Note: Spoiler Alert
Director Nicholas Ray has long been heralded as the film buff’s favorite bad boy. Rebellious and iconoclastic, Ray’s films seem like big budget traditional Hollywood works but once they get going, we quickly realize that we’re in for some surprises and by the time he started making noir, critics said his approach was treating it “as if it were an existential allegory of the white male condition,” (Naremore's "More than Night", 26). Take the noir classic In A Lonely Place, the subject of much cinematic analysis by scholars dating as far back as Bazin’s legendary critical journal "Cahiers du Cinema." The terms film noir and auteur were both coined around the same time as the critics began analyzing the works of Nicholas Ray, whom Jacques Rivette said presented themes in his work of “the inner demon of violence, which seems to link man and his solitude,” (Namermore, 26). Like Otto Preminger’s Laura, the film is about a villainous writer whose brilliance has twisted his mind (later the idea of the crazy writer is put to brilliant use by Altman with The Player). Instead of gay subtext and high culture like Preminger’s Laura, Ray cast Humphrey Bogart in this subtle film based on Dorothy B. Hughes novel “of American Machismo Gone Mad” which also manages to make a few jabs at the Hollywood blacklist. Bogart’s hard-drinking, hard-brawling not as pretty as Russell Crowe male heavy “offers a fascinating commentary on Bogart, synthesizing many of his earlier performances and tough guy persona,” according to James Naremore’s "More Than Night" (128). In the film, he’s falsely accused of murdering a young woman whom he hired to tell him the plot of a popular novel he’s been hired to adapt for the studio. The audience catches early on that our hero is actually an anti-hero as an ex-lover accuses him of misogyny and he gets in a few near fights. However, it’s the man from Casablanca and we don’t want to believe the worst. Bogart’s Dixon Steele becomes involved with his sultry film noir siren neighbor, Gloria Grahame and for most of the film she believes in his innocence until his erratic behavior scares her. According to several sources and biographers, the relationship onscreen of Bogart and Grahame seems to echo the “stormy affair and later marriage” of Nicholas Ray and his leading lady. In the end of the film, just before his name is cleared, the two get into a scuffle and he nearly chokes Grahame, signifying that he was capable of the crime all along. In a way it reminded me of David Mamet’s Oleanna, which tells the story of a professor accused of sexual harassment by a homely female student. The viewer isn’t sure what to believe until at the end the professor lashes out at the student violently, signaling that he did have an inner beast that as a woman she may have sensed. In "Film Noir," the authors state that by the conclusion of the In a Lonely Place, “whatever sympathy the viewer might have had for Steele has dissolved and what remains is the image of a violent, misogynistic man whose future is, like his mind, hopelessly clouded,” (Silver and Ursini, 122).