Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In a Lonely Place



Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place is the story of a screenwriter who is accused of murder as a neighbor helps him as they fall in love and try to solve the murder he’s accused of. Directed by Nicholas Ray with an adapted script by Edmund H. North and Andrew Solt, the film is a noir-style mystery filled with intrigue as it’s considered to be one of the great noir films of the early 1950s. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Martha Stewart, Art Smith, and Carl Benton Reid. In a Lonely Place is a chilling yet exhilarating film noir drama from Nicholas Ray.

With a career in trouble and depending on booze, Dixon “Dix” Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is at a restaurant where he meets his agent Mel Lippman (Art Smith) and a boozy actor named Charlie (Robert Warwick). Lippman has news about a film project where Steele needs to adapt a book and to turn it into a script though Steele isn’t sure about the idea. When a hat-check girl named Mildred Atkinson reveals that she’s read the book, Steele asks for her help as he invites her to his apartment home as she tells him about the book. Realizing what the premise is, he gives her cab fare so she can come home until a detective named Brub Nicholai (Frank Lovejoy), who knew Steele back in World War II, asks him to come to the police station revealing that Atkinson got killed.

With Nicholai’s supervisor Captain Lochner (Carl Benton Reid) believing that Steele killed Atkinson due to his background over his erratic, violent behavior, Steele becomes a suspect as he says he didn’t kill her. Then a woman named Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), a neighbor of Steele, reveals that Steele didn’t do anything as she saw him walk Atkinson out of his door as she walked out of the building alone. Steele is let go though Lochner remains suspicious as he asks Nicholai to watch over him as Steele and Gray become friends as she helps him type up his script. After meeting Lippman and Charlie, Gray becomes part of the team though Steele remains uneasy as a dinner with Nicholai and his wife (Jeff Donnell) was an uncomfortable experience. With Gray becoming more aware of Steele’s troubled behavior including a few violent outbursts, things start to become uncomfortable for everyone.

After being pursued by Lochner to know more about Steele, Gray is disturbed by his behavior following a dinner with the Nicholai and his wife. When things seem to calm down, Gray remains uncomfortable around Steele when he asks her to marry him. She suddenly realizes he isn’t normal as she starts to wonder whether or not he killed Atkinson while figuring out if he will kill her.

The film is about a troubled screenwriter who is accused of murder only to be saved by his neighbor who is a failed actress that falls for him. With the police on his back and the pressure to finish a screenplay based on a book that he hates. Dix Steele starts to become unhinged though the only thing that’s grounded him is the presence of Laurel who would become his collaborator as they eventually fall in love. The story progresses once love is in the air as is Steele’s erratic behavior starts to eat at him where at one point, he beats up a young driver. It’s the moment that Laurel starts to fear him as she wonders when he is going to really do something as there is a dark element to Steele from the way he describes what the killer might’ve done to Atkinson.

The script is an intriguing study about a man down on his luck as the project that would save his career only adds to his dislike towards the world and to his own troubled behavior. The film’s title refers to Steele’s own sense of isolation as well as the fact that he’s not an easy man to deal preferring to live alone despite interacting with people for work and social gatherings. When a woman like Gray gets close to him, he starts to feel comfortable except for the thing such as the police investigating him and the demands to finish a script would only undo him.

The direction of Nicholas Ray is truly startling from the way he composes some of the suspense scenes to how relaxed he lets some of the lighter moments of the film play out. For some of the darker moments, Ray maintains a stillness with the camera and framing to set the mood of what could be happening or what Steele is saying about what might’ve happened. There is also a heightened style to Ray’s direction from the driving scenes to the tense scenes at the police station. Ray is always engaged by what is happening as the overall work he brings is phenomenal.

Cinematographer Burnett Guffey does some excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography with some wonderful shadings to enhance the noir tone of the film including the use of heightened lights for some of the intense moments of the film. Editor Viola Lawrence does a very good job with the editing as it’s presented mostly straightforward with the use of dissolves and fade-outs for the transitions. Art director Robert Peterson and set decorator William Kiernan do great work with the look of the apartments that Steele and Gray live in along with the restaurant, clubs, and police stations they encounter.

Costume designer Jean Louis does a fantastic work with the gowns created for the film including the black sheer gown that Gray wears to a gathering as well as the other dresses for the women in the film. Sound engineer Howard Fogetti, with Ellis Burman for the sound restoration, does some fine work with the sound from the tire squeals to the location work to create a dark mood for the film. The film’s score by George Antheil is brilliant for its thrilling arrangements to enhance the sense of dread as well as somber pieces for the melodramatic moments of the film.

The cast includes some notable appearances from Hadda Brooks as lounge singer, Steven Geray as a head waiter at the restaurant Dix frequents at, Robert Warwick as Steele’s boozy thespian friend Charlie, Jeff Donnell as Nicholai’s wife Sylvia, and Martha Stewart (not the famed TV personality) as the ill-fated though charming Mildred Atkinson. Other notable roles include Art Smith as the loyal but worried agent Mel Lippman, Carl Benton Reid as the suspicious Captain Lochner, and Frank Lovejoy as the open-minded but friendly Brub Nicholai. Gloria Grahame is superb as Laurel Gray, a failed B-movie actress who helps Steele by becoming his alibi and help him write his script only to be troubled by his erratic behavior. Finally, there’s Humphrey Bogart in a magnificent performance as the troubled Dix Steele. Bogart’s vulnerability is key to what makes this performance as one of his best from the way he acts crazy in the way he describes things or how he reacts to something. It’s a very complex and powerful performance from the actor who also has great chemistry with Grahame in what is a chilling performance.

In a Lonely Place is an eerie yet engrossing noir-drama from Nicholas Ray featuring brilliant performances from Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. For anyone that is interested in the world of film noir, this film is a good place to start as well as a good introduction to the works of Nicholas Ray. For fans of Humphrey Bogart, this is definitely one of his essential films as it features what is truly a performance for the ages. In the end, In a Lonely Place is a haunting yet captivating film from Nicholas Ray.

Nicholas Ray Films: (They Live By Night) - (Knock on Any Door) - (A Woman's Secret) - (Born to Be Bad) - (Flying Leathernecks) - (On Dangerous Ground) - (The Lusty Men) - Johnny Guitar - (Run for Cover) - (Rebel Without a Cause) - (Hot Blood) - (Bigger Than Life) - (The True Story of Jesse James) - (Bitter Victory) - (Wind Across the Everglades) - (Party Girl) - (The Savage Innocents) - (King of Kings) - (55 Days at Peking) - (We Can't Go Home Again) - (Lightning Over Water)

© thevoid99 2011

2 comments:

blahblahblah Toby said...

i saw this a few years ago (and am very much looking forward to seeing it again as part of the noir-a-thon) and the two major things that struck me about the film were initially Bogarts performance as you mentioned; you very rarely saw him as black hat bad after Maltese Falcon but more shades of grey but in this he slowly becomes a nasty piece of work and the subtle change in perspectives part way through. You think you're watching a movie about Dix but then it switches to be about a woman in peril/fear for her life. To me it was all the more powerful for that reason.

thevoid99 said...

That's one of the things I enjoyed about the film was its complexity. There is a man filled with a lot of ambiguity but also someone who still hasn't really dealt with whatever demons he has. The ending of that film was very sad which is quite surprising considering that a lot of films of that time had happy endings. Thanks for the read.