Movie Critique - In a Lonely Place

For review of all movies starring Humphrey Bogart, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A psychological film noir that creates a disturbing image in viewers' minds with the antagonist being your own inner self leaving one alone even in a crowd. 

In a Lonely Place is a 1950 American film noir starring Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy and Carl Benton Reid. Directed by Nicholas Ray, Produced by Robert Lord and released by Bogart's production company called Santana Productions.

Dixon "Dix" Steele (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) is a down-on-his-luck Hollywood screenwriter who has been looking for his next hit for a while. Instead he finds himself as a suspect smack in the middle of a murder investigation of Mildred Atkinson (portrayed by Martha Stewart), a hatcheck girl with whom he had spent the night before. Despite suspicions from the police, Detective Sergeant Brub Nicolai (portrayed by Frank Lovejoy), he is released due to an alibi provided by his neighbor Laurel Gray (portrayed by Gloria Grahame). And the frightening ride for Laurel begins.

The film is based on the 1947 novel of the same name by Dorothy B. Hughes. Screenplay for the film was written by Andrew P. Solt using Edmund H. North's adaptation of the original novel. It centers around two characters who are polar opposites to each other - one with an explosive temper; and the other foolish to fall for the celebrity spell. There are several differences between the book and movie though. 

The film though gives us troubled love, tormented relationship, and a murder mystery; it basically gives the viewers a window into the lives of Hollywood and the rules of the game that the celebrities play every single day.

Humphrey Bogart had made gangster roles, as lead hero with enough suave, and semi-antagonist in some. This film shows a totally different side of Bogart's acting capacity. He plays a very complex character filled with insecurities, selfishness, addicted to alcohol, and with frequent violent outbursts. It is said the real Bogart is pretty close to the character Dix that he portrayed in this film.

Gloria Grahame, then married to director Nicholas Ray, acting the part of a foolish and naïve young actress Laurel Gray is considered one of her finest performances. This was also the second movie that Grahame at that time which was directed by her husband Ray, the previous one being an year earlier in A Woman's Secret. Despite her marital problems with Ray, none of that reflected or interrupted with her acting skills. The couple eventually divorced in 1952. 

Gloria's character Laurel transforms from a pretty and happy girl, albeit foolish and naïve, into a scared and terrified woman who faces her fears bravely. Gloria's acting skills are superb. Reminded me of how Ingrid Bergman's character Paula Alquist transforms through the film in the 1944 American psychological thriller film Gaslight.

Frank Lovejoy plays the part of Detective Sergeant Brub Nicolai in the film. However in my recent podcasts of old time radio, I heard Lovejoy in a variety of characters and shows, gaining fame for his roles as John Malone in The Amazing Mr. Malone, Randy Stone reporter in Night Beat, and many other episodes of The Whistler.

Director Ray found success in creating films with lonely characters when this film became a hit - his second consecutive film with a similar theme, the first one being the 1949 Knock on Any Door. Both these films also gave Bogart a newer side of acting, giving way to more character portrayals as opposed to tough guys roles. 

The film is still remembered for some of it's memorable quotes:

Dixon Steele: I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.
Laurel Gray: [tearfully] I lived a few weeks while you loved me. Goodbye, Dix.
Laurel Gray: [to Capt. Lochner] Yesterday, this would've meant so much to us. Now it doesn't matter... it doesn't matter at all.
Dixon Steele: [verbally recreating a vehicular strangulation] You put your right arm around her neck. You get to a lonely place in the road, and you begin to squeeze.

The film trailer has a scene that doesn’t appear in the film. At the end of the trailer, Laurel puts the phone down and runs out to hug Dix. But that scene is no where shown in the film, perhaps had been edited out to leave it to viewer's imagination how the ending should be.

The opening credits are rolled over a partial face of Bogart visible through the rear view mirror of a car. Then zooms out to show him from behind driving a convertible. 

Hadda Brooks sings and performs in a night club scene in the film. She sings a lovely ballad, unusual for that time period.

The tragedy of the film I feel is with the lead cast. Not at the time of the film, but both Bogart and Grahame died at the age of 57, even though they had an age-gap pf 24 years.

Laurel and Dixon may have loved each other, but they are consumed by their own character flaws and errors along their relationship, it doesn’t leave any scope for their love to survive. Yet the director leaves it open-ended for viewers to imagine a more happier ending for them.

A psychological film noir that creates a disturbing image in viewers' minds with the antagonist being your own inner self leaving one alone even in a crowd. Complex roles for both the lead cast with an ending left to the viewers' imaginations. A must watch film noir!

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Santana Productions first film was the 1949 Knock on Any Door released a year earlier than this film. Incidentally that film also stars Bogart along-side John Derek in lead roles; also directed by Nicholas Ray.

b. The 1986 song "In a Lonely Place" by Smithereens for their album Especially For You, was inspired by the film. They even used the famous dialogue from the movie into their music lines 

c. Robert Warwick who was down-on-his-luck for real at the time of the making of the film, Bogart got a part for him in the film as Charlie Waterman, Dix's friend. Warwick and Bogart played together in the 1922 stage play Drifting, during which time Bogart was helped by Warwick. He returned the favor with this film. Bogart even addresses him as "Thespian", a nod to him being a thespian actor. 

d. Davis Roberts plays the flower shop employee who takes the two dozen roses order. 

e. The group Goldfrapp wrote a song based on Laurel's character from the film and book. It is on their album Tales of Us and titled "Laurel" aptly. 

f. June Vincent is the actress in the convertible who stops Dix Steele on the way. I remember seeing her in several of the original Perry Mason TV series with Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. 

g. Another actor who was a frequent in the Perry Mason TV Series was Morris Ankrum who played the part of director Lloyd Barnes in the film (person on the left in the picture below). 

h. Jean Marie "Jeff" Donnell plays the part of Sylvia Nicolai, wife of Det. Sgt. Brub Nicolai. But I remember her from the 1946 film noir Night Editor, and also from a few episodes from Perry Mason TV show again.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When Dix and Mildred enter his apartment building through the gate, she is carrying only her purse. When they enter the courtyard you can see her holding the book under her arm and the purse as well.

b. When Charles is lifted from the floor of Dix's apartment, his jacket and tie are untidy, the top and middle button of the jacket are fastened. However in the long shot we see that his jacket and tie are completely neat, and only the top button is fastened.

c. Brub's wife's name is Sylvia in the movie. However in one conversation between Captain Lochner, Laurel and Brub, he quotes her name as "Robin"

d. Dix is going 70MPH in his open convertible, but neither Laure''s hair nor his move even a little.

e. After side-swiping the car when both the cars pullover and stop, we can clearly see that Dix's car's windows are down. But when the other car's driver comes to confront Dix, the window is up.


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