In a Lonely Place
Time Out New York Project: Issue #720, July 16-22, 2009
Dir. Nicholas Ray. 1950. N/R. 94mins. Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy.
The genre trappings of this noir masterpiece—which details the short-lived relationship between live-wire screenwriter Dixon Steele (Bogart) and his goldilocked muse Laurel Gray (Grahame)—don’t matter a whit. There’s a murder and a mystery, but whodunnit? is just the punch line to the gut. Director Nicholas Ray is more interested in examining the ways in which people poison themselves and each other, and it’s not a pretty picture.
Steele’s heedless approach to life lands him in hot water when the coat-check girl he brings home with him (to recount the plot of a trashy novel he’s supposed to adapt!) turns up dead. Only Gray, his across-the-courtyard neighbor, can provide him with an alibi. She does, and they fall for each other. But as the cops keep hounding and suspicions keep rising, Steele’s temper and Gray’s paranoia destructively take over.
It’s a classic Nick Ray situation: two people fighting against their natures in a futile stab at normalcy. That the director’s own marriage to Grahame was breaking up at the time adds a good number of discomfiting layers to this pestilent valentine, as does a scene in which a supporting character’s attempt to psychoanalyze Steele and Gray’s situation is met with Neanderthal derision. Wherever people are, whatever their perspectives—lonely places all.—Keith Uhlich