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Saturday, July 2, 2011

IN A LONELY PLACE (1950)

Before Humphrey Bogart found his signature flawed-heroic character in THE MALTESE FALCON/’41 and CASABLANCA/’42, he often played the ‘heavy’ against more established stars. Only after WWII was he able to bring his neurotic, even psychotic rage to leading roles with films like TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE/’48 and THE CAINE MUTINY/’54. Yet he never fell so far into the abyss (nor looked it) as he did in this unjustly neglected near-masterpiece from Nicholas Ray. Bogie’s a wised-up screenwriter who takes home a hat-check girl; not for hanky-panky, but because she’s just read the trashy novel he has to look at. Later that night, the girl is murdered and suddenly he’s a prime suspect. But the story hangs less on a murder case than on a mental case, Bogie’s. Tightly strung at the best of times, he’s cracking under the pressure of being a suspect, pouring himself into a crap project and finally finding the ‘right’ woman living just across the courtyard, an indispensable Gloria Grahame. His guilt is never an issue, we know he’s in the clear, but his demeanor is. Inappropriately jokey about the victim and lashing out with jealous fits & violence over presumed slights, something is eating away at him, but what? Ray pushes his slight story a bit too hard, and risks some ‘bad laughs,’ even his best films like BIGGER THAN LIFE/’56 and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE/’55 suffer from them. But few films take us so far down into romantic chaos or offer a better look at the Hollywood life away from the studio cocoon.

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