Humphrey Bogart as ‘Dixon Steele” doesn’t get the last word in In A Lonely Place. The memorable lines go to Gloria Grahame.
This is the story of ‘Dixon Steele’ (Bogart) who is a Hollywood writer with anger management issues. Having found love with actress ‘Laurel Gray’ ( Gloria Grahame) , you know it isn’t going to last when he is the prime suspect in a murder case.
Slowly but surely Laurel begins to fear Dix and to think he may have committed the murder of the hat check girl at the club Dix frequents.
In the end , in an uncontrollable temper, Dix almost kills Laurel who is going to leave him. Interrupted by a phone call from the police, Dix calms down and gives the phone to Laurel who is told that they have the killer.
She says to the police captain, with Dix listening: “Yesterday this would have meant so much to us. Now it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter at all.”
Dix leaves, knowing there is nothing more to say. He has gone too far this time and there is no going back for him and Laurel .
As we see him leaving her apartment and walking away, Laurel says quietly, “I lived a few weeks while you loved me. Bye, Dix”.
(Quoting from the lines Dix had written for the screenplay he had written.)
Dix leaves. The End. A downbeat ending but so appropriate.
Right from the very start of In A Lonely Place, we know Dix Steele has a very short fuse on a ten second timer -say the wrong thing and he will explode in your face. He hasn’t had a successful picture since before the war . His attitude is “I won’t work on anything I don’t like.” His creative juices seem to have dried up.
As the film opens, he is driving along at night in his open top limousine and is stopped at traffic lights. A car stops along side and the woman in the car recognises him and starts talking to him. Her companion gets annoyed and shouts at Dix to stop bothering his wife. Immediately Dix is ready to get out of the car in the middle of the road and brawl with the driver, but the other car drives off.
Very soon after, in the nightclub where everyone knows Dix, he gets in another fight, this time because a young actor has insulted his friend Charlie (Robert Warwick), a washed up actor who drinks too much.
Everyone seems to be very understanding of Dix, accepting bad behaviour from him. Even the club owner (Steven Geray) doesn’t condemn him for the damage caused . One of the club’s patrons says, “There goes Dix again.”
Frank Lovejoy is one of the detectives assigned to the murder case . Frank has one of the most improbable character names – ‘Brub Nicolai’. Brub also happens to be an old army buddy of Dix’s. Jeff Donnell plays his wife.
Even Brub makes excuses for Dix – “None of us could ever figure him out.”
Art Smith is very good as Mel, Dix’s long suffering agent and friend.
When Laurel gets to know him, she confides “Why can’t he be like other people… I’m scared of him, I don’t trust him.”
Mel responds, You know he was dynamite. Sometimes he has to explode.” Mel also adds about the script Dix has been working on, “If Dix has success, he doesn’t need anything else.”
Dix shows he can care about people as he takes care of Charlie, giving him money every so often. Robert Warwick makes the most of a small role as the Shakespeare quoting thespian whom Dix likes. Warwick has a beautiful speaking voice. ( Warwick had been in films since 1916 and appeared in 250 films according to IMDB).
Dix and Laurel are happy for a little while. They are at a piano bar listening to Hadda Brooks singing ‘I hadn’t anyone till you’.
But as the plot develops, Dix shows Laurel more instances of his violent side. Driving too fast, he almost causes an accident on the highway and the young man in the other car gets out and shouts at him. Dix beats him and is about to hit the boy with a stone when Laurel shouts, “Dix! Stop! You’ll kill him.”
Typical of Dix, even though Laurel is obviously upset, he doesn’t admit he was in the wrong, simply saying, “They think they own the road.” This kind of violent behaviour has become almost normal for him.
But then he sends an anonymous cheque to the injured boy. He can show remorse but is never able to articulate it.
The scene you won’t see in the film.
One of the extras on the dvd is an interview with the film’s director ,Nicholas Ray who said, “I just couldn’t believe the ending we had written. I shot it because it was my obligation to do it.”
In the original novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, Dixon Steel is a murderer. The above shot from the original ending has Frank Lovejoy coming to arrest Dix after he has killed Laurel.
