Wednesday, 23 February 2011

In a Lonely Place (1950) - Nicholas Ray

Bit of strange one this, it's noir but not as we know it. There's no guns, gangsters, running from the cops, heists, no huge shadows even, in fact it's none of the things we come to expect from a noir flick. But then this isn't just a film noir, it's got touches of melodrama and has a murder mystery running through the background to boot. At it's heart though it's a guy meets gal film, romantic in a dark smokey twisted sort of way.

Bogart plays screenwriter (see I told you it wasn't your run of the mill noir, didn't I), Dixon Steele. Dix has a temper on him, the opening scene alone see's Bogie offering to lamp someone when he stops his car at a traffic light, he ends giving just about every person that he runs into a slap at some point or other in the film. He's not a likable guy, yet played by Bogart you can't help but feel for him. Those hangdog features, the sad eyes, the downcast looks they almost make you forget just what a heel the guy is, almost. Gloria Grahame is Laurel Gray, newly moved in across the courtyard from Dix. You know those women that only seem to exist in American films from the 50's, all pointy bras and sassy in a way that no person on earth could be? Well that's Gloria. She's no dumb broad, she's independent and a great foil for Bogart. You wouldn't call her a dame, not to her face at any rate. Well of course Dix falls for her and that's really what the film is about. There is a murder in there but that's kind of secondary (it happens off screen), it pushes our lovers together and then pulls them back apart. It keeps the pressure on the relationship, since both the cops and the audience are uncertain whether Dix did the bad deed or not. Gloria first meets Dix when she provides him with an alibi. It's one of the many great scenes in the film between the two leads, not great in the way it's lit, directed or edited, great in the way the dialogue is delivered by Grahame and Bogart. The two policemen in the room with them melt into the background, I think it's around here that it becomes obvious that Ray is going to focus on the relationship between these two, and not the murder that had been the focal point up to now.

Any film that is going to put a screenwriter under a microscope had better be well written, and In a Lonely Place is just that, and then some. The plot is as tight as a seventies footballers perm, the dialogue is the sort that you wished you'd said, yet know that if you cribbed it people would think you a right wally. 'I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.' Wonderful stuff, Bogart does this kind of thing in his sleep. The timbre of his voice is perfect for these kind of lines, he really sells them. He even makes smoking seem cool, you can see why a generation took him to their hearts. He may have only had three expressions when acting, but he uses them so devastatingly. I really don't know what more to say about this film, since I don't want to give away any plot. It really is one of those films that deserves to be praised to the heavens. Put it this way, from now on if I read a list of great films from the 50's and this isn't on it, then I'll know just how clueless said list is. Convinced yet? What is the lonely place that the title eludes to? Is it the the site of the murder, Hollywood itself or Dixon's heart? I know what I think, I'll be surprised if you can guess how it all pans out, now there's something you can't write about every film.

I've seen this twice, this time the way God intended (at the cinema) and the print was beautiful. There are a couple of great lighting moments when Bogart's eyes are highlighted as he goes into a frenzy telling a story, which are the sort of touches I adore in these older films. I'm not really all that au fait with Nicholas Ray (hey that rhymes, maybe I should make a hipster T with that on it), but that's all going to change this year. He's someone who I'm determined to see a few films by before 2011 becomes 2012.

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