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Bogart at his best is unnerving "In a Lonely Place"

  • Apr 28, 2012

"Vulnerable" is not a word I would have used to describe Humphrey Bogart's on-screen persona. At least not before I saw In a Lonely Place (1950).

Bogart plays unforgettably a Hollywood screenwriter who is haunted by his belief that he can write something great, although he hasn't yet. He wants to love and be loved, but he doesn't trust the women he's met, or perhaps he doesn't trust himself. He's got a temper, one that's gotten him into scrapes with the police several times over many years and that helps lead to his being a murder suspect.

Bogart's production company made the movie, directed by Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause) and written by Edmund H. North and Andrew P. Solt, who loosely adapted the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. Bogart could have insisted on always being made to look great. Instead, he sometimes appears to be almost ugly, as if his character's emotional turmoils are etched in lines and puffy patches on his face. Cinematographer Burnett Guffey often uses lights shining tightly on Bogart's features, heightening the feeling that his character barely has control. He looks like he remembers what it was like to have a firm grip on life and he knows that now he is holding on by a finger or two.

He meets a woman (Gloria Grahame) and for a while the two are well-matched. She inspires his creativity while he's working on a new screenplay. Her independence offsets his obvious but unspoken neediness. They fall in love and for most of the time she is in full command of his longings and hers.

That starts to slip away as she begins to suspect he might be capable of murder after all. She provided him with an alibi before they fell in love, but it's not an absolute one. Her having seen the victim leave his apartment alone doesn't mean that he couldn't have killed her later. As his occasional outbursts escalate, she begins to fear him.

Her fear of him makes him fear losing her. The ending breaks the heart because of all that has come before, especially the dynamic performances of the two stars. Bogart is nuanced and explosive in turns. Grahame matches him with her own complicated, deeply affecting portrayal. She won an Academy Award for her supporting role in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and she could have won another for her work here.

During her interview with the police, Grahame's character is charmingly forthright when she tells them, while Bogart is in the room, that she likes Bogart's face. Later, he moves in to kiss her. She stops him: "I said I liked it. I didn't say I want to kiss it." She does not move her head away, doesn't even flinch. Immediately he knows, and so does the audience, that she's confident about her control over men, and that she might change her mind about a kiss later. The moment impresses because, as she does throughout the movie, Grahame pulls it off with assured grace.

In a disturbing scene, Bogart steps efficiently into the role of director when he guides his friend and the friend's wife in a re-enactment of how the murder might have happened. His command of the situation is striking until his intensity pains. Bogart's character catches himself a little too late, and seems to recognize again something in himself that he has tried to control but cannot. Bogart signals that awareness and helplessness with indelible subtlety.

Neither Grahame nor Bogart appears to be working at all. Bogart especially seems to be letting loose dark forces in his personality. He's acting, but it's possible to be so mesmerized and unsettled that you forget that.

One could even call Bogart vulnerable, although probably not to his face.

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April 28, 2012
Very very cool review, Pater! I need to rewatch this movie one day. How have you been?
April 28, 2012
I'm well, thank you. And thanks for the very kind words. I think this one is worth seeing again, especially if you consider crafting your own review. Knowing the ending doesn't diminish the movie's power.
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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In a Lonely Place
Lobby card Directed by Nicholas Ray Produced by Robert Lord Written by Story:
Dorothy B. Hughes
Edmund H. North
Andrew Solt Starring Humphrey Bogart
Gloria Grahame
Frank Lovejoy Music by George Antheil Cinematography Burnett Guffey Editing by Viola Lawrence Distributed by Columbia Pictures Release date(s) May 17, 1950
(U.S.A.) Running time 94 minutes Country United States Language English

In a Lonely Place (1950) is a film noir directed by Nicholas Ray, and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, produced for Bogart's Santana Productions. The script was adapted by Edmund North from the 1947 novel In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes.[1]

Bogart stars in the film as Dixon Steele, a cynical screenwriter suspected of murder. Grahame co-stars as Laurel Gray, a neighbor who falls under his spell. Beyond its surface plot of confused identity and tormented lust, the film is a mordant comment on Hollywood mores and the pitfalls of celebrity and near-celebrity, in much the same vein as two other more widely-publicized American films released that same year, Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard and Joseph Mankiewicz's All About Eve.

Although not as well known as his other work, Bogart's performance in this film is considered by many critics to be among his finest and the film's reputation itself has grown over time along with Ray's. The film is now considered a classic film noir, as...

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