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In a Lonely Place

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This makes three films from 1950 that deal with The Buisness. (For those playing at home, the other two are Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve.) Surprisingly (or not), this, the least heralded of the three, is the greatest – not that the other two are slouches, neither.

Humphrey Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a Hollywood screenwriter who takes pride in his work, therefore garnering little success. Gloria Grahame (beautiful, beautiful, beautiful) plays Laurel, Steele’s love and muse. At face value alone, In a Lonely Place is a remarkable film.

Ray has an eye for detail, supplying congruity between such elements as setting, acting, and story in such a way that the film feels less like a film and more like a self-contained universe placed somewhere between Burbank and Hollywood. Deeper still, the film is one of the most brilliant I have seen. Bogart outshines any other role I’ve seen him in, playing a dichotomous madman of sorts – a struggling, lonely artist attempting to fit in with the rest of the world.

Most remarkable is the script; it is both self-aware and invisible, working to illustrate the importance, and lack of appreciation, of Steele’s metier. All the while, the narrative ambles along, providing true, pure tension even when the audience is fully aware of its inevitable conclusion. In a Lonely Place is one of the all-time great combinations of technical excellence and outstanding art.

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About Michael Kanbergs

  • Eric Olsen

    wow Michael, that was an education – I had barely even heard of this movie. Thanks and welcome!

  • http://blogcritics.org/archives/2004/08/03/232849.php Rodney Welch

    It’s a great film. Wish you’d explored it more.

  • http://www.cinemaetcetera.blogspot.com Michael Kanbergs

    Rodney, I debated about going further with this review. I generally write film reviews in two forms: long and short. Long when I feel confident and fairly capable of doing the film justice, short when there either isn’t much to talk about re: the film or when I’m overwhelmed by all that there is to be said. That said, if I had gone into In a Lonely Place further, I would have touched on these subjects:

    1. The way in which the allegations presented against Dixon (nearly) turned him into what was alleged. The thought of Steele murdering anyone – let alone that innocent girl – at the beginning of the film would be outrageous. At the end of the film, when he has Laurel in his grasp, the thought of him not murdering her is outlandish. In a Kafkaesque twist of existentialism, the allegations became the man.

    2. More of the way in which the script perfectly mirrored the character of Dixon Steele. That bit about “I lived for two weeks” seems like a self-aware job by the screenwriter to put some of himself into the script. But it works perfectly, because it is the exact type of thing a screenwriter (which Dixon is) might invent and interject into a conversation. Or the scene in the kitchen – the manner in which Dix sees life, as a series of scenes, either well or poorly written. This is also a character flaw – if life is just a series of scenes then one can only one’s self as a character. Moreover, the rest of the people in one’s life can only be seen as a cast playing out the roles metered out by the gods. This finite nature of man is a keystone in noir.

    3. The ending. The tension building up to it is marvelous – tight music, tight framing, sinuous action – even though the audience is entirely aware of the inevitably of the separation between Dix and Laurel. Their love is too perfect, and too far removed from the chessboard structure of life, to remain in existence.

    Does that help at all?

  • http://blogcritics.org/archives/2004/08/03/232849.php Rodney Welch

    Excellent. I need to dig the tape out of the box this weekend and watch it again. You make me want to.

    Write more and write at extravagant length.

  • http://www.cinemaetcetera.blogspot.com Michael Kanbergs

    Well, thanks.

  • Eric Olsen

    and Rodney is not easy to please!

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Interesting review – you do not, however, explain why this film, which I have not (yet) seen, trumps Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. Billy Wilder did make other great films, but Sunset Boulevard has a timeless quality about it.

  • http://www.cinemaetcetera.blogspot.com Michael Kanbergs

    You’re right, Aaman, but if I did explain that, all I would do is add a few words such as, “This film trumps Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve in the following ways.” Comparing film, ultimately, is an exercise in futility. What I’m saying is that, a write-up of Sunset Boulevard might be just as glowing as this write-up. Sunset Boulevard is indeed timeless (although I prefer All About Eve over it), and my statement that In a Lonely Place is superior comes down to the fact that I flat-out enjoyed it more. A definitive statement on why it is better, though, might be difficult to come by. So, in closing, I generally refrain from comparison, except in the way of analogous side-by-sides (see my Thin Red Line) or pithy, one-liner drive-by comparisons (see this review.)

  • http://www.cinemaetcetera.blogspot.com Michael Kanbergs

    Oh, I hate it when I mix up my codes.

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Fixed – valid point – it is fun, though, to deconstruct and compare films – especially if they have the auteur stamp