Noirvember Review: “In a Lonely Place”
Every November fans of classic cinema celebrate one of the great genres of filmdom, the film noir. These beloved films ensure fans get their fill of; gritty streets, tough detectives, mysterious femme fatales, dangerous villains, and a unique moody style. This month I will be looking at some of the great noir films of all time for what has been dubbed Noirvember.
Movie icon Humphrey Bogart never made a secret of his admiration for screen writers in the movie business. So it made sense when he was given the opportunity to produce and star in his own vehicle, he chose this occupation for his character Dixon Steele. In this fan favorite piece of his filmography from 1950, In a Lonely Place, Bogart bring his usual cool charisma to the lead character, but the audience wonders through the film whether or not he is a murderer. Legendary auteur Nicholas Ray, stepped into the director’s chair for this movie and brought a unique vision to this noir classic. Ray was still a few years away from his biggest hit Rebel Without a Cause, but films like this one and They Live by Night proved that he was definitely a director to watch out for.
As mentioned previously Bogart’s character of Dixon Steele is a screenwriter, looking for his next big hit after a series of duds. The job of adapting a trashy romance novel falls onto his plate which he begrudgingly agrees to do. As luck would have it he ends of meeting a hat-check girl at a local restaurant who loved the book and agrees to help him. After a night at his place, Steele hires a cab to send the young woman home. Early the next morning the police find her murdered and since Dixon Steele was the last person seen with her he is obviously considered a suspect. Luckily for him his neighbor Laurel Gray has his back while he is scrutinized by the police. Gray begins to spend more time with the troubled alcoholic writer, and mentally he becomes better for it; she inspires him to write more than ever and to do so sober. But Steele’s burst of anger and his all-around aloof nature combined with the growing evidence against him, makes Laurel wonder if he truly is a murderer. The tension in their relationship grows as she begins to wonder more and more if she can trust Dixon or if he’s capable of killing.
The first thing many notice about In a Lonely Place, is that this arguably Bogart’s darkest performance. The film icon built a career on cool and charismatic characters who tended to almost skew towards antihero/good guy territory. His performance in this film is spot on as he shows flashes of anger and jealousy which leads viewers, and the character of Laurel to believe he could possibly murder someone. At the same time he is also a character you sympathize with and you want to believe he is just a man dealing with his personal demons now accused of a horrible crime. Dixon Steele is a perfect example of the conflicted characters Bogart often played so well. But he is not the only broken character, Gloria Graham as Laurel is someone who should know better than to get involved with a man as wounded as Steele, but she can not help herself even if it means she could be in danger. It is a beautifully nuanced performance which keeps the audience thoroughly engaged as the movie unfolds. It is little wonder she would go on to win an Academy Award two years following this movie.
Director Nicholas Ray truly embraced the noir stylings in the making of In a Lonely Place. The black and white photography is beautifully crisp and clean and truly adds so much to the atmosphere of the film as it brought much needed shadows to the world of this film. The apartment building Dixon Steele and Laurel Gray call him was modeled after a complex Ray himself once lived in, and according to Hollywood-lore the obsessive director actually slept on the set to truly get the feel of it. This tight organized set kept the living space of Steele and Gray close yet still kept a distance between the two of them. As one of the truly great films of the noir genre, be sure to watch In a Lonely Place this Noirvember.