Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In a Lonely Place (1950)


Switching things up here a little bit. Because I felt Brother Orchid (1940), which is in the Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection boxed set, was a film that I wanted to write about with some detail, I replaced it with In a Lonely Place (1950) which is much more a Bogie film than Brother Orchid would ever be.

In a Lonely Place stars Humphrey Bogart as screenwriter Dixon Steele. Steele has been in the business for a couple of decades, supported by his devoted agent Mel Lippman (Art Smith), but has been down on his luck lately. He's been taken to drink, punches and ladies but not so much to his craft. One night, he invites a hat check girl, to whom he lent a copy of a novel he has to adapt, back to his place to talk about the novel. His neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), witnesses a bit of the interaction between the two that night and flirts with Steele from afar. The next day, the girl winds up murdered and Steele is the #1 suspect with Gray as his only alibi. Steele and Gray develop a close yet volatile relationship which starts to spin out of control as the murder investigation heats up.

While we were watching this film, Carlos noticed that the storyline shifted focus from the murder investigation to the love story between Steele (Bogie) and Gray (Grahame). He wondered why it didn't get back to the main plot point. I explained that these scenes were really important to the plot overall. It was crucial for the viewer to see the love story develop between the the two main characters for various reasons. 1) It allows the audience to develop some sympathy for both characters. 2) Our sympathy is crucial for caring about the two characters when complications arise later in the plot. 3) It's a slow point in the story that gives the audience a break from all the tension that transpires from the murder investigation. Carlos asked how I knew so much about the movie. I actually didn't know anything about In a Lonely Place but I do know a lot about narrative flow and I'm an amateur deconstructionist who appreciates the power of opposites. Movie goers only have so long of an attention span so they need breaks. Why do you think most musicals have a slow number before the big finale? It's a perfect time for a 3-5 minute mental snooze. You can't be wowed all the time. You need some respit. If you don't, you'll be overwhelmed and may lose interest. Also, how will you fully appreciate the tension of a situation when you don't know what it's like when it's not tense? You'll sense the tension much more accutely when you've had some time to relax. Also, if the film skipped over the love story, how would the audience recognize the importance of the love between the two characters when it becomes jeapordized later if you don't see the love blossom in the first place! While Carlos likes to look at the visual details of the movie, I love the more abstract details. It's two very different ways of appreciating film.

*weirdo fact - Gloria Grahame was married to the film's director, Nicholas Ray. She was estranged from him during the shooting of the film and later married his son. Awkward!

7 comments:

  1. How very modern of her!

    (talking about Gloria Grahame)

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  2. This is one of my most favorite films ever. Bogart at his driest, Gloria Graham sizzles, Frank Lovejoy is given a face to match his voice from the classic radio show Nightbeat. And so many cracking lines.

    -I got married.
    -Why?

    -What's the matter, don't you like to talk anymore?
    -Not to people who have my number.

    -I used to think that actors made up their own lines.
    -When they get to be big stars, they usually do.

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  3. If you ever want an interesting listen, there's an OTR version of In a Lonely Place with Robert Montgomery as Dix.

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  4. "I was born when she kissed me, i died when she left me, i lived for a while when she loved me"

    havent seen this in a few years, how close was i?

    GREAT film, maybe Bogies best of the 1950's and certainly one of Ray's masterpieces. tense, offbeat, great dialogue, incredible performances and for me, a totally absorbing story. Carlos brought up an interesting point and my answer takes it even a bt further than yours Quelle in that the murder and investigation are merely plot points to get the love story rolling and to show us the kind of people we are looking at. In a Lonely place is a Love story first and foremost, just that its also one of the darkest and most tense love stories i've ever seen. the other stuff services the love story not the other way around.
    i have to say i am a big fan of Nick Ray's work. i havent seen them all yet but so far of what i have seen, they've all been worth a look and most of them worth many looks. definitely an offbeat maverick type film maker with a very signature style.
    what is his famous quote, goes something like "I'm the best goddamned filmaker in the world who's never made one entirely great, one entirely successful film"

    i have a book written by Ray, "I Was Interrupted" (fascintating reading btw!) and he absolutely heaps praise upon praise of the talents of Humphrey Bogart.

    your points about tension in a film reminded me of that great scene in the "bad and the beautiful" between Kirk Douglas as producer Johnathon shields and the guy playing his director (cant recall his name) talking about climaxes in a film and how every scene can be one but if so he would be a bad director. its interestig that film and music are much the same thing conceptually, that is we bascially experience 2 things in a piece of music, tension and rest, in vastly varying degrees of course but those are the essential elements. same with a film. maybe its the same with all of the arts, meditate on this, i will....

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  7. i'm sorry Quelle! something is screwy this is the second night in a row that my comments are getting posted multiple times :((((((

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