In a Lonely Place (1950)
Release Date: May 17th, 1950 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Nicholas Ray Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Carl Benton Reid, Art Smith, Jeff Donnell
umphrey Bogart doesn’t get any better than this. 1950’s “In A Lonely Place” showcases the actor’s finest performance (more nuanced, confident, and precise than even his outstanding turns in “The Maltese Falcon” and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”), full of fear, doubt, and an unlikely romance. Directed by Nicholas Ray (“Born to Be Bad,” “Rebel Without a Cause”), this thought-provoking piece of Hollywood about Hollywood merges drama, film noir, suspense, mystery, and tragedy and is just as powerful today as it was over 50 years ago.
Screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) asks a young woman, Mildred (Martha Stewart), to read him the story to a book he has been solicited to adapt – so that he can avoid having to skim it himself. After she leaves, a few hours pass before he’s abruptly woken by the police, who notify him that she’s been murdered. Taken in for questioning, he appears uncaring and complacent, and though a lack of evidence prevents them from charging him, he remains a leading suspect. His neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) unexpectedly helps him off the hook, despite being unsure of his innocence, and the two quickly fall in love. But as the romance progresses and Steele’s erratic temper becomes increasingly more apparent, Laurel begins to question whether he could have murdered the girl after all.
Bogart’s Dixon Steele is sardonic, sarcastic, and emotionless when it comes to Mildred’s demise. As if he always has something to hide, he brushes off such calamities with nary a blink. Yet his bizarre intrigue with death (perhaps because of his storytelling profession) and his ferocious disposition are his undoing. Is his personality exciting or overly suspicious? As the cops continue to investigate him, he embarks on a downward spiral of distrust and paranoia that sets him up for inevitable disaster. Once supremely confident, Steele becomes frightened by his own lack of control, and only when it is ultimately too late does he realize what he has lost.
The romance between Dixon and Laura is exceptionally well portrayed through a nightclub patronization and other subtle actions that build up a fondness and understanding without overt displays of affection. In a self-referential sequence, Steele mentions that a great love scene should be about something other than love, visualized in the film as the attentive act of preparing a grapefruit for his girl while she relaxes. Woefully, they are destined to be apart, as his abnormal and often irrational temperament, which she originally admired, eventually scares her away. Based on the Dorothy B. Hughes novel, the theatrical adaptation by Edmund H. North and Andrew Solt alters Dixon’s guilt, but the conclusion is essentially unchanged. What matters isn’t whether or not he’s innocent, but that he could have committed the crime just the same.
– Mike Massie