“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” Dixon Steele
Film noir is a depressing genre. No matter how much you care about the broken people on the screen, you know that nothing will work out to their advantage. Take for example the main character of In a Lonely Place, Dixon Steele. He is sensitive, hard living, talented, angry, and truthful. But he can’t control any of these impulses so when he finds a love that has the potential to last a very long time and fix him, he can’t help but kill the relationship by his very nature. But you hope the whole time that you are watching these unfortunate scenes unfold that the woman who loves him will ignore them and will be with him until the end. But of course you know that will never happen, because she is just as troubled and sensitive as he is. By the end you know that it couldn’t have worked out any other way, but you are sad nonetheless.
This film is heartbreaking in only the ways that Humphrey Bogart can portray heartbreaking. He plays a screenwriter who is washed up. He has interminable writers’ block, drinks like a fish and makes more enemies more that than he makes friends. He is commissioned to write a screenplay based on a trashy novel. Instead of reading it himself, he decides to take home the hat check girl who has read and loved the book. Nothing happens between them, except for establishing that she is a fickle girl who only likes the most melodramatic of novels. He sends her home and then the next day, she is found murdered. Due to his rap sheet, he is the prime suspect, but he has his neighbor, the impossibly gorgeous Gloria Grahame, testify that the woman left his apartment still alive.
Dixon (Humphrey Bogart) and Laurel (Gloria Grahame) get together and their love is palpable. She becomes his muse and he writes continually while she takes care of him. However the murder investigation continues and because they have no better suspect, the detectives put more and more pressure on him. Laurel begins to doubt if he was truly innocent, based on a couple of events that showcase his impossible temper. It gets to a point where nothing will fix the relationship, no matter how hard they try. She leaves him. He is broken forever and so is the viewer.
Humphrey Bogart puts in an amazing character as this broken screenwriter. He conveys so much emotion by one look. One of my favorite scenes is when Dixon and Laurel meet for the first time in the detective’s office. The attraction is immediate and palpable by one look and one drag on a cigarette. Gloria Grahame holds her own on the screen as Bogart’s love interest. Although his best pairing has got to be with his wife Bacall, this pairing has got to be a close second. She is smoking hot and doesn’t just play hard to get, but is really hard to get. She is just as damaged as he is which is what makes them perfect for each other.
I have to mention that this film was directed by Nicholas Ray, one of the best at portraying broken people. So much so that he must have been just as broken as his characters. He is also a master at finding the perfect sets for the situation. Holy crap would I love to live in Steele’s apartment complex. The Spanish veranda style is used to perfect effect. As opposed to other films of his that I have seen, this film’s use of complex shots, sets and lighting is stripped away in order to portray the doomed love. All Ray needs is a look and a pithy line in order to create magic.