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Old 08-13-2009, 09:55 PM
Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Once again we return to the realm of film noir, where the mood and atmosphere is always dark and foreboding, where the characters are always questionable, and where things are never quite what they seem. However, one of the usual staples of film noirs was left out: the convoluted plotline. I'm not complaining about it leaving that out, I was just rather shocked that they did.

The surprisingly simple storyline follows a screenwriter by the name of Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart). He is somewhat successful, but hasn't had a hit in a while. He is given the job to adapt a book for his latest screenplay, but hasn't read the book. While at a bar, a coat check girl, Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart), had read the book while waiting for him to pick it up. This gives him the idea of inviting her to his place so that she can tell him the story. She agrees to go home with him, but Steele quickly realizes that the book is garbage and sends the young lady home.

The next morning, a detective knocks on his door and asks Steele to come down to the police station for some questioning. It turns out Mildred was murdered sometime during the night. Luckily, one of Steele's neighbors, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), had supposedly seen Mildred leave his apartment alone. Steele and Laurel quickly form a relationship after they are questioned by police, and it seems that they both truly love each other, but Laurel discovers that Steele is not quite the man she thought he was, plus the fact that Mildred's murder is still unsolved only adds to her suspicion.

This is certainly one of the creepiest performances I've seen from Humphrey Bogart, ranking right up there with his portrayal of Fred Dobbs in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." I would also say it is simply one of his best. I can't recall him having played such a two-faced character before, where one second he's kind and generous, the next, he could be beating someone's face in.

This sudden switching back and forth is shown throughout "In a Lonely Place," particularly near the end of the film where he becomes more and more paranoid, practically demanding that Laurel marry him and then demanding to know who she is talking to on the telephone. The lighting of these scenes is particularly affective in amplifying the mood that Bogart creates with his performance.

As far as the story goes, the first act does a great job of setting up the entire mystery, giving us a couple of suspects, but not enough information to be able to pin it on one of them. The romance between Steele and Laurel is a bit random, but that's the way these things tend to happen in film noirs, so it was no surprise that it happened here as well.

The second act takes a long time to establish the relationship and does cause the film to drag a bit as Laurel slowly finds out what kind of a man Dixon Steele really is. There is a particularly tense scene where, after he finds out that she had spoken to the police chief again and hadn't told him, he jumps in the car and speeds off, barely giving Laurel enough time to hop in the passenger sear. He speeds along winding roads going around 70 mph and even clips another car.

The driver of the car hops out and begins to yell at Steel about having just had a $200 paint job. Next thing we know, Steele is out of the car, beating the young man senseless. He even picks up a rock and is about to use it when Laurel yells at him to stop. From here, she realizes that she might not have made the best decision when starting a relationship with this man.

The last few scenes are particularly chilling when we see the full result of what the relationship has done to both Steel and Laurel. By the end, Steele is hovering on the brink of being completely mad with paranoia while Laurel only wants to find a way to get out of the situation that she had so suddenly found herself in. Gloria Grahame plays these scenes with a great touch of fright. With the unsolved murder of Mildred hanging over their relationship, her mind races to the worst possible conclusions as she watches the change in Steele.

The ending is not very surprising, but that doesn't really matter. The suspense that was built up along the way was what made the film worth sitting through. That, and Humphrey Bogart, whose performance is what really helped contribute to the level of suspense, especially in the second half of the film. The screenplay, by Andrew Solt, is also worth mentioning for its sharp, witty dialogue that worked perfectly in the realm of film noir. If you're a fan of the genre, then this is one that is definitely worth seeing. 3/4 stars.
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