In a Lonely Place ( 1950) Nicholas Ray

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Nicholas Ray’s films were filled with anti-heroes. Characters who were disillusioned with life. Outsiders in a system they could not or would not fit into or accept. Protagonist Dix Steele fits the mole perfectly. For Humphrey Bogart, playing Dix, was a stretch. This was not the typical Bogart character we were used to seeing. Whether on the right or wrong side of the law, Bogart’s characters were generally calm, cool and in control (The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca). As Dix, we are watching the flip side. A man who is always on edge: cynical, moody and ready to explode at the slightest moment. As a screenwriter, like Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd., he knew where on the Hollywood pecking order he stood…way down at the bottom. He despised the Hollywood machine, considering most in the industry hacks or as he says, “popcorn salesmen.”

lonely3In a Lonely Place was based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. It was one of three of her novels that made it to the screen (the others were The Fallen Sparrow and Ride the Pink Horse). Bogart purchased the property for his Santana Productions. Much of the story changed in the transfer to the screen, most obviously, Bogart’s character. In the book, Dix is a wannabe crime writer, and more importantly, a psychotic woman-hating murderer. In the film, Dix is innocent of the murder he is accused.  The book was adapted by Edward H. North, but was heavily revised by screenwriter Andrew Solt. Nicholas Ray then greatly revised Solt’s script, as he was inclined to do with all his films, turning them more into his own personal vision, closer in this case, some say, toward his real life troubled relationship with wife, Gloria Grahame.

Ray and Bogart previously worked together on Knock on Any Door (1949), Santana Productions first film. Bogart was happy with the results. He wanted Ray for his new film. According to Vincent Curcio in his 1989 biography of Gloria Grahame, Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame, Ginger Rogers was the first choice for the role of Laurel Grey, however, a deal could not be worked out. Lauren Bacall was considered, but Warner Brothers, who she was under contract to, refused to lend her out to her husband’s company.  Ray began to push Grahame for the role. They were still married at the time, but it was a marriage on a slippery slope. Whatever the status of the relationship, Ray always respected Grahame’s talent and when the shooting began she was in the role.  It was a good move because, like Bogart, Grahame gives one of her most touching and moving performances. Their scenes together are hauntingly dark and soulful.

lonely2Dixon Steele is a screenwriter who hasn’t had much of a career since the war. His last film was flop. That and a potentially violent personality have not endeared him to the studios. On the plus side, he’s loyal to friends like the alcoholic over the hill actor, Charlie Waterman (Robert Warwick). He also has a great wit, dark at times, that make him good company. Some biographers have suggested Dix is a lot like the real Bogart and that is part of the reason he gave one of his finest performances. Like Bogart, Dix is callous, vicious and rude. He can also be charming, and is intelligent. Dix’s agent, Mel Lippmann (Art Smith), has been pushing him to adapt a novel he’s recommending, but the writer, even though he has not even read the book, considers it a piece of junk. One night, at a Hollywood restaurant, Mel manages to convince Dix to go home and read the book. However, Dix comes up with another idea. The hat check girl, Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart), has been raving about the book all evening. Dix invites Mildred to his place to verbally tell him the story. Upon their arrival at Dix’s apartment complex they run into Laurel Grey, a two bit B-actress, who just moved in next door. Dix eventually hears enough of the book’s story from Mildred, more than he wants to hear, and sends the girl on her way giving her cab fare.

The next day, Mildred’s dead body is found, and as it turns out, Dix is the last known person to have seen her alive. Laurel gives Dix the alibi he needs with the police. She saw him send the girl on her way…alone. A relationship between the writer and actress begins which sparks Dix creativity, and for the first time in a long time, he’s writing.

Everyone considers Dix a genius, but his pent up violence always has him on edge as well as those around him. Laurel becomes his lover, his typist and homemaker. She stabilizes him. At least, she tries. Dix’s penchant for outburst of anger continues though and starts to frighten her. There are two scenes that particularly stand out. In one, he attacks his ever dedicated agent after he discovers the screenplay he was working on was submitted to the studio. It was Laurel who pushed Mel to take it, but the dedicated agent takes the blame. Even though the studio likes the screenplay and wants to produce it, Mel’s reward is Dix hitting him, breaking his glasses in the process. A second incident happens when Dix and Laurel are riding down a highway. Dix is speeding wildly almost causing an accident with another driver. When both cars pull to a stop, the young driver in the other car yells at Dix who in a rage uncontrollably beats the guy to a pulp. Only Laurel’s cries for him to stop shake him out of his violent trance.

lonely1Laurel’s doubts about her relationship increase and so does her thoughts about his innocence in the murder of Mildred. Dix wants to marry her, but she needs to get away from him for a while. She secretly makes arrangements to go to New York. When Dix finds out about her plans, he tosses her on the bed and begins to choke her, only releasing his grip when the phone suddenly rings.

