After fourteen years of taking orders from Jack Warner, Humphrey Bogart wanted more control over the pictures he made, more money, and more time off to spend on his boat. Due to his massive success in The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and the Bacall films, Bogart signed a very favorable 15-year contract in 1946 with Warner Brothers.
The contract gave him the right to choose his projects and directors, and to make films outside of Warner Brothers in his own production company, named Santana after his boat.
He and director Nicholas Ray adapted Dorothy Hughes’s novel In a Lonely Place, the story of a woman who knows that her boyfriend is paranoid and violent at best, and a brutal murderer at worst.
There was talk of Lauren Bacall playing the woman—the Bogart and Bacall box office was still strong—but Jack Warner had his limits. Bogart could make films under his own banner, but Bacall was still under contract to him.
Things worked out for the best, as I don’t think I’m alone in not wanting to see Bogart strangle Bacall, even in fiction. Gloria Grahame, Ray’s wife, took the role and did a marvelous job with it.
In a Lonely Place tells the story of Dixon Steel (Bogart), a jaded and alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter with a flaring temper that often ended with him slugging someone in a bar. He takes a girl home with him one night to tell him what she thought of a novel he was going to adapt into a screenplay.
He sends her home, but she’s found dead—brutally murdered—in the morning, and Dix is the prime suspect. He would’ve been arrested immediately but for the fact that his neighbor, Laurel Gray (Grahame) witnessed the girl leaving his home alone.
Despite their inauspicious meeting at the police station, Dix and Laurel, two hard-boiled cases, fall in love. Laurel is at first certain that Dix is innocent of the crime, but as she gets to know him, she sees flashes of paranoia and rage.
Dix is jealous and temperamental. One night he gets road rage and nearly beats the driver of the other car to death.
Frightened, Laurel decides that despite her love for him, she must break off their engagement. She has come to believe that he did murder the woman, and that he could do the same to her under the right circumstances.
Sensing something is wrong, Dix demands to know why Laurel is acting so cagey with him. Realizing she is planning to leave him, Dix goes into a blind rage and begins to strangle her on her bed.
The strangling is interrupted by a telephone call—the police calling to tell Laurel that the true murderer of the girl has confessed, and Dix is finally in the clear.
The film ends as Laurel, disheveled and half-strangled, looks over at Dix, who is horrified at what he has nearly done.
“Yesterday, this would’ve meant so much to us,” she tells the bewildered police captain over the phone. “Now it doesn’t matter…it doesn’t matter at all.”
Bogart and Grahame have a nice chemistry, and this biting noir hits all the right notes.
Perhaps director Nicholas Ray was in the right frame of mind to direct his wife in such a cynical picture, as their marriage was disintegrating during the filming and ended soon after. There are tales, never fully proven, that Grahame slept with Ray’s 13 year old son Anthony from a previous marriage.
True or not, Grahame married her former step-son Anthony Ray ten years after the filming of In a Lonely Place. Grahame had a son with Nicholas, and later two sons with Anthony.
That must’ve made for some interesting Thanksgivings.
- Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax. Bogart. 1997.
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