Friday, August 03, 2007

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Editor's note: The following is from Barry Gifford's book, Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir.I asked Mr. Gifford if he'd like to add anything to introduce his piece on In a Lonely Place. He simply replied, "Nobody comes out of this one unscathed, nobody looks good in the end, thereby making it a perfect noir."

By Barry Gifford

This is an important movie in many ways. As a Hollywood story it rivals Horace McCoy's novel, I Should Have Stayed at Homefor pure L.A. angst. That book, by the way, is probably the best Hollywood dream-factory novel ever written, better than West's Day of the Locust, or certainly Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon; and different and more honest than Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? A shame it's out of print. (editor's note: It's back in print) Anyhow, Nick Ray's ability to present case histories of men and women unable to integrate themselves or remain sane in so-called civilized society is non pareil, and In a Lonely Place is a masterful study of man's inhumanity to himself, among others.

Bogart plays a screenwriter who hasn't had a hit movie for a few years, largely because he refuses to work on projects he has no feel for. He doesn't respect the producers who beg him for scripts, but he has a faithful agent, played with great sincerity by Art Smith, who keeps after him to work on a movie. Bogey's problem is that he can be a mean drunk even when he's not drinking; he has a violent temper, a raging superiority complex, and is basically a misanthrope. He often doesn't answer the phone when it rings, sleeps late, gets into fights frequently: an adult problem child with talent not unlike James Dean's Jim Stark character as shaped by Ray in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause. Bogey is lonely on purpose, but he craves female companionship, and does have real sympathy and affection for the old alcoholic actor played by Robert Warwick, for whom Bogey is always a soft touch. But other than his agent and the washed-up “thespian,” as he calls Warwick, Bogey has no friends. One other exception is his old army pal, Frank Lovejoy, who's now a cop on the Beverly Hills force. When a hatcheck girl Bogey's taken home but dismissed early turns up dead, Bogey is murder suspect number one, but Lovejoy defends him to his captain, insisting that Bogey couldn't have killed her.

Enter Gloria Grahame, a neighbor of Bogey's who's had her eye on him. “I like his face,” she tells the police captain as she relates how she saw the girl leave Bogey's apartment alone. Bogey seems in the clear on the murder, but the captain is disturbed by Bogey's record of violent outbursts, frequent arrests for assault, and disturbing the peace; he thinks Bogey did it despite what Lovejoy says. Grahame and Bogey fall in love and he begins working on a new script, staying at it day and night and seeming to come out of his prolonged malaise. He's not drinking or fighting for a while and asks Grahame to marry him. But following an irrational show of temper and assault of a college kid over a minor traffic accident (that was Bogey's fault, though he won't admit it) Grahame gets scared; she thinks that maybe Bogey did murder the hatcheck girl after all. Of course she can't confront him with this fear because she thinks he might turn on her; and, of course, that happens anyway. It turns out that he's innocent, that the girl's milquetoast boyfriend murdered her in a jealous rage, but it's too late now for Bogey and Grahame. When he finds her about to skip town on him on the day of their engagement, he flies into a blind fit and starts strangling her. Bogey's brought out of it by the telephone call from cops clearing him, but he's blown the scene with Gloria. His script is a success, he's back on top professionally, but his life is shot. Grahame gave him something to really live for and now that the opportunity is shattered Bogey is absolutely, irrevocably alone, without much chance that he'll even try for any kind of happiness again.

And that's how the movie ends, on as down a note as possible, except that at least Bogey is innocent of the killing. Visually the movie is often shakily angled (Burnett Guffey was the director of photography), and the road shots are calculated to give the viewer the sensation that he is in the madly careening automobile. Everything is directed toward a feeling of hopelessness; even the friendliness exhibited toward Bogey by Bogey's agent, by Lovejoy and his wife Jeff Donnell, by the restaurant owner Paul, is made pathetic by his intransigence. If ever there were a case of someone being his own worst enemy, this is it, and Nick Ray captured it perfectly. The dialogue is waspish and witty, and Gloria Grahame has perhaps her best role - at least she's not the cheap slut she was usually cast as - and Bogey's disturbed screenwriter presages his Captain Queeg performance. He had a way of frowning that was almost comic, an expression more of confusion than distaste.

This is an unsensationally depicted indictment of Hollywood, in sharp contrast to, say, Robert Aldrich's more hysterical treatment (The Big Knife, 1955). It's very ugly, really. Bogey's “likable” face gets plenty unlikeable in a hurry.



  1. Thanks Steve-O for arranging this post. A valuable article from Barry Gifford, on an atypical noir, where the psyche of a "creative" outsider is explored. I prefer it to Sunset Blvd.

    Though I do take issue with aspects of this comment: "Gloria Grahame has perhaps her best role - at least she's not the cheap slut she was usually cast as..."

    Firstly to describe any even a fictitious female character as a "cheap slut" is offensive. A character may be immoral, but do we really need to describe her in those terms? Secondly, I can think immediately of two other roles, where Grahame's character is equally complex and filled with an essential integrity: early in her career in Crossfire (1947) and later in The Big Heat (1953).

  2. As far as the GG comment, in Crossfire she was a cheap dime-a-dance girl and in The Big Heat she wasn't exactly a Sunday school teacher - hooking up with a mobster so she could keep herself in furs; and not doing a good turn until her face gets burned. So I think that's the point he was trying to make...

    Here's a couple of interesting downloads for In a Lonely Place:

    The theme can be found here:

    and a radio version (not nearly as good as the film) with Robert Montgomery in the lead can be downloaded here.

  3. Is it just me (with my modern day approach), or does this film take an almost forgiving approach to domestic violence? I somehow got the feeling that the Grahame character was expected to stick by Bogart, rather than break away, once his violence became clear.

  4. Is it just me (with my modern day approach), or does this film take an almost forgiving approach to domestic violence?

    Oh, God, NO! Those who have seen Nicholas Ray's body of work (which includes Rebel Without a Cause) know that this man had immense sympathy for outsiders who were often violent, always troubled, perhaps because Ray was one himself. Ray never claimed to have the answers, though his films often alluded to the fact that his heroes' troubles came from their environment--Dix has spent one night too many in Hollywood, though in the end of this existential love story, his violence comes from within. There's no one to blame but himself, and he finally realizes it at the moment when he loses Laurel. While Ray refuses to punish Dix for his violence, he also realizes that the man is his own worst enemy and his downfall is his own undoing.

  5. Thanks for the comment.. I guess I have been hanging out too much with post modern types or something.

    I'll certainly be on the lookout for the rest of Ray's films.

    Great blog, by the way.