In a Lonely Place (1950)
Directed by Nicholas Ray
As dark, bitter, and wholly real as they come out of the post-war studio system, noir melodrama In a Lonely Place was director Nicholas Ray's first masterpiece. It also provided the most volatile and vulnerable role in the career of Humphrey Bogart, who plays Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele (don't laugh) with an intensity verging on the personal. Steele is a "dark side of genius" type, a once sought-after scribe who owes his damaged reputation to a short temper and a history of violence. He also smartly adapts lurid bestselling novels; in one of those odd art-life parallels, In a Lonely Place was itself smartly adapted by Edmund North and Andrew Solt from Dorothy B. Hughes's much pulpier crime thriller. Ray realizes the material in subtly shifting registers: Steele finds salvation in the form of Laurel (a fiery and sensitive Gloria Grahame, Ray's soon-to-be ex-wife), and their love is by turns hotly flirtatious, spiritually redemptive and, eventually, falteringly human when Steele becomes sullied in the fog of suspicion cast by a local murder.
Ray's directorial palette is comprised entirely of fever-pitch emotions — love, doubt, jealousy, fear, regret - and Bogart unfurls them, impotently raging against his demonic habits and unfairly taking the pressure he feels out on Graham. The question that keeps us in suspense throughout the gloomily lit, precisely composed Place isn't whether Steele did it or didn't; the tragedy at the heart of the film isn't of death but of disappointment over both leads' failures to transcend the past through love. Crushing.
July 17-23 at Film Forum