It’s the police.

They caught the real killer. “Yesterday, this would have meant so much to us,” she tells the police. “Now, it doesn’t matter.” The damage to their relationship is done. As Dix walks dejectedly away. Laurel tearfully says, “I lived a few weeks while you loved me. Goodbye, Dix.”

In a memorable twist of an ending, In a Lonely Place delivers a dark story on multiple levels; on the surface a crime story set in the background of Hollywood. At a deeper level, it’s a film that negotiates a path into dangerous places about self-destruction, obsession and a doomed, gut wrenching, tragic yet poignant romance.

This post is part of the CMBA Hollywood on Hollywood Blogathon. For more great post in this series please click on the link below.

http://clamba.blogspot.com/2016/09/coming-soon-hollywood-on-hollywood-cmba.html

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29 comments on “In a Lonely Place ( 1950) Nicholas Ray

  1. Such a great movie! Excellent review, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Lady Eve says:

    I saw “In a Lonely Place” at Noir City San Francisco earlier this year. Hadn’t seen it on the big screen before and what I remember most is the power of Gloria Grahame’s screen presence. She seemed to me to steal the film. Great review, John. This is one I wish would be remade and follow the book more closely.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reading your wonderful review, John, reminded me of a post I wrote awhile back on In A Lonely Place. In case, you want to have a look at it :

    https://carolbalawyder.com/2014/06/16/femme-fatale-laurel-gray/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent review. I am a long time Bogart avoider and only recently caught up with this film. It is terrific – as is your excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very insightful. The movie is glorious and yet troubling to watch. Who knows where it will take us?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jocelyn says:

    I got to see this film on the big screen recently, and it is one of my favorites. It seems very real, and the emotions that it explores are visceral. I do think it was up there with Bogart’s best. He and Grahame worked extremely well together in this – she was the right choice. It is a bit unnerving to thing Bogart was anything like Steele. I appreciated the movie’s history you provided, as I didn’t realize Bogart had such a role in getting it made.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      I would love to see this on the big screen. I agree the film is up there with Bogart’s best films. Indeed one of those films you can watch over and over and discover new elements each time.

      Like

  7. Great read! I happened across an account from Louise Brooks that detailed the similarities between Bogart and the character of Dix Steele. A chilling thought no doubt, but it certainly made for a stunning picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      “Stunning” is a great word to describe this film. I never knew for sure but somehow I always suspected Bogie had a rough exterior. Thanks!

      Like

  8. This is my fave line from the film: “I lived a few weeks while you loved me.” It says so much, no?

    It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this film, but your essay has made it seem like I just finished re-watching it. This is a dark film on many levels, like you said, with incredible casting and directing and script, etc. etc.

    Thanks for sharing all the background info on the production. I will keep these things in mind the next time I see this terrific film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      The film is definitely a walk on the dark side. Bogart’s Dix is a man on the edge and you never know when he is going to fall off. Grahame also gives a powerfully emotional performance.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A great review of one of the great noirs. As much as I love Lauren Bacall, she was all wrong for the part. Grahame is outstanding in what I think was her best film role. The Grahame bio you mentioned looks really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. John Greco says:

    Amanda, I tend to agree with you on Bacall. Grahame evokes such a vulnerable portrayal that I don’t think Bacall would have managed as well. The Grahame bio is an interesting read.

    Like

  11. Aurora says:

    Terrific commentary, John. This is one of Bogart’s best performances in my opinion and he and Grahame are great together. Each brings enough darkness to the roles that others may not have been able to. Enjoyed the background information as well.

    Aurora

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Aurora, Definitely, Bogie and Grahame make for a really dark noir couple. The film is a noir treat from beginning to end.

      Like

  12. Danny says:

    I haven’t seen this in forever, but that line (you know which one) has stuck with me. Thanks for the write-up, John!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. classicfilmtvcafe says:

    Another film review, John! Gloria dominates this film for me and I think it’s one of her best performances.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I haven’t seen this in forever. This is one of Bogart’s best performances in my opinion and he and Grahame are great together. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  15. Alex says:

    Great article. Really thorough and interesting. These kinds of behind the scenes information, film history details, and stories are priceless. What a great era for film.

    Liked by 1 person

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