Movies We Like
In a Lonely Place
Humphrey Bogart remains to be remembered for characters with a lethal trigger finger and an equally lethal tongue. Films like The Maltese Falcon exemplify not only the height of his merits as an actor, but continue to be incomparable relics in the world of Noir.
Many of his works, most notably Casablanca, have an intrinsic outline - a gloomy skeleton harnessing unrequited love. Alas, they usually finish on a somewhat heroic note as the character must sacrifice his love with the understanding that his lifestyle simply has no place for it. One can only wonder how much of that resembled Bogart's experiences in life. He had four wives and a few fall outs with friends.
With this curiosity, In a Lonely Place has become the work in which the actor appears to bare a bit of his soul. Well, considerably more so than the aforementioned works. I find it to be his best performance, for it not only speaks volumes of his rightful position as a king of dark cinema, but also brilliantly portrays the vulnerability of such a position. Ironic, to say the least.
In the film Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a washed up - though brilliant - screenwriter who's at odds with the whims of the studio he works for. Given the insulting task of adapting a best-selling novel, he scoffs at the banality of his position before accepting it. In an attempt to make the situation less mundane, he enlists the help of the hat-check girl. She's read the book and finds it exciting, so he invites her over to his home to dictate the plot. Perhaps there is also the halfhearted hope that a pretty face and unorthodox input might make the whole thing more tolerable. Of course it doesn't, and he sends her to the corner for a cab--but not before catching the eye of his beautiful new neighbor Laurel (Gloria Grahame.)
When morning rolls around he's called on by an old acquaintance (Frank Lovejoy), who's now a detective. The hat-check girl was murdered late in the night and he was the last to see her alive. Suspicions rise as Dix's morbid imagination as a crime writer makes him practically indifferent to the news. As a doomed storyteller, he also can't help but openly speculate the details of the crime. Not to mention, he has a hot temper and a violent streak. It all places him as the prime suspect, until his neighbor drops in as a witness. She admits to admiring the famed screenwriter through her window and recalls seeing the girl come and go.
Dix is instantly smitten with Laurel, both for her cool demeanor and the gall to come to his rescue unprompted. The mutual, and obvious, attraction between them leaves speculation with the police. A fast romance develops between the two, as does the growing suspicion of his guilt among friends and colleagues. Dix attempts to quiet his demons for the sake of what might be his last chance at love. Ultimately, he's faced with the most difficult job of his life: convincing the woman he loves of his innocence and worthiness.
On paper the plot reads as nothing too exciting. On screen, most of the action takes place in his home. Easy, perhaps, but Bogart took the role and made it into something unforgettable. Dix is the anti-hero in many ways, and therefore difficult to give likability. For once his character's wit does not charm the audience. For once his strong arm is the object of disgrace, not valor. Here he is reduced to the commonality of wanting to be understood in a world that has no desire to understand. Not his work, nor him. It merely wants results, and as his once-illustrious career shows, he is no longer able to deliver. He's finished...but not before making the audience feel the sting of his defeat, just as they once basked in the glory of Bogart bringing it to others on screen.
Bogart would die 7 short years after In a Lonely Place was released, and managed to score an Oscar with The African Queen a year later. Director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Johnny Guitar) has never really impressed me as a director, but he worked wonders with the cast of In a Lonely Place. Grahame does a splendid job as well, though I'm not really familiar with her work. In all seriousness, we know why In a Lonely Place is great, and former friend Louise Brooks summed it up quite nicely: "In a film whose title perfectly defined Humphrey's own isolation among people, In a Lonely Place gave him a role that he could play with complexity because the film's character, the screenwriter's, pride in his art, his selfishness, his drunkenness, his lack of energy stabbed with lightning strokes of violence, were shared equally by the real Bogart."