In A Lonely Place
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Jeff Donnell, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Carl Benton Reid, Art Smith, Martha Stewart, Robert Warwick
Deteriorating from the inside-out are the rotten inner demons of Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele. Along with that is the man’s inability to create a workable script for directors; he’s on a cold streak of late and his rigid attitude has a lot to do with that. But topping both of these soul-eating disparities is the fact that Steele’s cold world is made possible by the lack of any love interest in his life. All of these bleak assets enunciate his tragedy of being present in a lonely place. The only thing with him in this lonely place is his anger that he can’t govern.
Humphrey Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a great name for a character, and it is a different role that we have come to associate with Bogart. Here is a role that has the traits of two of his more famous characters; the ruthless Fred C. Dobbs in, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and the cool-as-a-cucumber Rick Blaine from, Casablanca. With In A Lonely Place, Bogart has the effortless aptitude to play both a man we sympathize with, and a man we wouldn’t care if he were to be thrown to a den of starving lions. It’s one of Bogart’s prime, unflinching acting roles.
He’s portrayed obviously as a man we want to hate. He’s worn-out, pretty much in an ugly kind of way and his skin sags to the point that he represents a wax statue on the verge of melting. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that Steele can be the devil’s offspring in ways of what Steele lacks in his life: watch the sinister glint i n his eyes when describing to a police officer and his wife a pitch-perfect way to murder someone. There is a shadow that only punctuates his face, a face of a sadistic man, making what he is saying even more uncomfortable. It is truly eerie stuff. Almost like the stuff dreams are made off.
This is exactly what director Nicholas Ray sets out to do. In A Lonely Place (1950) is a multi-layered character study. Steele delivers scenes like that, not to that extremity though, every so often in the film and when he’s questioned as being a suspect of a murder we realize that he has the potential to actually go on with a heinous act like murder. Enter the loveable Bogart that we have come to love; swooning the ladies with dinner on the beach and wooing them with jewelry and wise cracks. This performance by him is difficult because Ray wants to convey to the audience that Bogart’s Steele has the drive and emotional angst that can deliver a murder, but also to inform us that he has the innocence of the ‘everyman.’ Ray injects into the story moments of erratic behavior that only makes the story more compelling and thoughtful.
Reluctantly, amidst all of this, Bogart still manages to cast an erotic spell on a young woman. He can look old, ugly and tired, but the one main essence that will cancel out all those indecencies is his presence; the way he carries and presents himself. Laurel Grey (Gloria Grahame) is his neighbor, the B-movie actress who falls for him thanks to a chance meeting, loves him, is afraid of him and loves him again; “I love your face,” she tells him, “but I never said I wanted to kiss it.”
While this movie sold itself as a noir film, Ray only uses that as a precursor to what really matters. Steele brings home with him a hatcheck girl from a restaurant one night in hope that she’ll recite to him the main outlines of a book she loves and just finished reading. It is the same book in which he has agreed upon to adapt for a motion picture. Throughout the film all of his people, from his agent, to producer, to the film’s director, tell him to “Keep true to the book,” and, “A faithful adaptation will do just fine.”
Ray for sure doesn’t abide by the typical rules that come along with a noir film. Instead of forging an all out ‘whodunit’ picture he goes for what really matters and that is how the accusations impact the movie’s key characters. The way Steele has to deal with police officers always nagging him as their prime suspect and eventually calling his lover, Laura in for a secret questioning. What Ray is curious about is how these two people are going to be able to get through with all of this and if Laura is going to suspect that Steele is the prime suspect?
More so with this film than his previous ones, Ray would construct a central character lost in translation. A character, which especially a few years later in 1955s Rebel Without A Cause, would be a prime role model for even today’s films. It is the character who functions rabidly with people and can’t quite be held down. Alienation is what Dixon Steele has and it is that which will follow him to his grave.