When one thinks of the classic Hollywood era, Humphrey Bogart is likely one of the first actors to come to mind. His image has endured through the years, thanks to such classics as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and The African Queen, just to name a few. He was even named the #1 male legend on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars list, and rightfully so. Aside from being one of Hollywood’s most iconic figures, he was one of their best actors and often gave good performances in his films, especially ones from the film noir genre. One of his very best, in and outside of film noir, can be seen in the 1950 film In a Lonely Place.
The film follows a screenwriter named Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), who’s known around town for having a bit of a violent temper. Given the task of adapting the latest bestseller, he invites a young woman to his place to summarize the story for him so he doesn’t have to spend time reading it for himself. Later that night, she’s found murdered and Dix becomes the prime suspect. But his neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) is able to give him an alibi. Soon the two neighbors fall in love, with Dix drawing inspiration from Laurel for his adapted screenplay. Despite a seemingly blissful affair, Laurel’s suspicions of Dix’s innocence grow as his darker side reveals itself more, threatening their future together.
In a Lonely Place is one of Hollywood’s best movies about the movies, a subject that the film industry never gets tired of bringing to the screen. Sunset Blvd. is another great film made with a similar cynical outlook on the film industry, which was also released in 1950 like this noir. Perhaps it’s because of Billy Wilder’s film that In a Lonely Place didn’t get as much traction at the time of its release, but fortunately, its reputation has grown over the years. I think much of its growth in admiration is due to Bogart’s performance in this film, which is my personal favorite of all the great ones he brought to the screen.
Bogart’s character Dix Steele plays against many of the actor’s most well-known roles, as this film followed the releases of such romantic classics as Casablanca and To Have and Have Not, as well as such noir classics as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, which saw him as hardboiled detectives with ultimately good morals. Drawing on the romanticism and cynicism he imbued in his characters, his charisma still shines through in this film despite playing such a belligerent character. Had Dix been played by any other actor, In a Lonely Place could’ve been much more difficult to watch, but Bogart does an excellent job of fleshing out the character’s complexities.
In an essay titled “Humphrey and Bogey,” actress Louise Brooks, who knew the actor early on in his career, said the following about his portrayal of Dixon Steele: “He played one fascinatingly complex character, craftily directed by Nicholas Ray, in a film whose title perfectly defined Humphrey’s own isolation among people. In a Lonely Place gave him a role that he could play with complexity because the film character’s, the screenwriter’s, pride in his art, his selfishness, his drunkenness, his lack of energy stabbed with lightning strokes of violence, were shared equally by the real Bogart.”
Because Bogart was able to instill his own qualities in Dix, he’s able to give a truly compelling performance from a character ripe with unlikeable traits. In a Lonely Place showcases Bogart at his most vulnerable, and also shows the sort of acting range the actor had when given material that matched his talent. But aside from seeing his great acting skills on full display, In a Lonely Place really is a worthwhile watch, and is truly one of the best films of the noir genre. Directed by Nicholas Ray and co-starring Gloria Grahame (both of whom were on the verge of divorcing each other at the time of filming), the movie also provides some of the best work of their respective careers. While the bleak nature of the movie is certainly not one to watch around the holiday season (not even on Bogart’s Christmas Day birthday), it’s one of Hollywood’s best portraits of itself, led brilliantly by one of the industry’s most beloved figures.
I wrote this entry as a part of The Humphrey Bogart Blogathon, where bloggers are writing about the star’s movies in honor of his birthday this weekend. Click the banner below to read more posts honoring the legendary actor!