Thursday, September 17, 2009

Like To Tell You 'Bout My Baby

In a Lonely Place (1950)
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Martha Stewart, Frank Lovejoy
Grade: B+

Joan Fontaine's Best Actress vehicle, Suspicion, bowed nine years before Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, a film that articulates much the same feeling in its leading lady. Gloria Grahame is Laurel, that wary female protagonist, who after meeting and falling for screenwriter Dix (Bogart) gives him a false alibi when suspected of the murder of hat-check girl Mildred Atkinson. As she gets to know him more, however, she begins to see underlying darker aspects to his character that makes murder seem well within his capabilities.

In a Lonely Place is mainly a succcess because of its honest development of a very impulsively formed relationship between two people who wrongly believe what they're going to get from each other. In their first meeting a rather daring Dix proposes that Laurel accompany him to his house, on the false pretense of reading a script to him. This is foreplay at its finest for the fifties; she 'reluctantly' agrees to the exchange knowing his intentions and then proceeds to bow out early, delaying the inevitable climax of attraction. In this way Laurel shows her esteem and sexual power, and as the two eventually form a relationship Grahame charts the incremental abandonment of an initially self-effacing figure in favour of her true desire to take control of her man with the kind of stringent, wildfire sexuality that makes Rita Hayworth's flirting with Glenn Ford in Gilda seem comparatively tame. When it becomes clear that Dix cannot be controlled, and could even threaten her in a physical sense, Grahame retreats into the old damsel routine with such convincing nuance that you could almost feel sorry for her complete lack of faith in a man she thought she had sussed.

I had heard from many people that this was one of Bogart's best performances. It's a very different turn from the "on his game" nature of The Big Sleep and Key Largo as he doesn't have the sustained self-assurance and bravado of Marlowe et al. To see Bogey as mentally weak is strange to say the least, yet (and this is not largely down to him) the question of whether this man is a killer is a lingering but rather limp one. The anti-climactic nature of In a Lonely Place is by far its weakest element, but like the standard modern biopic there are often gems to be found elsewhere. Rather like Walk the Line the reason to see this is not for the character study but for the central relationship, and the Humphrey/Gloria partnership is one of those steamy pairings that leaves you itching to discover if their rocky romance can have a tender resolution. Rent it and see.

No comments: