In A Lonely Place – Day Sixteen – #40movies40days

Humphry-Bogart-In-a-lonely-placeThis is another Instant Watch classic on NetFlix.  Director Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential, 8 Mile, Wonder Boys, Hand that Rocks the Cradle), speaking on the film’s dvd commentary, cites In A Lonely Place as not just his favorite film noir but one of his favorite films– period!

This is the classic Humphrey Bogart film you’ve probably never seen.  And it is well worth a look. In A Lonely Place was produced by Bogart’s own production company and was directed by Nicolas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Johnny Guitar, King of Kings).  The film was written by Andrew Solt based on a book by Dorothy B. Hughes.

In A Lonely Place is a Power of Truth film filled with distrust, doubt, paranoia and suspicion. Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a well-regarded screenwriter fallen on hard times.  “You haven’t had a hit since before the war!”  He is a heavy drinker, has a violent temper and unexplained rages.

bogart-s-in-a-lonely-place-at-film-forum.3616486.40Dix has an opportunity to adapt a best-selling novel for a successful director as his next project.  A hat check girl at his swank local watering hole is enamored with the story.  He can’t be bothered to read the book so he takes her home to “tell the story” to him.

The perky naive hat check girl follows Dix home, breaking a date with her boyfriend to do so. She enthuses about the story but Dix thinks the novel is trite. He’s too tired (and perhaps too drunk) to drive her home.  He gives her a wad of cash for a taxi, instead.  She leaves and winds up dead, strangled and thrown out of a speeding car.

The police suspect Dix.  He has a “rap sheet” filled with reports of violent behavior (including violence against women) various bar fights and assaults, none of which has resulted in a charge much less a conviction.  Dix seems to have all the symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Emotional “numbing,” or feeling as though you don’t care about anything
Feelings of detachment  Lack of interest in normal activities  Difficulty concentrating  Exaggerated response to things that startle you  Irritability or outbursts of anger
He is emotionally numb and projects the feeling that he doesn’t care about anything, he’s strangely detached, has had difficulty concentrating on his work and has an exaggerated response to things that annoy, seem to threaten or irritate him.  He is irritable and has uncontrollable outbursts of anger.
Capt. Lochner: (After Dixon has replied with sarcasm to Lochner’s questions) You’re told that the girl you were with last night was found in Benedict Canyon, murdered. Dumped from a moving car. What’s your reaction? Shock? Horror? Sympathy? No – just petulance at being questioned. A couple of feeble jokes. You puzzle me, Mr. Steele.
Dixon Steele: Well, I grant you, the jokes could’ve been better, but I don’t see why the rest should worry you – that is, unless you plan to arrest me on lack of emotion.
When the police interview his lovely next door neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) sparks fly during her questioning.  She and Dix  start an affair.  She’s good for him, getting him writing again and watching out for his health and well-being.  Laurel is a Power of Love character, helpful, generous, forgiving and on the run from a former abusive lover.
J. Hoberman writing in The Village Voice characterizes Grahame’s acting and Laurel Gray’s character like this:
Grahame gives the impression of having been wounded in ways Bogart cannot even begin to fathom—if he even cared to try. She’s a ladylike floozy, sultry yet diffident, emotionally calloused but acutely sensitive, at once incredibly cool and undeniably hot.
imagesDix’s behavior and the police’s pursuit of him make Laurel wonder if he is guilty and is indeed capable of the brutal murder .   She becomes increasingly worried and suspicious.  Dix sensing Laurel is withdrawing becomes more controlling, possessive and paranoid.  The circle of their mutual suspicion chokes and kills their relationship.  The movie is a wonderful mediation on what happens when doubt turns to fear.  Fear is the most corrosive force on earth.
The same Village Voice review sums up the movie like this:
Hollywood atmosphere, existential malaise, and political subtext (it was shot during the McCarthy era Hollywood Witch Hunt) combine to inform a sensational love story, played on the edge of the void and strong enough to sustain one of the most shamelessly romantic lines in any movie: “I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me.” The line occurs twice, spoken at different points in the drama by each of the lovers, just to make sure that we never forget it.  (And we never do)

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