In a Lonely Place
Director: Nicholas Ray
“I was born when you kissed. I died when you left me. I lived a few months while you loved me.”
In light of the recent Blu-ray re-release, it seems a fitting time to look back at In a Lonely Place. An increasingly revered masterpiece of the genre, based (very loosely) on a 1947 novella by Dorothy B Hughes and staring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Graham, it is a dark, thrilling and extremely memorable film of a man stranded alone in a world against him.
In short, In a Lonely Place is the story of an unstable, unhinged and once successful Hollywood writer, Dix Steele (keep your smart remarks to yourself, please) who is inadvertently wrapped up in the investigation into the murder of a young woman who had gone back to Dix’s apartment with him the night she as murdered. After being released by the police, thanks to the alibi of Dix’s sultry neighbour, Laurel Grey (played with seductive brilliance by Graham), the film follows the developments of the relationship which quickly blossoms between Dix and Laurel, but with the ever-looming shadow of Dix’s possible guilt casting doubt over the characters’ actions, leading to a dramatic, powerful confrontation between two lovers.
It sounds simple, but the impact of the film lies in the audience watching a man who they know to be innocent, whose life is being torn apart by allegations and conspiracy. The film masterfully causes us to doubt our own knowledge. We know, or at least are reasonable sure we know, that Dix didn’t kill the young woman. We see her leaving his apartment (after he took her home so she could tell him the plot of a cheap thriller novel his agent was hoping he could adapt for the screen), and they quite clearly go their separate ways. But by spending much of the rest of the film showing Dix’s volatile behaviour, combined with the doubts shown by all the other characters of Dix’s innocence, we as an audience also begin to doubt ourselves, and that is part of what makes the movie so powerful. The film plays this up in a big way – Dix, while visiting the home of Brub (one of the main detectives investigating the murder, who also happened to know Dix from his time during WWII), begins to use his story-telling wares to describe exactly how he would have committed the murder, in a scene which is as powerful as it is disturbing.
Interestingly, the original ending to the film did feature Dix killing Laurel Grey, with Brub walking in on the scene, with Dix writing at his typewriter before being taken away to face his end on the gas chamber.
(A still from the original, unused ending of the film)
While that ending no doubt was powerful, the ending that ended p being used shows a final confrontation between the two, before Laurel receives a phone call from Brub to say Dix is in the clear. Already destroyed emotionally by the doubt that the investigation had caused between them, Laurel instead has no choice but to leave, unable to retrieve what could have been. Thus the title of the film becomes clear.
Overall, the film is a brilliant showcase for Bogart, who plays a character who is both dark, violent and generally unpleasant while at the same time, one who is entirely sympathetic for an audience, who are lift to feel like the only voices proclaiming his innocence of the crime he is accused, where every other character feels the opposite. He plays the role brilliantly, and Graham is excellent as Bogart’s lover, tortured by her own doubt over his innocence. Although you can lose count of the number of times she pulls the one-eyebrow-raised pose she relies on so much throughout the 89-minute running time. The rest of the support cast are strong and the writing is crisp and Bogart delivers a number of brilliantly quotable lines.
As a slightly later entry in his career, In a Lonely Place is somewhat overshadowed by Bogart’s earlier efforts such as The Big Sleep and Casablanca, but he gives one of his finest and most memorable performances. The story, while seeming simple, is a fascinating portrait of a man alone in a world which doesn’t trust him, and where love and friendship can be removed as quickly as they come.
With the new Blu-Ray release, there’s never been a better time to delve back into that lonely place…
(“You’re a horrible, conceited good-for-nothing, and I don’t love you…it’s your money i’m after”)