel is offered by his agent Mel Lippman, Art Smith,to write the screenplay for the movie "Alysia Bruce" a best selling novel. Tired and needing to go to sleep Steel offerers the restaurant hat-check girl Mildred Atkinson, Martha Stewart, who read the book cover-to-cover to spend the evening reading the book to him. The next day Steel is called to the police station by his good friend Det. Sgt. Nocolai, Frank Lovejoy, and told that he's a suspect in Mildred's murder! Mildred was found at the bottom of a canyon that morning with her neck broken by her killer and it was Steel, the last person who saw her alive, whom the police think is responsible for her death. It's also his getting involved in a number of fights hours before Mildreds murder, as well as Steels very extensive police record for violence, that points the finger at him.
Steel is saved from being arrested when next door neighbor Laurel Gray, Gloria Graham, comes forward and tells the police that she saw him in his apartment late that evening after Mildred left and was later found murdered. Steel and Laural begin to have a more then neighborly relationship which leads to him becoming very possessive of her and to the point of almost forcing Laural into accepting his offer of marriage.
Charming and witty when he want's to be Steel's uncontrollable temper, especially when he almost kills a young man whom he side-swiped with his car, has Laural who was genuinely very much in love with the talented but very intense screenwriter feel that maybe he was the man who did murdered Mildred. Was she in fact laying about seeing Steel that evening after Mildred left Steel's apartment! and may end up being murdered by him as well?
Steel for his part doesn't let up with his violence and jealousy that leads to an volcano-like blow up later at "Pauls". Thats when he feels that Laural took and had his screenplay read by some of their friends. Steel also thinks that she's holding back on him in their future plans to go to Vegas to get married. Which in fact she did out of fear of being alone with the very erratic and temperamental Dixon Steel. Later he even punches out his agent Mel who was just trying to be the peace-maker in this wild affair.
Rushing back to Laural's place Steels anger and fury now reaching a white hot fever-pitch breaks into her apartment and it looks like she's right about him being the one who murdered young Mildred Atkinson. But then a phone call from Det. Sgt. Nicolai puts that mystery to an end. But not Steel's psychological problems that he needs to have treated before someone really gets hurt or killed .
Early film about mental-illness that may have been a bit too much for the public back then,in 1950. With Humphery Bogart giving one of his most penetrating performances ever as the talented but troubled Dixon Steel. You couldn't really dislike Steel since the way he was portrayed by Bogart and directed by Nicholas Ray, who directed Humphrey Bogart the year before in "Knock on any Door". You could see that he was really a sweet and decent person but at the same time wasn't fully in control of his actions as well as emotions. In Getting professional help, that his agent Mel suggested to Steel that almost had him killed, his temper may well have been kept in check and thus made his relationships with both his friends and associates, as well as perfect strangers, far less stressful.
I love this film, it's so rare to have a film with so many levels. Firstly
the story's great with Bogart as an unstable, violent screenwriter
of murder, to the point even his fiance is convinced he did it.
Secondly it's a great comment of the time, the 1950s, when screenwriters were accused of communism and their friends eroded and turned against them.
Thirdly it's about control, while Dixon Steele attempted to control his love, Nicolas Ray, the director, had been in a relationship with Gloria Grahame and in her contract was a clause that she had to do ANYTHING he said.
Watch it. Love it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is one of my all-time favorites, and I don't suppose there's
anything I can add to the comments about the movie itself. Except that
the final scene leaves you with such a sense of tragedy that it darn
near brings tears to your eyes.
But I think that anyone interested in this movie might also be interested in its path to the screen -- the book by Dorothy B. Hughes was considerably different.
In the book, there's no question about it -- Dix Steele is a crazed psycho-killer. It's a routine story that poses only one question -- how he'll be caught. There is nothing redeeming whatever about Steele. Yes, there's a romance with Laurel, but she's a minor character. She sees there's something wrong with him that can't be changed, and she gives up on him well before the conclusion.
The book was rather faithfully adapted on the radio show Suspense in 1947.
