In a Lonely Place
by Del Harvey
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When In a Lonely Place was being made, Joseph McCarthy was just beginning his crusade against Communists. Blacklisting, a process which boils down to exiling those who do not think like you, was in great favor in Hollywood. Any extroverted Communists, or possibly just those who were a tad too liberal and quite probably out of favor with the people in power, were labeled and ostracized, often never to work in their chosen profession again. A few were able to work behind a “beard,” if they had friends courageous enough to front for them. Some eventually returned to legitimacy, but those were rare instances.
Humphrey Bogart created Santana Pictures with the partnership of his business manager, Morgan Maree, and his good friend and self-professed liberal Robert Lord. Bogie was something of a liberal himself, and by 1950 was quite unhappy with constantly being pegged as an action star at Warner Bros. He felt that he was a big enough box office draw to allow for a change of vehicle. He saw Santana Pictures as an opportunity to take on more dramatic roles. The company’s first film was the urban drama Knock on Any Door, directed by Nicholas Ray. Bogie chose Ray to direct In a Lonely Place. Reportedly, Jack Warner was furious with Bogie’s film company, charging that it would start a trend that would allow actors greater power in the film community. True to his anti-studio attitude, Bogie went ahead with all productions, and perhaps did start the trend Warner was afraid would be the ruin of Hollywood.
In a Lonely Place’s central character is Hollywood scriptwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), a talented individual with a penchant for letting his volatile temper get him into trouble. A young woman seeks his advice and so visits Dix at his Hollywood apartment. When she is found murdered, and it is discovered that Dix was the last person known to have seen her alive, his reputed temper earns him status as prime suspect.
Frank Lovejoy (House of Wax, Shack Out on 101, I Was a Communist for the FBI) plays Detective Brub Nicolai, who is torn between liking the affable side of the man and hating the hair-trigger temper of the screenwriter. But when attractive blonde neighbor Laurel Grey (Gloria Grahame of It’s a Wonderful Life, The Big Heat, Crossfire) provides him with an alibi, the police let him go—with a warning. Ms. Grahame also provides some classic lines in this film, such as her response when asked what she sees in Dix; “I like his face.” Dix, looking in a mirror later, asks what anyone “could love about a face like this.” Gloria says, “I said I liked it; I didn’t say I wanted to kiss it.”
Very soon Dix and Laurel become lovers and life seems idyllic. But with the police continually hounding him, Dix’s paranoia eventually emerges, threatening to destroy their last hopes for true love as Laurel questions whether or not she made the right decision about this man.
Written by Andrew Solt (Little Women, Joan of Arc), In a Lonely Place crackles with dynamic tension and tight, engrossing dialog. Director Nicholas Ray was married to Gloria Grahame at the time, and he even used his Hollywood apartment as a set in the film, which is interesting considering he and Grahame separated during shooting.
In a Lonely Place is not an outstanding example of film noir, but it is an excellent film, worth at least one viewing for the chance to see one of the all-time classic femme fatales go toe-to-toe with the cinema’s toughest tough guy.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and a lover of film noir.
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