I’m a writer, and noir is my chosen genre. Hence, most of my favourite films have some relation to the genre, and In a Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, is one that left a mark.
I hadn’t read the book before I saw the film, which is perhaps a good thing, as the book differs in some essential ways (of which I won’t get into here, as to not ruin it for the reader).
Bogart is Dixon Steele (and what a name it is), a screenwriter who is cynical and abrupt. He hasn’t had much success since the war, and his latest project is to adapt a book for the screen. Gloria Grahame is his neighbour, Laurel Grey, a sometime actress who takes an interest in Dix. When Dix takes a coat check girl home with him, as she’s read the book he’s to adapt and he doesn’t want to read it himself, Laurel notices him. After he sends the girl home, she is murdered, and Dix is a suspect. Laurel is brought into the police station and confirms that the girl left Dix’s place alone, and thus begins a rather intense yet dark relationship between the two.
One of my favourite quotes comes from this film, said by Dix to Laurel:
‘I was born when she kissed me, I died when she left me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me.’
The line so aptly mirrors the tempestuous relationship between Dix and Laurel, and the tone with which Bogart says the line enhances the bleakness of the film.
Dix is a strong, complex character, and the realism of Dixon Steele is one of the main reasons why I love the film so much. He’s not a typical alpha hero, as the main characters in so many films are. He’s a quick-tempered man, prone to violence, and to drink, but he’s loyal to his friends, even defending a washed-out actor from harassment.
As the murder investigation progresses, Laurel’s belief in his innocence is challenged, and his actions (side-swiping a car that cuts them off, beating up the driver) add to her worries, until she can’t continue their relationship. Her fear of Dix overwhelms her affection for him. It’s the gradual collapse of the relationship that is the strongest thread of the story in the film, in my opinion. At first, murder investigation aside, they are doing so well, but as events and doubts add up, it’s a slow-motion car crash.
Noir never ends with a happily ever after (nor usually with any sort of ‘happily for now’ ending), and In a Lonely Place is no exception. It isn’t the most pleasant and uplifting of films, but it’s incredibly compelling, and one I have re-watched multiple times in fascination. It’s one of Bogart’s best works.