In a Lonely Place (Blu-ray Review)9 May, 2016 By: Mike Clark
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy.
As an artful hybrid of film noir and what used to be called the “woman’s picture,” this now revered movie of Dorothy P. Hughes’s same-titled but much altered novel is regarded by a few as Humphrey Bogart’s big-screen apogee, though it has to be said that co-star Gloria Grahame fights him to a draw here in the acting department (and, for that matter, in the movie’s focus). Director Nicholas Ray gave his real-life wife one of her biggest casting breaks — their broken marriage kept secret throughout the filming because Grahame’s casting would have been otherwise imperiled and probably outright nixed by the studio. And this when she’d already gotten an Oscar nomination for 1947’s Crossfire just three years after her debut in MGM’s Blonde Fever (which I just recorded off Turner for future edification) — though her career had been floundering some thanks to mostly nondescript roles aside from that flash of noir glory.
Still, 1950's In a Lonely Place was foremost a Bogart baby from own production company at Columbia and his second association with Ray after their less-critically successful adaptation of Willard Motley’s bestseller Knock on Any Door (the director’s third film but the first one to hit theaters because RKO chief Howard Hughes kept sitting on the release of They Live by Night despite what should have been its obvious brilliance). It’s been interesting to re-watch this movie so soon after Twilight Time’s concurrent release of Cutter’s Way because both have stories that start out as whodunits before turning fairly soon into psychological studies. And if you want to extend the analogy even further, both deal with the tension and animosities that have-nots feel when surrounded by “haves.”
In screenwriter Bogart’s case, he is not destitute — just a guy who hasn’t penned a hit since before World War II, in part because he’s stubborn and loftily wants to avoid lending his name to trash. His apartment (modeled physically on the first place Ray resided after reaching Hollywood) is livable enough but not anyone’s idea of ritz; unemployed actress/neighbor Grahame, with just a couple ‘B’-pictures to her credit, can afford to live just across the courtyard. As it turns out, this not-even-fleeting acquaintance comes in handy as a friendly witness (albeit for complicated reasons) when Bogart is accused of murdering a bubble-headed hatcheck girl who has nonetheless actually read the doorstop potboiler he’s been hired to adapt and can thus offer a kind of cheat-sheet summary. Bogart has an old war buddy (Frank Lovejoy) on the police force who’d like to have his back, but the latter’s superior is hip to Bogart’s explosive temper and past arrests, smelling a still-serious suspect. Even Lovejoy’s wife thinks that Bogart is off his trolley — which he is.
I suppose you’d have to say that the actor was fairly marble-less as the vampire he was mortified to play in The Return of Dr. X — but really, now: If you do a mind-Google of “Bogart” with “mental illness,” the two standouts you’re going to get are The Caine Mutiny and this one. For a brief while, we think that his character and Grahame’s might be able to provide each other with the love they both need and maybe some obviously needed relaxation on his part, now that she has done her best to clear him. And, in fact, the dream comes true during an easygoing beach scene with friends before it goes haywire at the end because Bogart thinks the parties are saying or doing things behind his back. And you know what? — a lot of people are doing just that, which can and does stoke his barely obscured paranoia on a dime.
This is an odd Hollywood movie in that it ignores the usual settings: soundstages, writers’ bungalows, studio-head offices and premieres. One contributor to this is the 91-minute running time, which feels just right given a potentially claustrophobic story that mostly takes place in a handful of places: the shared apartment complex, the police station and a bar that caters to ‘B’-list show biz types — though tell Bogart’s character to his face that he’s degenerated to that status, and he might hit you with a rock (as he nearly does here to a collegiate driver in a case of road rage). In very short order, Grahame goes from being half of a serious relationship to one who’s fearing for her life, and film scholar Dana Polan makes the more-pertinent-than-ever point on this release’s bonus track that violent acts by males are often excused — and never more so than when they’re against women — if the guy’s talent or standing make him “special.”
Polan’s commentary is more psychologically oriented than buffy/historical, which gives him the opportunity to show how Ray’s masterful blocking of actors in most or all of his best work enabled him to establish the relationship between characters to maximum effect. Other extras include an essay by Imogen Sara Smith (a writer I like); a 1948 radio adaptation of the Hughes novel that aired on “Suspense”; an interview with Grahame biographer Vincent Cursio about her (euphemistically speaking) colorful life; and a featurette, carried over from the old Sony DVD, in which director Curtis Hanson visits some of the original settings (the foliage on the apartment that inspired the studio’s recreated version could use some swipes with the pruning shears).
There’s also a slightly pruned version of the famous but relatively little-seen I’m a Stranger Here Myself, which mostly chronicles Ray’s tenure as a faculty member at Binghamton University in upstate New York, trying to eke out a collectively constructed film called We Can’t Go Home Again, which only in recent times has seen completion (or something passing for it). A movie-savvy friend of mine who went to Binghamton at the time told me that Ray used to wear some kind of belt around campus in which to stash his hash. A by-now eye-patched Ray is seen here in the debilitated state that the last would suggest; though he says more than a few lucidly smart things, you always fear that he’s going to go into some kind of permanent brain-freeze on the spot. Yet for a guy who abused his talent and had to have felt like a stranger around the moneymen, he made more than half-a-dozen great movies out of a fairly meager total — kind of like Sam Peckinpah did. In other words, I didn’t lobby to name our older son Nick for nothing, and this sadly haunting Place is one of the reasons.