Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of both Nightcrawler (to theaters) and Thom Andersen’s seminal essay film Los Angeles Plays Itself (to Blu-ray) has us thinking back on other films about the City Of Angels.
Hollywood is a place of crime, violence, celebrity worship, and existential despair in Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place, a masterful noir in which Humphrey Bogart exudes overpowering rage and inconsolable alienation in a role that reportedly mirrored his offscreen personality. Taking significant liberties from its novel source material (by Dorothy B. Hughes), Ray’s film concerns Dixon “Dix” Steele (Bogart), a former successful screenwriter now trying to find his way back to the A-list. Given the opportunity to turn a current best seller into a film, the hot-headed, world-weary Dix—after getting into a scuffle at his favorite nightclub—asks the hat-check girl (Martha Stewart) to come home with him so she can read him the novel. Once there, Dix is disgusted by what he hears, and sends her home, only to awaken the next morning to learn from old army comrade-turned-detective Brub (Frank Lovejoy) that the girl was murdered, and he’s now the prime suspect.
Dix has an alibi courtesy of new neighbor, Laurel (Gloria Grahame), who’s on the run from some mysterious trouble and confirms to the cops that she saw the girl leave Dix’s apartment the night before. A romance between Dix and Laurel ensues, fraught with menace, brutality, and a hunger for validation—from the public, film-world associates, and loved ones. His frame expertly attuned to his characters’ wavering relationships to one another (dynamics that are also visualized, in part, vis-à-vis Dix’s interior apartment furnishings and structures), Ray dramatizes his action with a mixture of urgent volatility and soul-deep melancholy. He’s aided by a pitch-perfect performance of the golden-haired Grahame (his then-estranged wife) as a lovelorn beauty with a sharp, defiant edge, as well as a career-best turn by Bogart as a dour, tense-faced wannabe-big-shot who’s undone, both professionally and personally, by an anguished anger that can’t be controlled. Ultimately the story of a man who can’t change his fundamental self, and is thus doomed to a life of solitary misery, In A Lonely Place thrums with a sensual, sinister energy matched by few noirs.
Availability: In A Lonely Place is available on DVD, which can be obtained from your local video store or library.