In a Lonely Place - 1950
In a Lonely Place can say that it has two icons behind the camera - director Nicola Ray (Rebel without a Cause) and writer Edmund H. North (Patton and The Day the Earth Stood Still) - and two icons in front of the camera - Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca and The African Queen) and Gloria Grahame (Oklahoma! and The Big Heat). The screenplay was adapted from a novel of the same name, but unlike the trend in the Hollywood of today, they completely created a new story out of the bones of the book. The story centers around a potentially violent screenwriter who is a murder suspect until his lovely neighbor clears him. But then she begins to have doubts...
One of the aspects I most enjoyed about this film is how the title works on numerous levels once you have watched the film. The lonely place mentioned in the title can refer to how Bogart is completely alone, dealing with his inner demons and pushing everyone away. This is perfectly cemented in the closing shot of him walking away alone defeated and probably to never trust another woman again. It can also refer to the lonely place he finds himself as a screenwriter trying to create meaningful art in Hollywood’s popcorn selling machine. Bogart has a very interesting conversation with a fellow screenwriter at the bar in where he says to him, “Everybody makes flops except you. You haven't had one, because you've made and remade the same picture for the last twenty years. You know what you are? You're a popcorn salesman.”. This can be said to many working writers today.
Despite being a work of fiction, In a Lonely Place draws a lot of inspiration from the real world in how Hollywood works and in the relationship of the director Ray and his co-lead Grahame. They were married prior to the start of production and went through a private separation during the filming. Ray famously hovered over the script, rewriting many of the fight scenes between Bogart and Grahame to mirror the ones he had with her in real life. The lines he mainly re-wrote were hers, since he knew what lines would better suit her. As for how Hollywood works, throughout the movie Bogart is told to write a new script based on a famous book. His agent keeps telling him “just make the book”, meaning don’t try to create your own art just copy one that is already successful. Sixty-seven years later this theme is even more present when you look at the box-office sales. Like I said in my opening paragraph, despite this being based on a book, they created their own art out of it. I’m certain the studio heads told them on numerous occasions to “just make the book”. I’m glad they didn’t.
This is also considered one of, if not the, most vulnerable performance of Humphrey Bogart’s career. In keeping with my “fiction reflecting real life” theme, it’s said that Bogart choose this role to channel many of his own demons. His character Dixon Steele in many ways mirrors him as a famed Hollywood legend whom everyone expects to act a certain way as he struggles to find happiness himself. Bogart also produced this film and worked closely with Ray and North on every aspect of the production. His performance was as raw and genuine as I have ever seen from him. He usually plays the anti-hero that gets the girl (Casablanca excluded) in the end. Here he plays a screenwriter with a dark past and a not-so-bright present that audiences have a hard time rooting for. Gloria Grahame was the perfect playing partner as his romantic interest. She knew when to take a backseat during the fights while still perfectly reacting to what Bogart is doing within the scene.
Cinematographer Burnett Guffey was hired for this movie and he did a beautiful job throughout, but I wanted to highlight two key scenes. One is the opening credits with Bogart driving his car through the dark streets of LA. The only things we can see are the brightly lit eyes of Bogart in the rear-view mirror. In this shot we can see that Bogart is focused on the road ahead, but us as the audience or as the people around him are focused on what’s behind him in the rear -view mirror. This is a theme in the movie as his dark past keeps haunting Bogart’s character for the entirety of the movie. The next scene is a big spoiler so skip it if you don’t want it ruined for you. Ok I will start writing the spoiler now. Towards the end when Grahame is going to leave him, Bogart’s eyes are once again perfectly lit and highlighted by Guffey. This is a visual representation of his realization that his past demons have official come back to haunt him and has destroyed (in his eyes… get it?) his last chance at happiness.
Spoiler Free Conclusion.
In a Lonely Place is not the film that comes to mind when you think of all the icons of cinema involved, but it’s by far one of their most personal and professionally fulfilling projects. The themes and motifs this movie touched on in 1950s are still perfectly relevant today and that’s why I love movies.
In a Lonely Place can be rented in my streaming services and is perfectly restored in the Criterion Collection. You don’t need to be lonely to enjoy this movie.
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