A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, December 20, 2015

In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)

The "lonely place" is Hollywood, where Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a screenwriter with a barely held-in-check violent streak. This celebrated movie contains one of Bogart's best performances, though it looks and feels like the low-budget production it was. Bogart's own company, Santana, produced it for release through Columbia, instead of Bogart's employer, Warner Bros., which may explain why, apart from Bogart and Gloria Grahame, the supporting cast is so unfamiliar: The best-known face among them is Frank Lovejoy, who plays Bogart's old army buddy, now a police detective. In a Lonely Place seems to be set in a different Hollywood from the one seen in the year's other great noir melodrama, Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. There are no movie star cameos and glitzy settings in the Bogart film. What this one has going for it, however, is a haunting, off-beat quality, along with some surprising heat generated between Bogart and Grahame, who plays Laurel Gray, a would-be movie actress with an intriguing, only partly glimpsed past. She has, for example, a rather bullying masseuse (Ruth Gillette), who seems to be a figure out of this past. In fact, the whole film is made up of enigmatic figures, including Steele's closest friends, his agent, Mel Lippman (Art Smith), and an aging alcoholic actor, Charlie Waterman (Robert Warwick). Both of them stick with Steele despite his tendency to fly off the handle: He insults and at one point even slugs the agent, while at another he defends the actor with his fists against an insult. Though the central plot has to do with Steele's being suspected of murdering a hat-check girl (Martha Stewart) he brought to his apartment to tell him the plot of a novel he's supposed to adapt, the film is less a murder mystery than a study of a damaged man and his inability to overcome whatever made him that way. And despite the usual tendency of Hollywood films to end with a resolution by tying up loose ends, In a Lonely Place leaves its characters as tensely enigmatic as they were at the start -- perhaps even more so. The screenplay by Andrew Solt reworked Edmund H. North's adaptation of a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, with much help from director Ray.

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