Title: In a Lonely Place
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Director: Nicholas Ray
Edmund H. North
Dorothy B. Hughes
Music: George Antheil
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Carl Benton Reid
A Humphrey Bogart headlined suspense drama, directed by Nicholas Ray, his fourth feature, also co-starring Ray’s then wife Gloria Grahame, IN A LONELY PLACE has enjoyed a steady augmentation of accolades through the years, Bogart’s performance is praised as one of his finest, as Dixon Steele, a Hollywood screenwriter with a propensity for violence, who becomes a major suspect of the murder of Mildred Atkinson (Stewart), a hat-check girl whom he had brought home to read him the story of a book, which he has been required to adapt.
A key witness is Dixon’s new neighbour, Laurel Gray (Grahame), a young lady just gets out of an unfruitful relationship, who attests that Mildred left Dixon’s place alone and unharmed. A mutual attraction burgeons rapidly between Laurel and Dixon, and Mel Lippman (Smith), Dixon’s long-time agent, gladly finds Dixon is back on track in his works while nurtured by the new romance. But still, the murderer is at large, and Dixon’s history of violence starts to take a heavy toll on Laurel, upset by Dixon’s escalating outrageous behaviours to either strangers or those who are around him, Laurel begins to question his innocence and develops a deep fear for him, she decides to run away, but, will Dixon let her off the hook so easily and a more crucial question, who is the heartless killer?
With the foreground of a plot about murder and the introduction of Laurel as an alluring pseudo-femme fatale, viewers might expect that the picture would be a taut whodunit or a scheming film-noir, however, the film actually dodges them both, Dixon has no motive to conduct the crime at the first place, although Captain Lochner (Reid) once hectors Laurel that the act might be executed by a psychopath, but it transpires that there is rationale behind the homicide in the end of the day. Instead, the remarkable thing Ray and his writers have done is to emphasis on the commoner but far more profound groundings, the two incongruous characteristics between man and woman, i.e. the latter is greatly threatened by man’s inbred inclination towards physical violence whereas the former is forever frustrated and infuriated towards the latter’s capricious paranoia (quite a dichotomous conclusion might not apply to today’s climate of gender politics, but 65 years ago, it is as incisive as any filmmaker can get). So the unsolved murder case becomes a perfect hotbed for the ill-fated lovers to lash themselves into distrust, doubt, fear and anger, until the climax, a belated telephone ingeniously draws to a poignant close.
The film is a small-scale production with a lucid narrative, but it is enormously engaging (both Bogart and Grahame are marvellous here), a telling proof that movies can be done in a very economic budget, as long as its story is brilliant enough. However, as the narrative goes on, audience is gradually predisposed to side with Laurel, since the method to externalise Dixon’s innate defect is way too progressive, and it becomes rather tough to sympathise with Dixon although Bogart leavens him with astonishing pathos, how can you expect any sensible woman to indulge such a trigger-happy brute, eventually, we feel glad that the story ends that way, but that’s not what we suppose to feel, in a perfect world, we should be sorry for both of them.