WEIRDLAND: Merry Christmas In a Lonely Place

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas In a Lonely Place

Humphrey Bogart with Lauren Bacall and son Stephen on Christmas Eve in their Beverly Hills home, 1951. Humphrey Bogart was born on 25th December, 1899 in New York City (Happy anniversary, Bogie!)

"It is unlikely Bogart was ever more frightening, and he doesn’t even touch a gun. Nor was he ever so pathetic, so vulnerable, so damaged. His Dixon Steele lashes out at the universe for the success it took from him, and for the wisdom and sensitivity it refuses to recognize—primarily because he is so quick to temper with those he can’t stand, which is most of the world. In other words, Dix is Nicholas Ray.

Maybe even more impressive is the bringing to life of Gloria Grahame. A wooden and catty actress in her 40s work, In a Lonely Place is her greatest performance, rivaled only by her turn in Minnelli’s The Cobweb. Laurel Gray is calm, composed, collected. Grahame jams her hands in the pockets of her skirt, or knowingly half-smiles at Bogart in a manner suggestive of someone who is as comfortable as she is controlled. Every facial movement is precise and meaningful. Laurel Gray is a failed actress, and like all great Ray protagonists, acutely aware of her own failures.

Dix is an outsider, a man not meant to travel in the comforts of normal society. Unlike Ray’s other protagonists, however, his individuality destroys him. Rather than define his strengths, that marginalization is his greatest weakness. He and Laurel’s loneliness is quelled by their union for only 16 of the film’s 93-minute running time. Their isolation is too powerful to keep them together. In a way, from how she keeps Dix at a distance, and how she faintly wishes their love could have lasted, Laurel knows their fate from the beginning". Source:

My favorite films of Bogart are "In a lonely place", "The Big Sleep" and "Casablanca". If I choose "In a lonely place" (based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes that dealt with misogyny written in 1947) is because Dix Steele is in my opinion his most brilliant and devastatingly humane performance. Although John Huston was Bogart's best comrade among all the filmmakers with whom he'd work, Nicholas Ray is behind the camera the poet of love (he was called by François Truffaut "the poet of nightfall", Jean-Luc Godard said even more, identifying Ray with the cinema itself: "the cinema is Nicholas Ray"), and some critics think that Ray was capable of tapping into Bogart's personal anguish, deep disillusionment, moral dilemmas and his own Hollywood image which he'd created time ago.

Being Bogart and Ray second colaboration, the film also reflected indirectly the humilliation Bogart had suffered in the anti-communist hearings by the HUAC. As Dix, a once-glorious, now-struggling screenwriter, he stands for the contradictions he'd faced throughout his career and his fear of loneliness, of not controlling the outer reality and his worst impulses, and Gloria Grahame is Laurel (she was Ray’s wife at the time), a failed actress, the woman who loves him for the decent, intelligent man who really is beneath that terrifying façade of cynicism. One of the themes that Ray perfects echoes in the film is the societal pressure and its fatal consequences over sensitive, dislocated souls as Dix and Laurel.

The dialogue is incredible: "I make it a point never to see pictures I write", "There's no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality" an specially "I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me."

Bogart plays an antihero who drinks too much, who can love but cannot connect and who is capable of dismantling the false values of the film industry itself. Louise Brooks wrote in her essay "Humphrey and Bogie": "he played one fascinatingly complex character, craftily directed by Nicholas Ray, in a film whose title perfectly defined Bogart's own isolation among people. That film was In a Lonely Place. It gave him a role that he could play with complexity, because the film character's pride in his art, his selfishness, drunkeness, lack of energy stabbed with lightening strokes of violence were shared by the real Bogart."


UltraViolet said...

Belated Merry Christmas, Kendra! And an early Happy New Year :)

Elena said...

thanks, UltraViolet, Merry Christmas to you too, I hope you have great Holidays in company of your family and friends :)