Saturday, July 25, 2009

Movies: In A Lonely Place

My second-ever Nick Ray movie, In A Lonely Place is just as, if not more dark, than Bigger Than Life. It seems that Film Forum is going to give me the chance these next few weeks to find out if all of his movies are that way, but for now, let’s talk about this one.

Bogart is the brooding, boozing screenwriter Dixon Steele, who hasn’t had a hit in years and whose friendly caricature-of-a-Jew agent is constantly pushing him to get to work on something. Too lazy, or perhaps too depressed, to bother reading the latest trash novel his agent wants him to adapt, Steele opts for the more efficient and promising option of taking home a hatcheck girl who has just read it. She tells him the story in broad and bright, if misread strokes, and equally fed up with the inanity of the plot and the girl, he gives her cab fare and walks her to the door, giving up on hopes of an evening with any more sensual adventure than staring at the elegant blond in the apartment across the way.

But he’s woken by an investigator at the door at five o’clock in the morning—the hatcheck girl has been murdered and he’s a prime suspect. To his rescue comes the mysterious blonde neighbor; she saw him bid the girl farewell and go straight to bed. Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame, whose breathy, doe-eyed neuroses presage Marilyn Monroe’s handling of those more-disturbing roles) becomes his savior in more ways than one; they become lovers, and Steele overcomes his writers’ block, staying up all night scrawling a script that she types for him. But Steele remains under suspicion, and that, combined with a few other violent episodes, frays Laurel’s nerves. While Steele is making plans for them to be married, she is making plans to sneak away on a flight to New York (we know that she snuck away from her last romance, as well; she was running away from an engagement to a wealthy real estate mogul when she moved in across the way from Steele). Steele finds out and there’s a dark, dangerous confrontation in her apartment, where he pins her and she squirms with fear that he might just kill her too. When the phone rings at that moment with an exonerating call—the actual murderer, the hatcheck girl’s jealous boyfriend—has been captured, it’s too late. The necessary trust has been shattered for both parties.

The moral of the story is my favorite 1950s Hollywood truth: those damn dames are just no good. Laurel Gray was nothing—a failed wannabe actress with a svelte frame and big eyes and the ability to fill out a sweater nicely—and Dix Steele bought her diamonds, and dresses, and wanted to marry her, even though she gave it up plenty without his even offering. But then she had to go and get skittish, all because of something so minor as his explosive temper, a record of a few barroom brawls, and a fist-fight on the side of the road where he could have bashed in the face of his passed-out opponent with a nice rock, if she hadn’t stopped him. Why do girls get such cold feet?

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