In A Lonely Place – A Bogart Treasure Hidden Among So Many Others

I’ve long loved the films of Humphrey Bogart. His breakout role in The Petrified Forest. Some of his lesser appreciated films like Sabrina, The Barefoot Contessa, The Harder They Fall and Beat The Devil. The middling classics like The Caine Mutiny, Angels With Dirty Faces, To Have and Have Not and Key Largo. And of course the bona fide masterpieces like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, The Big Sleep and my all-time favorite film Casablanca. For a Hollywood career that was actually fairly short due to his early demise from cancer (he was only 57), Humphrey Bogart is truly one of the brightest stars to ever light the silver screen.

Gloria Grahame was given the role of Laurel Gray over Bogart’s objections as he was keen to play opposite Lauren Bacall once again. But the casting of Grahame proved to be beneficial as she gave the role of Laurel the perfect intersection of the good/bad girl in In A Lonely Place.

So it was in 1950 that Bogart’s own production company (named Santana after his beloved yacht) purchased the rights to the popular novel by Dorothy B. Hughes entitled In A Lonely Place. The book told the story of a serial murderer from his own point-of-view. Today that may seem like old hat however at the time it was quite original. But screenwriter Andrew Solt had other ideas. He adapted the film to be set in Hollywood and created the character of Dixon Steele as a one-time successful screenwriter with a drinking problem and a temper to match. What better movie star to portray the cynical Steele than the man known for his temper all over Los Angeles? It was decided that Bogey would be perfect in the part.

But the greatest stroke of genius came in the form of hiring the director of the film. Bogart had worked the year before with Nicholas Ray on a moderately successful picture entitled Knock On Any Door and now the two had an easy rapport that they would bring to the set of In A Lonely Place. Mr. Ray is known of course for a few pretty good films including Rebel Without A Cause. And at the time he was married to actress Gloria Grahame, she of successful films like It’s A Wonderful Life, The Greatest Show On Earth and as an Oscar winner for The Bad and the Beautiful. Over Bogart’s objections (He wanted Lauren Bacall of course) Ms. Graham was cast in the female lead. Sadly their marriage was on the rocks and would actually end during production, but they worked well together in public and her performance in In a Lonely Place is now possibly Ms. Grahame’s best remembered of her career.

In A Lonely Place wasn’t overly successful at the 1950 Box Office in a year that many consider to be one of Hollywood’s absolute best. That season also included All About Eve, Born Yesterday, Sunset Boulevard and Father of the Bride among many other notable films.

Easy chemistry. That’s what characters Dixon Steele and Laurel Gray possess right from their first meeting. There is an unspoken attraction between the two characters that flowers into a relationship in the most unusual of circumstances. You see, Mr. Steele is accused of murder. And Ms. Gray, who lives in an apartment across from his is called to the police station to give her view of what she saw the night the murder took place. Her eyewitness account gives Mr. Steele an alibi and the two are obviously intrigued with one another once the police let him go. In fact, it blooms into full on romance as we see the two characters fall for each other, and for the first time we see Dixon Steele emerge from his cynical shell. He falls for Laurel as much as she falls for him. He’s writing again and the two even attend social gatherings together. But what of that murder accusation? And the flares of temper that Laurel sees in Dix usually when he drinks? Slowly Ms. Gray begins to suspect that Dixon Steele isn’t the man she thought she was falling in love with.

Director Nicholas Ray was famous in his films for taking a picturesque romance between two lonely people and spoiling it for them with the influences of the world over which they have little control. On the surface Dix may seem successful as he has clearly amassed some wealth from his previous work. But the Dixon Steele we are presented with has become an outsider from that successful world. He is lonely, bitter, cynical and at times cruel. Laurel’s influence has enough of an effect on him that we see Dix begin to emerge from this shell, but the effect is fleeting and at the end we’re right back where we were at the beginning.

Humphrey Bogart was a master at playing the hard-bitten, disaffected outsider and in In A Lonely Place he plumbed those depths to haunting effect. Among his many performances, his turn as Dixon Steele is as unforgettable as any for which he is famous.

Film Noir is a movie genre that encompasses a very specific style of picture. It was first defined by French movie critics following World War II relating to certain American films of the era. A movie that is Film Noir possesses distinct details including a cyncial hero, stark lighting, heavy use of flashbacks and extremely intricate plots. Some notable movies that fall into the Noir category include Touch of Evil, Sweet Smell of Success, The Asphalt Jungle and Double Indemnity. Considering these criteria, In A Lonely Place falls firmly into the category of Film Noir and the genre is all the better for its inclusion. In fact, though there are many very laudable pictures of the genre, I believe In A Lonely Place to be the finest example of Film Noir ever made.

Is the movie a downer? Well, sure, I suppose. From the aspect of its story I will admit that no one will walk out of In A Lonely Place with a greater spring in their step. The hero is flawed, the painful moments are excruciating the ending is heartbreaking. So from that point-of-view I’ll agree it’s a downer. But with this article I am seeking to venerate the film making – and from that perspective what a magnificent film it is.

Gloria Grahame and director Nicholas Ray were married when filming on In A Lonely Place began, but their marriage was on the rocks and during filming they separated. They kept this fact hidden however for fear of being fired from the movie with Ray literally living on the set during filming.

Additionally, I can’t leave off praise for the film without highlighting this gorgeous line of dialogue that weaves itself throughout the movie –

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me”.

Where it fits and how its meaning evolves in the story is something I’ll leave for you to discover when you see the film for yourself.

But to conclude, I’ll say that no fair analysis of In A Lonely Place can be offered without talking about the final, haunting scene. Throughout the shooting process the script called for Bogart’s Dixon Steele to discover that Grahame’s Laurel Gray was plotting to leave him. This final, fatal discovery would send Dix into a fit of rage that would lead him to murder her. But as they approached the filming of the scene, Director Ray wasn’t happy with that conclusion. He felt is wasn’t an honest way for the characters to reach the end of their story. So he cleared the set of all but Bogart, Grahame, the Director of Photography and himself and they literally improvised the ending. And THAT is the scene that ends up in the movie, complete with one of the all-time great last lines in a film. In my opinion, far more compelling than the original script called for and the reason the movie resonates so deeply for so many.

Of the many superb lines from the screenplay of the film, one stands out as unforgettable.

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me”.

So in the final analysis, is In A Lonely Place worth your time? I submit to you that if you are a true lover of cinema that this is a movie that is not to be missed. This is the ultimate Film Noir picture featuring a scintillating performance from Bogart, a heartbreaking and understated portrayal from Gloria Grahame and one of acclaimed director Nicholas Ray’s finest films. You may not walk away whistling a happy tune, but you’ll have gained a greater appreciation for movies made by people at the top of their game.

⭐ For more information on where to Buy, Rent, or Stream In A Lonely Place, click here for the In A Lonely Place JustWatch page.

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