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Murder Slim Review: IN A LONELY PLACE

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The first striking thing about the movie is that Humphrey Bogart's "Dixon Steele" is the hero of the movie... but also a nasty piece of work at times. Of course, Bogart began as a bad guy in 30s' movies. He was consistently good in these roles, just witness his scary bit-part turn in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. Even in THE MALTESE FALCON, his Sam Spade takes glee in sending over his (criminal) gal at the end. CASABLANCA turned Bogart into a more sympathetic - and lovable - hero, but it's in his rare tough-guy roles in the 40s and 50s that I think he really excels. THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. THE CAINE MUTINY. And this one.

IN A LONELY PLACE has the scriptwriter and author Dixon Steele having to research a trashy story. He interviews a hat-check girl called Mildred, but she's murdered that night. We're pretty sure that Dixon hasn't done it, but he's without an alibi and he's also a cantankerous guy with the police. There are some hilarious quips from Steele that peeve the cops, and set them on his trail. Luckily, Dixon's next-door neighbour (Laurel) falls for him and provides him with an alibi and also a sense of stability. Well, kinda. Because Dixon doesn't respond too well to being in a relationship, and his hair-trigger temper still pops out now and then. Dixon is essentially a women-beater, and the movie makes him progressively both sympathetic and scary as hell. Did Dixon murder the girl after all?

Nicholas Ray is a great choice of director for a somewhat barking-mad movie, which is very groundbreaking for its time. This guy directed the sort-of-lesbian JOHNNY GUITAR, the teen-defining REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and the confuse-a-blind-girl noir ON DANGEROUS GROUND. IN A LONELY PLACE feels different and ahead of its time. Dixon's dialogue works as an expose on the reality of Hollywood. It bursts through all the of the shit that the studios built up around their films:
Mildred: "Oh I think it'll make a dreamy picture, Mr. Steele. What I call an epic."
Dixon: "And what do you call an epic?"
Mildred: "Well, you know - a picture that's REAL long and has lots of things going on."

It's ultimately very adult, with little concession made for mainstream audiences. Of course, film noir always does this well, but IN A LONELY PLACE takes it to some of the extremes. The beautiful cinematography emphasises this, with rich shadows and extensive use of claustrophobic close-ups. Bogart rears out towards the camera at times, threatening us as well as the people in the movie. And kudos also to the script, which is consistently interesting and just damn witty.
Dixon: "Oh, I love a picnic. Acres and acres of sand and all of it in your food."
Laurel: "Stop griping. Just lie still and inhale."
Dixon: "What, sand?"
Laurel: "No, air - and don't let it go to your head."

Overall, IN A LONELY PLACE feels like a largely forgotten classic. It's my favourite Bogart movie... and that guy didn't have a bad career, did he?

Review by Steve Hussy