Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In a Lonely Place. A

Some of the best movies in the world are tragedies, and a lot of the ones I personally love would make you cry if you saw them. I can't think of a sadder movie than In a Lonely Place. Noirs aren't supposed to make you cry, they're supposed to make you sigh in relief that you aren't mixed up in one in your own life. But In a Lonely Place isn't really a noir, but a romance that is fueled and ultimately exhausted by a murder. Just before he really started looking old and beaten and bald, Humphrey Bogart took on maybe his best role in this perfect film. His co-star is Gloria Grahame and the director is Nicholas Ray, the stylish creator of a lot of great dramas, noirs, and Westerns. Beloved by many, especially Godard and Truffaut, Ray is the kind of director you seek out film by film and see with each one the mark of a master. In a Lonely Place is set in California where old movie legends and studio stalwarts are dying out but still determined to scrape by at the top. It's at the time when someone like Ray would have started to take things over. Bogart is a screenwriter named Steele who "hasn't had a hit since before the war," but is still hard at work and at the start of the film preparing to adapt a novel that hat-check girl Mildred Atkinson calls "an epic." Steele invites Mildred to her apartment for a reading of the story, is bored by her young, guileless behavior, and sends her out the door. Morning, a knock on the door, Steele is escorted to the police, and is informed that Mildred has been murdered. Steele has a good heart but a violent temperament (he says it's artistic), which is why the cops suspect he may be guilty. Steele, despite his tendency to express his anger physically, is likable and, we hope, innocent. But unlike the wrong man films of Hitchcock, we're not quite sure the suspect did not commit the crime. That's the beauty of Steele's character, but it's not the great beauty of Ray's film. What makes this movie transcend all the wrong man, mystery noirs ever made is that it makes the murder investigation seem to be the front and center of the story and then suddenly introduces Gloria Grahame and makes us almost forget that it happened. The famous line, "I was born when you kissed, me, I died when you left me, I lived a few weeks when you loved me," is exactly what the movie is about. It's a beautiful line and In a Lonely Place is a beautiful film, haunting, brilliant, sad, and real.

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