In a Lonely Place (1950)

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, always turns up pretty high in those lists of classic film noirs.  

This probably has more to do with its adoption by the French New Wave than it does with true noir credentials, and the fact that it is one of Hollywood’s periodic flashes of its own underbelly.  

But Bogart is slick, wise-ass and selfish and so is the movie, which doesn't offer up a hero but instead presents a bitter and depressed cynic anti-hero incapable of heroism.  

It's a comment on the 1950s, when screenwriters were accused of communism and their friends often turned against them, and Humphrey Bogart plays it dark, often amoral, insisting that a girl find her own cab, refusing to show empathy for a murdered woman, remorseless when shown photos of a crime scene and sexually aroused when given the chance to re-enact a violent murder.

Nothing much to charm us within this gem of a movie then, and by 21st Century standards, rather dull and talkative to boot. The movie never becomes as truly unlikable as its lead character, but it seems to plod into gear at times, even though it's hard to take your eyes off it.

Where is the ‘lonely place’ of the move In A Lonely Place?  You might think that Humphrey Bogart’s predicament is a ‘lonely place’ — being suspected of a crime that he may or may not have committed — but he doesn’t seem to care.  Even his friend the cop Frank Lovejoy doesn’t think he’s guilty, and Bogart’s character seems so blasé about things anyway, we don’t sense any paranoia or doubt that would make his situation seem a lonely one.

Maybe the lonely place of the title is the apartment block in which Gloria Graham and Humphrey Bogart live — they’re both problematic singles with issues, and live alone with their various manias.

On top of that Gloria Graham has no friends, and we learn virtually nothing about her.  Bogart’s writer character has at least got his industry colleagues, but as for Gloria Graham — she is isolation personified.

Maybe the lonely place of the title is the world of the Hollywood writer.  It’s not the glamorous side of the business, and as Bogart demonstrates, the production of scripts is a blood-sweating and Herculean task — hard to believe when films are often so trite and low on content.

When Bogart and Gloria Graham get together, they do so to work on his script, the only thing at that stage giving meaning to their relationship.

She plays his faithful secretary while he — inspired by feelings of love which have been absent from his life — stays up all night, not even noticing the sunrise, because he is so focussed on his art.

For meta-narrative reasons we must favour his last option.  The novel of In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947) could hardly be more different from the film, and other than the murder, the main action of the film concerns the adaptation of a novel for the screen which proves as problematic to Bogart as it does to Nicholas Cage in Adaptation (2002).

Bogart doesn’t even read the novel he is employed to adapt, and although the finished product turns out all right, it does not — as in the case of In A Lonely Place itself — resemble the original.

Frank Lovejoy - set to strangle
Humphrey Bogart - aroused by murder
The 1947 novel of In A Lonely Place has real film noir credentials however — it's set in post WW2 Los Angeles, where the character of Dix Steele is a lonely ex-airman who wanders the streets at night and the murderer (when revealed) is a woman-hating rapist.  Suffice it to say, the set-up, investigation and outcome of the movie version are completely different.

Victim of Hollywood, victim of murder, a silly hatcheck
girl played with froth and frills.
Finally, yes, murder is a lonely place.  When Bogart is demonstrating to his cop friend and her wife, exactly how he feels the murder happened, he says that the killer waits until he is in a lonely place with his victim — and it is there the execution is carried out.

McCarthyism isn’t explicit in In a Lonely Place, but it appears that everyone in the film is sullied somehow — either wrong about something or somebody, or maybe they are just dead.  On the whole, the atmosphere of the film is pretty malevolent and lonely, and we watch in the first scene as Bogart as the screenwriter Dix Steele is taken down a peg or two by one of his colleagues who remind him that to work in Hollywood is to destroy your artistic ambition in favour of popcorn sales.

For director Nicholas Ray then surely, In a Lonely Place is a confessional film about self-loathing in Hollywood.  Nicholas Ray made a whole lot of interesting films, notably Rebel Without a Cause (1955) as well as the seminal film noir They Live by Night (1948).  What strikes us most of all about Ray’s films, other than expressionistic lighting used to good effect in his noirs such as On Dangerous Ground, Born to Be Bad and A Woman's Secret — is his empathy with social misfits. When combined with a glimpse of Hollywood, it’s all of this, not the story that gives In a Lonely Place its edge.

Jean-Luc Godard was a great admirer of Ray and famously said in his review of Bitter Victory:  "There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforth there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray."

This kind of film has remained popular, and probably always will be. You could call it a did s/he or didn’t s/he murder story, and later efforts such as Jagged Edge (1985) make a much better job of weaving mystery and doubt concerning the crime, whereas in In a Lonely Place, the crime seems to be an adjunct to the mood.

As noted, Bogart doesn’t seem to care in the slightest about the rap, and in fact barely even protests his innocence.  Then there’s the fact that there are no other suspects, or at least the one suspect there is — the victim’s boyfriend — is never seen. Instead of this the script relies on the fact that Bogart’s writer character Dix is reported to be violent, and a general bad seed.  This is fair enough, and there is a convincing road rage scene in which he takes a handy rock to another motorist’s head. It seems extreme that even such a guy as this could lose it in such style, but we do need to believe throughout, that Dix Steele could be the killer, even if it's only the pretence of a plot.
The romance continues with some wisecracking on the beach, and we buy that Bogart is a cynical and that he is jealous and occasionally violent, even though the first thing we see him doing is standing up for a failing actor colleague who has succumbed to drink.

In fact the first scene of the film, set in a Hollywood bar in which we meet all the principals except Gloria Graham, is one that is not even necessary, but merely plays as a fine piece of writing and acting.

Like so many others, Nicholas Ray found Hollywood itself to be a lonely place — and for many reasons, including his fondness for drink and drugs, he worked less in the 1960s.  In A Lonely Place has continued to have influence however, despite it not being a typical film noir, even for its era.  The psychological and paranoid elements of the story are muted, and despite Gloria Grahame offering a striking performance, she is not a true noir lead, being pretty subservient to Bogart — after all, within minutes of her relationship with Bogart starting she’s bringing him breakfast and cleaning his apartment, as well as acting as his secretary — none of which is cool.

It’s a bad world for women though, and if you’re not there as a victim, you’re some other kind of bait — generally for the scriptwriters.  The script is of course very tight, and packed fulla wisecracks, which if anything else will keep you going until the final curtain.

Try some of these for hard-boiled ass-cracking fun:
Dixon Steele: Go ahead and get some sleep and we'll have dinner together tonight.
Laurel Gray: We'll have dinner tonight. But not together.
Or one of our favourites: ‘It was his story against mine, but of course, I told my story better.‘
Then of course there is just the tough stuff:
Dixon Steele: [to man hosing down the sidewalk in front of the florist shop] Say, do me a favor, will you, pal?
Flower Shop Employee: Yes, sir.
Dixon Steele: I want to send two dozen white roses to a girl.
Flower Shop Employee: Yes, sir. Do you want to write a card?
Dixon Steele: No, there's no card. Her name's Mildred Atkinson.
Flower Shop Employee: Mildred Atkinson. Yes, sir. What's her address?
Dixon Steele: I don't know. Look it up in the papers. She was murdered last night.
Flower Shop Employee: Yes, sir.
The trailer for In a Lonely Place is pretty exciting stuff; you would definitely want to check it out after seeing this triumphant two minutes of shock, desperation and titillation, which promises among other things 'SUSPICION 'ROUND THE CLOCK!'

More Rough Love ...

No comments:

Post a Comment