In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place was the second film the great Hollywood director Nicholas Ray made for Humphrey Bogart’s production company (the first was 1949’s Knock on Any Door, the huge success of which took Ray into the big time). One of the most remarkable things about the film is how it inflects Bogart’s ‘tough-guy’ persona in a way that is recognisably Ray’s, emphasising inwardness, solitude and vulnerability, and making violence the index of the character’s weakness rather than strength. Bogart plays a semi-successful Hollywood screenwriter torn between his contempt for the modes and values of the film community and his need to shore up a very insecure self-image by achieving success in the terms which that society recognises. His own conflicts make him sensitive to any real or imagined affront, so that he lashes out with crazy savagery in the face of threat. Under (groundless) suspicion of murder, he enters on a romance with the neighbour (Gloria Graham) who provides his alibi. But both partners stake too much on love’s power to dissolve individual tensions and the affair disintegrates under the strain of accumulating suspicion and recrimination.
In a Lonely Place is a very unusual love story and a mordant rebuff of Hollywood’s (and Ray’s?) desire to believe in romance as a solution to the lovers’ problems. With a typically open ending that leaves the characters more or less where we found them at the start, the film is almost an enactment of one of the most heretical statements from Ray’s masterpiece, The Lusty Men: ‘Marriage is lonely, but it ain’t private.’ Despite a construction that is at some points rather forced, In a Lonely Place could be a textbook of directorial skills, particularly in the control over performance and decor.
(U.S.A., 1949. Black and white. 93 mins.)

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