In a Lonely Place
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"I was born when she kissed me.
I died when she left me.
I lived a few weeks while she loved me."
As written by Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), the above dialogue is not only a summation of a brief romance in Steele's new screenplay but also the short, sad tale of his own roller coaster affair with Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), a neighbor in his apartment complex. The couple meet under unusual circumstances. Laurel provides an alibi for Dixon when he is suspected of murdering a restaurant hat-check girl he invited to his apartment for a script reading (Laurel witnessed the woman leaving the apartment alone). Convinced of his innocence, Laurel soon falls deeply in love with Dixon and the two embark on a passionate relationship. But Dixon's volatile, highly paranoid nature begins to emerge through a series of disturbing incidents; during one, he physically attacks a movie producer in a restaurant; in another, he almost beats a man to death in a case of road rage. In the end, Steele's self-destructive behavior condemns him to a private hell of his own making.
Long acknowledged as one of Nicholas Ray's greatest films, In a Lonely Place (1950) features what is probably Gloria Grahame's finest performance (she was married to Ray at the time) and shows us a side of Humphrey Bogart that was rarely exploited on the screen - a man at the boiling point, unable to contain any longer the suppressed rage of a lifetime. According to Goeff Andrew, the author of The Films of Nicholas Ray, "In a Lonely Place is both a product of the years in which it was made (the paranoia, distrust and treachery that colour its portrait of Hollywood are surely linked to the mood prevailing in the United States during the anti-Red witch hunts), and a characteristic Ray study of the destruction of an idealistic romance between lonely outsiders, by the harsh realities of the world around them." Sadly enough, Ray and Grahame were in the middle of a martial breakup when they were filming In a Lonely Place but kept their problems private for fear that the studio would replace Ray with another director. As a result, it's quite possible that Dixon and Laurel's troubled relationship in the film was merely a mirror of Ray and Grahame's off-screen problems and one reason why the couple's doomed romance has the painful ring of truth.
Produced by Santana, Bogart's own production company, In a Lonely Place was based on Dorothy B. Hughes' novel about a serial sex murderer that told the story from the killer's viewpoint. In 1949, however, the Breen Office (Hollywood's self-censoring arm) would never consent to a film version of Hughes' book without some major revisions so screenwriter Andrew Solt set the story in Hollywood, gave Dixon Steele the occupation of screenwriter (he was only posing as a writer in the novel) and avoided the depiction of any on-screen murders with one exception. Still, Ray made further changes to the script, completely revamping the ending.
In an article in The Velvet Light Trap, Ray said that In a Lonely Place was "a very personal film; the place in which it was filmed was the first place I lived in Hollywood. It was my second film with Bogart, and, as some people pointed out, it was the kind of film that made it possible for him to go into The African Queen . I took the gun out of his hand for the first time in Knock On Any Door , and he was more comfortable this time. The ending which Andrew Solt and I had written became one which I found I couldn't live with, but I had to shoot it. And I did exactly as we had written it, in which Bogart kills the girl, and, as he is writing on the typewriter the last few lines, his old pal from the Army comes in and arrests him and takes him to the police station. Well, if that's not wrapping it up with a nice pink ribbon, I don't know what is; and, as I came closer and closer to the end of it I said, 'Well, today is the day and I have to be ready.' And I kicked everyone off-stage except Bogart, Gloria Grahame, and Art Smith [he plays Dixon's agent]. Even the producer, and [Lauren] Bacall, who had come down to see Bogie work for Columbia for the first time since they were married. And we improvised the ending which is in the film - because romances and marriages always end tragically or with a family. A little avant-garde for its time..."
In a Lonely Place was well-received by most critics but was not a box office hit, though some studio executives at the time felt it might have been had Lauren Bacall been cast in the Gloria Grahame role. Of course, Ray's film is now lauded as a film noir masterpiece and a career highpoint for Bogart. As Robert Sklar wrote in City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield, "Bogart's performance as Dix Steele shares most of the characteristics of his classic performances except that the tie between the killer and the lover is laid bare, without the romanticism, the genre conventions, or the political ideology which underlay it in previous films....There are no moments for audiences to cheer as he pumps lead into a noxious villain - surely not when he extols the wonderful feeling of crushing a throat, or with his hands around one. In a Lonely Place is a radical demystification of the classic Bogart hero. The role of Dixon Steele is among the most interesting examples of a performer's critical reevaluation of his screen persona, and surely belongs on the list of Bogart's great performances."
Producer: Robert Lord
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Edmund H. North, Andrew Solt; based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Editing: Viola Lawrence
Music: George Antheil
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Dixon Steele), Gloria Grahame (Laurel Gray), Frank Lovejoy (Brub Nicolai), Carl Benton Reid (Capt. Lochner), Robert Warwick (Charlie Waterman), Art Smith (Mel Lippman), Jeff Donnell (Sylvia Nicolai).
by Jeff Stafford