Director: Nicholas Ray | Runtime: 93mins | Drama, Film-Noir, Romance
Erratic and sometimes violent Screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is suspected of murder, but luckily his new neighbour Laurel (Gloria Grahame) acts as his alibi. The two start seeing each other, but with the police still suspicious and his personality becoming clearer, Laurel begins to question his innocence.
Often Film-Noir is postered with the stoic face of the legendary Humphrey Bogart, films like The Big Sleep (1946) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) often noted as the pinnacle of the genre. But In a Lonely Place plays slightly differently, it’s story is predictable in a traditional sense (but no less entertaining), but rather opts for a melancholic ending that at the time, would have been a real shocker to audiences alike.
The story revolves around a murder and a relationship, the murder being that of a bright-eyed coat check girl at Dixon’s favourite restaurant. When he is tasked with reading a lengthy book his lack of energy permits him to ask the girl back to his apartment in order to read to him. We learn a lot about Dixon in these early scenes, relatively subdued and emotionally mysterious, but also someone who’s not afraid to fight. After the girl goes home she is found murdered, and Dixon’s sarcasm doesn’t help clear his name. Even at one point he so confidently says “I’ve killed dozens of people….in pictures.” Making the people around him uncertain of his capabilities.
The name Dixon Steele is up their with the most Noir-ish names you could think of (Sam Spade being the most iconic), a simplistic and bold name attached to a similarly no nonsense character. Steele, with the help of Bogart’s commanding demeanour, manages to convince us to root for him but also fear him. He doesn’t feel like the bad guy, but the film constantly tests us with his artistic imagination and wily temper. This is something that the film does so well, making you like him while subtly driving doubt into your mind, something that is amplified by the help of Gloria Grahame’s wonderful performance as Laurel.
It’s most remembered for it’s momentum changing ending, maybe not giving you the ending you so desperately desire, but rather the one that befitting such a story.
The star power and presence of Grahame keeps up with Bogart, she is quick-witted and intelligent and unlike most Golden-Age Hollywood female roles, isn’t as reliant on a male as you might think. But Grahame’s performance is so much more important for us as an audience, we only get to see what she sees, and all of our sympathy is gladly given to her in the back end of the film. Although you presume his innocence, we only know as much as Laurel, and what Grahame does is match Bogart in bravado, but also slowly releases her fragility to us. She embodies the power of a femme-fatale but never really gives into it, and although Bogart is as good as he’s ever been, I’d go as far as to say Grahame stands out head and shoulders above her cast mates.
As consistent as the film is, it’s most remembered for it’s momentum changing ending, maybe not giving you the ending you so desperately desire, but rather the one that befitting such a story. After all Dixon’s arc isn’t about the murder case he’s embroiled in, but rather his inability to keep his head. He’s a victim of his own personality, a hothead who can’t help but retaliate and overreact, and despite him being charming the people around him suffer the consequences. The movie really finds it’s stride in the last act, using it’s killer script to slowly defuse it’s story and give you a much more character focused narrative.
In a Lonely Place is both traditional and novel, it’s not as conventional as The Big Sleep or as groundbreaking as The Maltese Falcon, but it uses Noir to create mood and atmosphere for it’s surface story while engaging in the internal struggle of human beings. It’s ending might not seem as a shocking as it did at the time, but with the help of two glorious performances from Bogart and Grahame, the complexity of character oozes through wonderfully.