Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In A Lonely Place (1950)

Dir: Nicholas Ray
Sony DVD

This may not be one of Bogart's most well known films, but it is one of his best. Bogey plays a temperamental Hollywood screenwriter named Dix Steele who's violent nature and disdain for the studio system makes him a difficult guy to like and consequently hurts his career. He's given a chance to adapt a novel that he's not too enthusiastic about, so he invites a hat check girl that has read it to come to his apartment and tell him the gist of the story. He's none too impressed and sends the girl home with some cab fair. The only witness is a new neighbor looking on from her balcony, Laurel Gray (played by Gloria Grahame). It turns out that having a witness is important as the hat check girl turns up murdered a few hours later. The police begin to hound Dix and call upon Ms. Gray for info which brings the two closer together. They begin dating and she also gets him to start writing again. Dix is a man possessed working on the adaptation of the novel he was not that interested in but we gather he is changing it drastically. Things would be just fine except for the police that keep questioning Dix, trying to pin the murder on him. Ray occasionally to make us question Bogey's innocence and throws in a few other suspects, but the mystery is more of a background story to the main narrative which is really about the very specific details of this relationship between Dix and Laurel. It's a brutally honest portrayal of a couple dealing with their own insecurities with Dix's manifesting themselves in outbursts of shocking violence. It's really summed up beautifully when Dix's agent says to Laurel, "You knew he was dynamite, he had to explode sometime". Ray shows great restraint in not going into too much detail about his character's pasts, we know all we need to know and he never fabricates some simple excuse for Dix Steele's behavior. Gloria Grahame is absolutely perfect as the street-wise lady that can be vulnerable with her man one moment and tough-as-nails with the cops the next. The photography by Burnett Guffey is textbook stuff, a veteran of almost 100 films by the end of his career, this guy is someone to study. I'm particularly fond of his use of key lights around Bogey's eyes when he gets into a crazed state. The ending of the film could go one of three ways, and Ray is smart enough to know that there was really only one good choice, and he makes it.


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