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In a Lonely Place

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Robert Lord
Written by Story:
Dorothy B. Hughes
Edmund H. North
Andrew Solt
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Gloria Grahame
Frank Lovejoy
Music by George Antheil
Cinematography Burnett Guffey
Editing by Viola Lawrence
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) May 17, 1950
(United States)
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States
Language English

In a Lonely Place (1950) is a film noir directed by Nicholas Ray, and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, produced for Bogart's Santana Productions. The script was adapted by Edmund North from the 1947 novel In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes.[1]

Bogart stars in the film as Dixon Steele, a cynical screenwriter suspected of murder. Grahame co-stars as Laurel Gray, a neighbor who falls under his spell. Beyond its surface plot of confused identity and tormented lust, the film is a mordant comment on Hollywood mores and the pitfalls of celebrity and near-celebrity, in much the same vein as two other more widely publicized American films released that same year, Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard and Joseph Mankiewicz's All About Eve.

Although not as well known as his other work, Bogart's performance in this film is considered by many critics to be among his finest and the film's reputation itself has grown over time along with Ray's. The film is now considered a classic film noir, as evidenced by its inclusion on the Time magazine "All-Time 100 List"[2] as well as Slant Magazine's 100 Essential Films.[3]

In 2007, In a Lonely Place was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."



Dixon "Dix" Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who has not had a hit "since before the war." While driving to meet his agent, Mel Lippman (Art Smith), at a nightclub, Dix's explosive temper is revealed at a stop light along the way. At the nightclub, Mel cajoles him to adapt a book for a movie. The hat-check girl, Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart), is engrossed in reading it and asks if she can finish, since she only has a few pages left. A second violent outburst occurs when a young director bad-mouths Dix's washed-up actor friend Charlie (Robert Warwick).

Dix claims to be too tired to read the novel, so he asks Mildred to go home with him, ostensibly to explain the plot. As they enter the courtyard of his apartment, they pass a new tenant, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). As soon as Mildred is convinced that Dix's motives are honorable, she describes the story and confirms what he had suspected—the book is trash. He gives her cab fare to get home.

The next morning, he is awakened by an old army buddy, now a police detective, Brub Nicholai (Frank Lovejoy), who takes him downtown to be questioned by Captain Lochner (Carl Benton Reid). Mildred was murdered during the night and Dix is a suspect. Laurel is brought to the police station and confirms seeing the girl leave Dix's apartment alone, but Lochner is still deeply suspicious; Dix shows absolutely no sympathy for the dead victim.

Laurel takes a frightening ride with Dix.

When he gets home, Dix checks up on Laurel. He finds she is an aspiring actress with only a few low-budget films to her credit. They begin to fall in love; this invigorates Dix into going back to work with a vengeance, much to his agent's delight.

However, Dix behaves strangely. He says things that make his agent and Brub's wife Sylvia (Jeff Donnell) wonder if he did kill the girl. In addition, Lochner sows seeds of doubt in Laurel's mind, pointing out Dix's lengthy record of violent behavior. Dix becomes furiously irrational when he learns of it. He drives at high speed, with Laurel a terrified passenger, until they sideswipe another car. Nobody is hurt, but when the other driver accosts him, Dix beats him unconscious and is about to strike him with a large rock when Laurel stops him.

Laurel gets to the point where she cannot sleep without taking pills. Her distrust and fear of Dix are becoming too much for her. When he asks her to marry him, she accepts, but only because she is too scared of what he might do if she refused. She makes a plane reservation and tells Mel she is leaving because she cannot take it anymore. Dix finds out and almost strangles her during a violent confrontation before he regains control.

Just then, the phone rings. It is Brub with good news: Mildred's boyfriend (named Henry Kesler, the same as the film's associate producer) has confessed to her murder. Tragically, it is too late to salvage Dix and Laurel's relationship.



Louise Brooks wrote in her essay "Humphrey and Bogey" that she felt it was the role of Dixon Steele in this movie that came closest to the real Bogart she knew. "Before inertia set in, he played one fascinatingly complex character, craftily directed by Nicholas Ray, in a film whose title perfectly defined Humphrey's own isolation among people. In a Lonely Place gave him a role that he could play with complexity because the film character's, the screenwriter's, pride in his art, his selfishness, his drunkenness, his lack of energy stabbed with lightning strokes of violence, were shared equally by the real Bogart."[4]

