In A Lonely Place (1950)

lonely22016.96: In A Lonely Place (Blu-ray)

One of the pleasures  of being a film-fan is discovering old films that you haven’t seen before and simply falling in love with them. Its like they’ve been waiting all those years just for you. In the case of Nicholas Ray’s film noir masterpiece In A Lonely Place it’s been 66 long years- it’s in like those movies where a character asks “where have you been all these years?”, it seems incredible that this film has been out there and I’d been ignorant of it. Thanks to Criterion’s recent Blu-ray release of this classic noir, and subsequent rave reviews that got my attention, I’ve finally fallen under its spell.

(Its the ‘magic’ of disc releases of catalogue titles; many of them don’t seem to appear on tv anymore and its only through these releases, like so many by Warner Archive and Arrow Films, Eureka etc., that these older films get my attention. It’d be such a shame if disc releases get replaced by streaming and downloads, as I’m sure these older films will suffer. You can’t rely on late-night television screenings anymore (they just don’t seem to happen these days)).

lonely3The genius of In A Lonely Place is that while its film noir, its really a story of a doomed romance, a tragic love story. Humphrey Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a washed-up screenwriter with a vicious temper. He becomes the prime suspect in a Hollywood murder, and his alibi proves to be his seductive, beautiful new neighbour  Laurel (Gloria Grahame). The two of them are lonely, broken souls and they start a passionate affair while the police continue to try to pin the murder on Steele. As the film continues, the romance is clearly good for Steele- he gets back to writing again, and gets a whole new zest for life, but Laurel’s happiness starts to unravel as she begins to witness Steel’s temper and his hair-trigger for violence. Doubts start to form in her mind -and in the audience- regards Steel’s innocence. Are the police right after all?

Its all very dark and complex, with elements that would later surface in Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo a few years later. Indeed it very much feels like a film noir Vertigo, and in some ways In A Lonely Place seems actually superior to that classic, concluding with a similar dark and tragic inevitability. Of course, as Vertigo is one of my very favourite ‘Top Ten’ movies, it’s inevitable that I would fall in love with this noir masterpiece that shares so many of that film’s themes.

lonely1Bogart delivers a brilliant, complex and subtle performance, displaying both a vulnerability and a simmering darkness. Grahame is equal to Bogart with a sultry swagger that slowly becomes something more tender and then fragile. Both are phenomenal, both are perfect- its one of those films where you cannot possibly imagine any other actor inhabiting the roles they take. Bogart is not an actor I ever had much interest in when growing up; other than his early  gangster roles I was pretty much ignorant of his films- I only finally caught up with Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon this year. I think I’ve been missing out on something. I think thats something I will have to rectify.

In anycase, In A Lonely Place may be 66 years old, but its one of the very best films that I have seen all year. Its one of those films that lingers in your head for days- “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” Dialogue and sentiments like that, in tragedies like this, it’s pure Hollywood magic. If  you are as ignorant of this film as I was a little while ago, really, this film is not to be missed. Its simply brilliant, and I can hardly wait to watch it, live it, all over again.

3 thoughts on “In A Lonely Place (1950)

  1. A marvelous film and I always enjoy hearing about anyone making a discovery like this, almost as much as I enjoy making the discovery myself. Time was, as you say, you could rely on seeing such films on late night TV on at least a semi-regular basis – not so now, and I agree that’s a real shame.

    The movie is a dark romance as well as noir, but I find a goodish number of noir films are in fact darkly romantic pieces. Bogart is extremely good in his role but Gloria Grahame’s performance must surely have helped and inspired him too. She was a fantastic actress and you know you’ll get to see something good any time her name appears in the credits.

    As for Bogart, it sounds like you have lots of interesting stuff still to explore – enjoy. The four movies he made with Bacall ware all fine as is Dead Reckoning and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Start with those and see how you go then.

    1. Thanks for the recomendations Colin, I’ll certainly give them a look. This was such a lovely film, I thought Casablanca would take some beating but Bogart proved me wrong- both films show a vulnerable side to him but this noir just takes it further. This film really blew me away. Magnificent.

      Makes me wonder how many great ‘old’ films are out there for me to discover.

      1. The great thing about cinema is there’s always so much to explore – new, old, whatever.
        If I might, I’d also suggest digging deeper into Nicholas Ray’s work. I don’t know how much of it you’re familiar with but there are some really excellent films to be seen. I’d avoid his other picture with Bogart – Knock On Any Door for a while as it’s more preachy and less emotionally satisfying. On Dangerous Ground is a must see, as is Bigger Than Life. And I strongly recommend The Lusty Men – it isn’t as well-known as some others but it’s a really good piece of filmmaking.

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