Tuesday, August 22, 2006

DVD Cinema: In a Lonely Place

Directed by Nicholas Ray and released in 1950, In a Lonely Place is a film noir that doesn't doom one or another of its characters to decay, depravation, or death at the hands of a seductive other. Instead, and strikingly, the film depicts two very complicated characters, a man and a woman, and lets us watch their relationship play out. Dixon Steele, played by Humphrey Bogart, is a lonely, angry writer: He's smarter than everyone else, and although he desires women, by and large they bore him. Laurel Gray, played by Gloria Grahame, is an unsuccessful (but in a non-cliche turn, not down-on-her-luck) actress who lives across the way in a Beverly Hills courtyard apartment complex (the building is charming; looks like one of those on Sycamore that David Lynch used in Mulholland Drive).

Dixon is such a cad that he brings a coatcheck girl home to tell him the story of the book he's supposed to adapt into a script. He doesn't want to read the book. She tells him the story, they don't connect in any other way. He says he's tired, and there's a cab stand around the corner. (Sheesh!) So he's in hot water when she's found dead later that night, and his response to police suspicions is to be as flippant as possible. Luckily, he's got an old army buddy on the force, and his neighbor Laurel Gray, who provides him with an alibi (she was on her balcony in her negligee; he was checking her out).

Dixon and Laurel start a relationship: She types his script and provides all other loyal-helpmeet type support. He falls in love with her, poetically. We learn via her thuggish masseuse that Laurel ran away from her fiancee, who built her a dream house in the hills. In the meantime, Dix periodically erupts in fits of inchoate rage. As his agent Mel (Art Smith) says to Laurel, "You knew he was dynamite. He has to explode sometimes."

Yes, they both have issues--he may be a murderer--and neither is especially attractive. But the two leads spar believably, his anguish (but not remorse) over his anger is real, and she's convincing as a woman who might cut and run anytime she gets too scared. In a Lonely Place is compelling, psychologically real (that's what got me), and there IS the matter of who killed the coatcheck girl hanging over everyone's head practically until the final frame. This film is not dated at all, in many ways. See it.

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