In a Lonely Place (1950)
May 19, 2023 11:05 PM - Subscribe

A potentially violent screenwriter is a murder suspect until his lovely neighbor clears him. However, she soon starts to have her doubts.

Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and his neighbor Laurel (Gloria Grahame) are just getting to know each other romantically when the police begin questioning Dixon about his involvement in the murder of a girl he met once. Certain her new love interest is innocent, Laurel stands by Dixon, but as the police continue pressing him, Dixon begins to act increasingly erratically. The blossoming love affair suffers as Laurel begins to wonder if Dixon really might be a killer.

Ela Bittencourt: Bogart is perfect as Dixon, a man whose intelligence doesn’t belie his roughness. His blasé reception of the woman’s death shows a man whose profession as crime writer has habituated him to stories of violence, but is nevertheless troublingly dismissive, in a way that lingers in the mind. In the end, In a Lonely Place isn’t so much a straightforward thriller as it is a poignant psychological study of a person and a milieu, veiled as an atmospheric noir. Particularly in today’s context, the real tension comes from Dixon’s violent streak. His tendency to blow up, to dominate, to be suave but patronizing — all this is part of his DNA. It’s also part of the ecosystem, so much that, when suddenly doubting Dixon’s innocence, his agent says, “I’ll have to get you a lawyer, maybe get you into Mexico.” Here is then the willingness of one pal to cover up for another’s crime reflective of the larger network of favors that powerful men like Weinstein put in place.

Dixon’s tragedy cuts deep because, in some sense, it is of his own making. Equipped with intelligence and a genuine talent, he is nevertheless happy to play the part of a jaded bully, and to make slight of the offenses leveled at him; at least until he realizes that others truly do suspect he’s capable of a real crime. Could it be that he never noticed how they viewed him? Or was it convenient, perhaps even attractive, to play along? Now Dixon feels corned, partly by the reputation he has worked so hard to build, and so he lashes out.

Ian Thomas Malone: Bogart gives one of the best performances of his career, elevating the odious Dix into a figure of great intellectual depth. He’s a man past his prime, and not completely unaware of that reality. It is an especially frustrating variety of stubborn to wear one’s flaws so blatantly on one’s sleeve.

Grahame is every bit Bogart’s equal, adding a degree of tragedy to In a Lonely Place’s already bleak narrative. She’s able to walk right into the lion’s den, dance with the devil, and still elicit sympathy for having fallen into Dix’s web. It’s a beautiful performance that leaves the audience’s emotions drained by the end.

Moments in Hollywood are fleeting by nature. Plenty of narratives have consumed themselves with this stark reality. It’s a place where dreams go to die, even in success. The happiest of circumstances can produce tragedy.

The Lady Eve: Though he does offer jaded charm and dry wit, he is just barely sympathetic. Perhaps emphasis on the devotion of his friends was meant to cue the required amount of audience acceptance. And perhaps the mores of mid-century America allowed the brutish acts of a man otherwise labeled "good" to be tolerated.

By the last act of Nick Ray’s film Laurel has become convinced of Dix’s guilt and is terrified of him. As the murder investigation wears on Dix has grown more unpredictable and paranoid; when he discovers that Laurel has plans to slip away, he snaps. He very nearly does kill her - she is virtually saved by the bell, a ringing telephone that brings news of Dix's exoneration. The relationship has, of course, just been demolished. It's worth noting that Laurel's lament that had the call come a day earlier it would've "meant the world" to the two of them implies that their romance would've survived had Dix kept his abusive antics just short of attempted murder...

The back story on In a Lonely Place is that the film was originally going to end with Dix actually murdering Laurel in that scene. However, Ray, who was involved with the script (along with Andrew Solt), wasn't satisfied and made the change.

posted by Carillon (5 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's such an interesting movie. In some ways the interior shots and the investigation plot come across almost like the movie that Mulholland Drive ought to be. I remember being so wrung out the first time I saw this. It's tense, and the violence the bubbles up is just frightening.
posted by Carillon at 11:22 PM on May 19, 2023

At the start of this year I watched through a bunch of Bogeys in an attempt to expand my repertoire and this one stood out as the best, better than High Sierra's "ignore the cursed dog, he can't hurt you" and Dark Passage's "facial reconstruction takes 24 hours to heal, so have a cigarette".

Felt like The Player and LA Confidential, with Hollywood reduced to a place where everyone knows your face, your latest project, and has an opinion on your love life. The tension and ambiguity kept you guessing right up until the end - everyone playing fast and loose with secrets and truth. A truly thrilling thriller.
posted by Molesome at 12:30 AM on May 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

Read the book recently. Very creepy, as the original Dixon really is the murderer, and the novel illustrates how easy it was to prey on the weak and get away with it, at that time and place.
posted by Rash at 10:43 AM on May 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

Dorothy B. Hughes was a fantastic writer... the Expendable Man in particular is great, but make sure you read it before reading anything about it (including the foreword in the NYRB edition, which spoils it almost immediately). Ride the Pink Horse is also great.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:46 AM on May 21, 2023

The Smithereens wrote a song more or less based on this movie.
posted by Gelatin at 5:26 AM on May 22, 2023

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