Thursday 4 January 2007

In a Lonely Place (1950)

It's good to see Bogie again. I've caught up so much on the work of unlikely Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart that I don't get too many opportunities to find ones that I haven't seen before. This isn't just a Bogart picture, it's a Nicholas Ray movie and it's a blistering film noir about Hollywood, made the same year as Sunset Boulevard.

Bogie plays Dixon Steele, a scriptwriter who only wants to write scripts he likes and who looks down at the hacks he calls popcorn salesmen. He's well known, seemingly well respected but highly volatile. He's intelligent and insightful but as grounded in reality as you'd expect from someone who defined the hardboiled detective over the previous decade. The script backs him up wonderfully and sparkles with snappy dialogue, perhaps the best he's had outside of The Big Sleep. When a kid asks him for his autograph, he asks if he knows who he is. When another kid says that he's nobody, he agrees with her. When an old friend of a cop tells him he got married, Bogie asks him why.

Steele unwittingly gets himself into a jam. He invites a hat check girl, played by an actress with the unfortunate name of Martha Stewart, home to tell him about a book he's supposed to turn into a screenplay, because she's read it and she's a complete moron like most of his audience. However soon after leaving his apartment she ends up dead in a canyon and Steele seems to be the only real suspect. He was the last person who saw her alive and he has a violent past, as detailed in quite a lot of pages of police records. He does have an alibi, a beautiful young actress who lives in the apartment opposite, and she's as hardboiled as he is, but they fall in love and so the police start to doubt her validity.

The beautiful young actress is Laurel Gray, excellently played by Gloria Grahame, who at this point was estranged from her husband, the director of the movie Nicholas Ray. She went on to marry one of his sons from a previous marriage. She is superb here and sparks with Bogart like nobody else I've seen, outside of Lauren Bacall naturally. On the strength of Crossfire three years earlier, she went on to be almost typecast in films noir for a decade and I can see why. She was Oscar nominated more than once and took the award home for The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952.

What really makes this film stand out amongst anything remotely similar is that none of these characters are morally one dimensionally. They all have depths and motivations that lead them down paths that even they don't necessary like. Bogart never did shy away from parts that weren't always honourable and Grahame became a film noir queen. I also particular liked Art Smith's role of Steele's agent Mel Lippman, which reminded me very much of what I'd read about Jean Harlow's agent, Arthur Landau, a devoted man who cleaned up every mess that came alone.

It's a great film and I'm sure a lot of that is due to the fact that it was made by Bogie's production company, Santana Productions, named after his beloved sailboat, one of sadly only five. While they aren't always this good, they're always interesting and far more so than most of the regular films that had more famous names and bigger budgets. The same applies for James Cagney's production company too and probably those of other famous actors who suddenly found them with a little more control and artistic freedom than they had previously been used to.

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