Friday, May 29, 2009

In a Lonely Place

"In a Lonely Place" (Nicholas Ray, 1950) Risky Hollywood-noir/murder mystery/psychological drama produced by Humphrey Bogart's Santana Production Company and directed with a sure grip by the great Nicholas Ray. Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a hot-headed screenwriter on a cold streak. His temper has gotten him into a lot of violent scrapes that the studios have managed to sweep under the rug. Now, a hat-check girl that was in his apartment the night before has turned up strangled and the police are certain he was the culprit.

His one alibi is his neighbor, Laurel Gray (
Gloria Grahame), part-time actress, who has a fairly air-tight alibi for Steele, and the two of them subsequently begin an affair that keeps Steele on the straight-and-narrow and the police suspicious. They'd be less tenacious if he didn't have that long rap sheet, the sick sense of humor and the unhealthy glint in his eyes when the subject of murder comes up. Steele is an odd bird who can't control his temper and pretty soon the police's suspicions make Laurel have her doubts which Dix only amplifies by his actions.

Can love survive?
Can Laurel?

This is a great mystery in which the central murder ultimately doesn't matter; the players and their ability to destroy each other in a cynical battle of survival
when they're at their most vulnerable does. Gloria Grahame, who would endure a career of also-ran women's roles, displays the gifts of a great character actress in the lead. And Bogart exploits his dual persona playing a bad-good man (or is that the other way around?) who has no control and betrays a self-loathing that's painful to watch. He and Grahame are great together—she's one of the few women who doesn't kiss Bogart awkwardly, and their relationship feels real and not phoney—and the screenplay crackles with the good dialogue that makes great Bogart movies. That the movie is taking shots at Hollywood and the loungey L.A. lifestyle is merely a refreshing bonus (What was it about 1950 that turned out all these anti-Hollywood movies?). Bogart is at his best when he's taking chances with his material, and "In a Lonely Place" provides a wealth of opportunities: a creative murder mystery with a great romance and the possibility of mutual self-destruction. It's a stunning noir that's a highlight of the careers of all parties.


Walaka said...

Is this the one in which Bogart's character's habit of sometimes ignoring ringing phones comes into play?

Yojimbo_5 said...

When he's writing he doesn't answer the phone, and Gloria Graham spends an inordinate amount of time answering for him.

But what's more at play is he's a paranoid jerk.

Walaka said...

yeah, I think i saw this a long time ago... you make me want to see it again.

Ain't that kinda the point?