On the way to the screen, Nicholas Ray dumped about half the story and gave us a much more interesting, much more nuanced tale about a man tormented by his demons -- and who might or might not overcome them and succeed in an adult relationship with a beautiful and complex woman. Our hero has a network of sympathetic friends, all of whom hope he'll see his way out, and whose patience is tested by his violent behavior. They see the good qualities that balance the bad. And then, as sort of a subplot, we also have to wonder if he's a crazed psycho-killer.
Man! What a difference! The book is the stuff of a thousand mystery plots, no more subtle or interesting than the ten thousand serial-killer stories that clutter the paperback racks and multiplexes these days. I don't even think there was anything new or interesting about the story in the forties. Seems like there were a jillion movies like it back then. Serial killers were big back in the black-and-white era, too.
The book was so uninspiring that it's a wonder anyone in Hollywood bothered optioning it.
What may have brought this one to Hollywood's attention is that Dorothy B. Hughes also wrote the splendid "Ride the Pink Horse," which was adapted faithfully for the screen and made a terrific movie.
Anyway, if I was ever to compose a list of movies-that-were-better-than-the-book, this would be at the top of the list.
Erik Smith Olympia, Wash.
Quite superb! A real tough one this with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame giving astoundingly believable and gut wrenchingly effective performances. The great dialogue never lets up as we get swept into what at first seems to be a simple murder story. But oh no, Mr Ray is not interested in some simple tale of who killed a hat check girl. He wants to expose the violence within us all for our scrutiny. As the exceedingly well presented romance blossoms between the two leads so we become less concerned for the dead girl and more for where this the violence will explode next or take us. I understand Ray and Grahame had a deteriorating romance at the time of filming and it is certainly tempting to suppose that some of the extreme passions we see on the screen have been stoked by that reality. Not many filmmakers take us so close to the edge with no shred of sentimentality. Great film.
In a Lonely Place is one of the best film-noirs I've seen to date. With the perfect combination of action, mystery, intrigue, romance and dark humour, I believe it is not only one of Bogart's best, but definitely Gloria Grahame's. Performances are so well balanced and believable, it is hard not to be taken in by the story which asks the ultimate question: did he kill her, or not? Plot is as follows: famous screenwriter Dixon Steele, faced with the boring task of scripting a trashy bestseller, has hat-check girl Mildred Atkinson tell him the story in her own words. Later that night, he is told Mildred was murdered and Steele is a prime suspect; his record of violence and his dark sense of humor work against him. Fortunately, lovely neighbor Laurel Gray gives him an alibi. Laurel proves to be just what Steele needed, and their friendship develops into love. Will suspicion, doubt, and Steele's dark ways come between them? In a Lonely Place isn't just a dark murder mystery, it's so much more than that. It ropes you in and doesn't let you go until the movie has finished. It doesn't leave you after it's finished though.. it stays with you for a long time. This isn't one of Bogart's better known roles, which is very sad because it should be as his acting is superb - as is everyone's. A truly thrilling mystery - great for Bogart and Grahame fans and film noir lovers.
This is a definitely fine movie with a great cast striking a strange note. It seems, that this is also some kind of self reflection of Humphrey Bogart, who, as other comments have remarked, blends together a lot of pieces and patches from other roles, the cultivated loner, the aggressive tough guy and the desperate and easily raging violent Cynic. It also has some reflections by other peoples roles, e.g. the old out-of-business actor mostly drunk and playing for restaurant audiences instead of a real auditorium and the agent tired of his business but not able to let go. And, no offense intended, it was lucky, that the role of the female counterpart was not casted with Lauren Bacall, but taken by the wonder- and beautiful Gloria Grahame. It always leaves me wondering, why she didn't come out a top billing Star in her own right. The actual murder plot : Just a thing events revolve around, not a real centerpiece of the story. If you're looking for crime, you're wrong here. All in all, a masterpiece unjustified relegated for 2nd line attention only. 8/10.
Anyone looking for a murder mystery or thriller will be disappointed. Yes, it has those elements, but In A Lonely Place is about the personality of a writer. Dixon Steele is an artist whose contradictions resolve themselves only when he is writing and only when he is writing something he is interested in. As soon as he steps away from his typewriter he is bitter, angry, self-destructive, violent. In its way, this is as good a portrait of an artistic personally you will ever see.
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