Nicholas Ray continued, “I kicked everybody off the stage except Bogart, Art Smith and Gloria and we improvised the ending as it is now. We let the audience make up its own mind about what’s going to happen to Bogart when he goes outside of the apartment area – which was the first apartment I lived in Hollywood by the way.”
(The beautiful set build for the film was an apartment complex build round a Spanish courtyard based on the building Ray had lived it.)
It was also interesting to hear the director talk about his relationship with his then wife, Gloria Grahame.
Before Gloria was cast, I’ve read that Ginger Rogers and Lauren Bacall were considered for the role of Laurel. Apparently Warner Brothers wouldn’t release Lauren.
Ray : “I had separated from my wife, Gloria Grahame who was playing opposite Bogie. If I had let the producer or Bogie know that, they would have gone crazy.”
Ray moved onto the studio lot, saying he wanted to concentrate on any problems. He said: Gloria behaved beautifully. Nobody knew we were separated.”
(I wished that in the documentary about Nicholas Ray they had asked him about “Johnny Guitar” as he was so forthcoming about ‘Lonely Place’.)
One reviewer of the film in 1950 said, “The appeal of this melodrama will probably be limited to sophisticated picture goers!”
The film, Bogart’s first independent production for his Santana Productions, garnered good reviews but didn’t do well at the box office. The excellent screenplay was by Andrew Salt.
It’s a fascinating study of a man who really needs a lot of help to save him from himself. The ending that Ray gave us leaves us wondering (as Ray intended) what would happen to Dix. Would he recover from losing Laurel, would he continue as before until he finally did kill someone. And what would happen to Laurel.
It’s a great part for Gloria Grahame and she is very good, possibly the best role she ever had.
Bogart is perfect as the tortured writer. And a shout-out for Martha Stewart as Mildred, the hat check girl whose murder starts Dix’s downfall.
And I spotted June Vincent at the start of the film as the woman in the car who attracts Bogart’s attention.
The Criterion Collection blu-Ray.
Beautiful poster by Tony Stella.
(Not true, plenty of cause!)
Bogart’s greatest post-WB role and it hit heights that his company Santana never reached again. It’s a raw and courageous performance, mean in so many ways and yet there’s still something about the character that draws you back with at least a sliver of sympathy, and perhaps that’s down to the star himself.
It offered a choice role to Grahame as well, such an alluring screen presence and it’s easy to see her as someone constantly gravitating towards damaging relationships and situations. I like Lovejoy too, a solid and reassuring figure in so many movies, he helps to anchor and ground all the passion raging around the leads.
Ray’s filmmaking was never less than fascinating and this is among his best and most notable works. I don’t think it’s his very best – Bigger Than Life is a more powerful and affecting film overall – but it’s a contender.
There is sympathy for Dix as you say because you don’t want him to self destruct. Just a pity that no one around him is willing to do some straight talking with him. But would he listen anyway, is he too far gone.
I had a thought , being a Frank Lovejoy fan, that the detective roles played by Lovejoy and Carl Benton Reid could have been combined, giving Frank more screen time. As you say, his character is a good contrast to Dix.
I would have liked more about Laurel’s backstory. For instance, how come she lives in this fancy apartment while she seems to be unemployed.
I haven’t seen Bigger Than Life.
Add it to your list – it’s a remarkable work, and both James Mason and Barbara Rush give outstanding performances.
Surprising to see an unbilled June Vincent as ‘actress in convertible’. June was under contract to Columbia but had played a number of leading roles by 1950.
Had a look again. pretty sure it’s June. But I agree it is surprising.
A very fine article about a terrific movie. I am not being sarcastic when I say this is my favorite performance among those I have seen by Robert Warwick, who frequently appeared in the films of Preston Sturges as well. Bogart and Grahame are both wonderful, of course.
I will also echo Colin’s opinion about Bigger Than Life. I haven’t seen it for many years, but I remember it as being, as Colin says, “powerful and affecting.”
I do so agree about Robert Warwick. He was wonderful in the small role.
I must catch up with Bigger Than Life.