Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place is the newest addition to the Criterion Collection, a magnificently dark noir thriller comprising one of Humphrey Bogart's signature roles. Bogart plays Dixon 'Dix' Steele, a grouchy, hot-tempered Hollywood screenwriter who finds himself the prime suspect in a murder case. The magnetic Gloria Grahame plays alongside Bogart as Laurel Gray, bringing depth to a role that in lesser hands could have played as mere foil to Bogart's volatile Dix.
In many ways, In a Lonely Place is more Laurel's picture than Dixon's, effectively locating him as a de facto homme fatale: seductive, enigmatic, and dangerous. Dangerous, in no small part, because of his grouchy charisma, with early scenes showing Dixon to be witty and charismatic. Importantly, it's not just Bogart's charm in this film that makes Dix sympathetic; following heroic roles in Casablanca, The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, Bogart's perfect casting complicates our reading of the controlling and sociopathic Dix, endearing us to his dubious appeal. But make no mistake, Dix is a thoroughly unpleasant individual: he obsesses over Laurel, exhibits no emotion over the death of a woman in whose murder he is implicated, and savagely beats a stranger almost to death following a minor traffic accident. Wearing an increasingly pallid, ghastly expression, Dix's self-loathing externally manifests itself in the violence he does to others. This is noir deconstructed - taking the witty, world-weary cynics for which Bogart is known and shining a light on their erratic tendencies, In a Lonely Place encourages its audience to revisit the appeal of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Mike Hammer in the light of Dixon Steele. It's difficult to believe that the moral pool of classic noir could become murkier than it already is, but In a Lonely Place succeeds in dredging up its filthiest mud.
The ending, significantly departing from its source, offers a truly bleak, tainted resolution: as Dix recedes into the shadows, the remaining characters must contemplate the emotional carnage that surrounds them; they, and the audience, are left alone in an isolated world, dark, cold and hard. Dix, for all his monstrous actions, is not aberrant, and his emotional disconnection, self-loathing and violence are ugly but common facets of an increasingly corrupt world. In a Lonely Place's pitch-black final statement, that even the light of the truth can do nothing to stop the rot, is as irresistible as it is devastating.
In a Lonely Place is released on blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection in the UK.
Christopher Machell | @MagnificenTramp