A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

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.