The original ending had Dix strangling Laurel to death in the heat of their argument. Sgt. Nicolai comes to tell Dix that he has been cleared of Mildred's murder but arrests him for Laurel's. Dix tells Brub that he is finally finished with his screenplay, and the final shot was to be of a page in the typewriter which has the significant lines Dix said aloud to Laurel in the car (which he admitted to not knowing where to put) "I was born when she kissed me, I died when she left me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me." This scene was filmed halfway through the shooting schedule, but Ray hated the ending he had helped write. Ray later said, "I just couldn't believe the ending that Bundy (screenwriter Andrew Solt) and I had written. I shot it because it was my obligation to do it. Then I kicked everybody off stage except Bogart, Art Smith and Gloria. And we improvised the ending as it is now. In the original ending we had ribbons so it was all tied up into a very neat package, with Frank Lovejoy coming in and arresting him as he was writing the last lines, having killed Gloria. Huh! And I thought, shit, I can't do it, I just can't do it! Romances don't have to end that way. Marriages don't have to end that way, they don't have to end in violence. Let the audience make up its own mind what's going to happen to Bogie when he goes outside the apartment."[5]

Lauren Bacall and Ginger Rogers were considered for the role of Laurel Gray. Bacall was a natural choice given her off-screen marriage to Bogart and their box-office appeal, but Warner Bros. refused to loan her out, which is today thought to be due to their fury that Bogart had set up his own production company (they were afraid that independent companies would jeopardize the future of major studios). Rogers was the producers' first choice but director Nicholas Ray believed that his wife Gloria Grahame was right for the part. Even though their marriage was troubled, he insisted that she be cast. Her performance today is unanimously considered to be among her finest.

Grahame and Ray's marriage was starting to come apart during filming. Grahame was forced to sign a contract stipulating that "my husband [Ray] shall be entitled to direct, control, advise, instruct and even command my actions during the hours from 9 AM to 6 PM, every day except Sunday...I acknowledge that in every conceivable situations his will and judgment shall be considered superior to mine and shall prevail." Grahame was also forbidden to "nag, cajole, tease or in any other feminine fashion seek to distract or influence him." The two did separate during filming. Afraid that one of them would be replaced, Ray took to sleeping in a dressing room, lying and saying that he needed to work on the script. Grahame played along with the charade and nobody knew that they had separated. Though there was a brief reconciliation, the couple divorced in 1952.

The film was one of a number of Nicholas Ray films to be scored by avant garde classical composer George Antheil (1900-1959).

Critical reception

At the time of its release in May 1950, the reviews were generally positive (in particular many critics praised Bogart and Grahame's performances), but many questioned the marketability given the bleak ending. The film was considered a box-office disappointment. Some believe that because the film is a unique combination of genuine romance and dark thriller, there was no easy way to advertise it. Not unlike Nicholas Ray's debut They Live by Night (1948), it was advertised as a straight thriller while the film is not as simply fit into one genre as the marketing shows. Over the passing years the film gathered a cult following (Ray's films had a brief revival in the 70s and Bogart's anti-hero stance became re-evaluated in the 1960s, one possible explanation), and the French during the 1950s praised Ray's unique film making. When the film was released on DVD in 2003, it was hailed as a masterpiece of noir. Even Time Magazine, which gave the film a negative review upon its initial release, called it one of the 100 best films of all time in their 2005 list.

Noir expert Eddie Muller called this title his favorite noir and one which "will stand the test of time."[6]

The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a good review and wrote, "In a Lonely Place Humphrey Bogart has a sympathetic role though cast as one always ready to mix it with his dukes. He favors the underdog; in one instance he virtually has a veteran, brandy-soaking character actor (out of work) on his very limited payroll...Director Nicholas Ray maintains nice suspense. Bogart is excellent. Gloria Grahame, as his romance, also rates kudos."[7]

Bosley Crowther lauded the film, especially Bogart's performance and the screenplay, writing, "Everybody should be happy this morning. Humphrey Bogart is in top form in his latest independently made production, In a Lonely Place, and the picture itself is a superior cut of melodrama. Playing a violent, quick-tempered Hollywood movie writer suspected of murder, Mr. Bogart looms large on the screen of the Paramount Theatre and he moves flawlessly through a script which is almost as flinty as the actor himself. Andrew Solt, who fashioned the screen play from a story by Dorothy B. Hughes and an adaptation by Edmund H. North, has had the good sense to resolve the story logically. Thus Dixon Steele remains as much of an enigma, an explosive, contradictory force at loose ends when the film ends as when it starts."[8]

Critic Ed Gonzalez wrote, "Not unlike Albert Camus' The Stranger, Nicholas Ray's remarkable In a Lonely Place represents the purest of existentialist primers...Laurel and Dixon may love each other but it's evident that they're both entirely too victimized by their own selves to sustain this kind of happiness. In the end, their love resembles a rehearsal for the next and hopefully less complicated romance. This is the existential endgame of one of Ray's smartest and most devastating masterpieces."[9]

Curtis Hanson is featured on the retrospective documentary of the DVD release, and has stated his admiration for the film, notably Ray's direction, the dark depiction of Hollywood and Bogart's performance. This was one of the films which he showed to actors Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in preparation for filming L.A. Confidential. He said, "I wanted them to see the reality of that period and to see that emotion. This movie, and I'm not saying it's the greatest movie ever made, but it represents many things that I think are worth aspiring to, such as having character and emotion be the driving force, rather than the plot....When I first saw In a Lonely Place as a teenager, it frightened me and yet attracted me with an almost hypnotic power. Later, I came to understand why. Occasionally, very rarely, a movie feels so heartfelt, so emotional, so revealing that it seems as though both the actor and the director are standing naked before the audience. When that kind of marriage happens between actor and director, it's breathtaking."[10]

In 2009, film critic Roger Ebert added In a Lonely Place to his "great movies" list.[11]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on twenty-seven reviews. [12]

Comparisons to novel

In a Lonely Place was based on Dorothy B. Hughes' 1947 novel of the same title. Some controversy exists between fans of the film (who complain that the book is not as emotionally deep or personal as Nicholas Ray's film) and fans of the novel (who view the film as a watered down adaptation), as Edmund H. North's script takes some elements of the novel, but is ultimately an entirely different story.

The strongest difference between the two works lies in the primary character: the film's Dixon Steele is a screenwriter with an offbeat lifestyle, and a decent person with fatally poor impulse control and prone to wild overreaction when enraged. The novel's Steele is a first-person sociopathic narrator, Ă  la The Killer Inside Me, and a charlatan who pretends to be a screenwriter while sponging money from relatives. When this well dries up, he murders a wealthy young man and assumes his identity, in a manner similar to Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley. (It should be noted that Hughes' novel predates Highsmith's and may have influenced it.) The film follows the question of whether Dix finally went too far in his anger and committed the murder under investigation to a tragic end: even though he's proven innocent, his rage at the cloud of suspicion has driven the woman he loves away for good. No question of Dix's innocence exists in the novel, which follows the investigation of a murder Dix plainly committed and his self-insertion into that investigation for his own ends.

Hughes' novel, out of print for decades, was re-released by The Feminist Press at CUNY in 2003, which edition is still in print as of April 2007. The novel has been hailed lately as a stellar example of mid-twentieth hardboiled/noir fiction, both as a rare example of women's writing in that genre and for its quality and contributions to that genre.

Notable quote

Dixon [quoting dialog from his new script to Laurel]: "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

Music connections to the film

The title is also one of the songs on the Smithereens' 1986 debut album, Especially for You. The lyrics include a reference to the above quote. It is also the title of a 1980 Joy Division song, later re-recorded and released as a B-side to New Order's Ceremony single and was a B-side by Bush. The song "Morning Glory", from Versus' 1998 album Two Cents plus Tax, includes a reference to the film's title in its lyrics, and also quotes the famous lines above in each of the song's three verses. The country band Rascal Flatts's song "While You Loved Me" is also an homage to the film's signature lines.


  1. ^ In a Lonely Place at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ In a Lonely Place on Time's "All-Time 100 List"
  3. ^ In a Lonely Place on Slant Magazine's 100 Essential Films List
  4. ^ Brooks, Louise. Sight and Sound, Winter 1966/67, Volume 36 Number 1, "Humphrey and Bogey." Last accessed: January 20, 2008.
  5. ^ Eisenschitz, Bernard. "Nicholas Ray: An American Journey" (Great Britain: Faber and Faber Limited, 1993) page 144.
  6. ^ Muller, Eddie web site.
  7. ^ Variety Film review, May 17, 1950. Last accessed: January 20, 2008.
  8. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, May 18, 1950. Last accessed: January 20, 2008.
  9. ^ Gonzalez, ED. Slang, film review, 2001. Last accessed: January 20, 2008.
  10. ^ Lyman, Rick. The New York Times, article, " A Dark Lesson In Trust," December 15, 2000. Last accessed: April 30, 2008.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. In a Lonely Place - Great Movies. August 13, 2009. Last accessed: December 2, 2009.
  12. ^ In a Lonely Place at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: December 2, 2009.

External links



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