In A Lonely Place – Based on the Book By Dorothy B. Hughes

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The movie In A Lonely Place, from 1950, stars Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. It was directed by Nicholas Ray for Santana Productions, Humphrey Bogart’s own company, and Columbia pictures.  It’s worth noting that Ray was married to Gloria Grahame when shooting started, but on the way to divorce when it ended. That seemed to have played a role in the adaptation from book to movie.

The movie is based on the book of the same name, by Dorothy B. Hughes….

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….which was originally published in 1947.

Both the film and book are noir; they both have a serial killer plot, a flawed male, a femme fatale and paranoia. Boy, is there a lot of paranoia. The movie leans more toward a love story, with some suspense elements, while the book is a flat out hard-boiled crime drama.  The characters are the same: Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart), Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) and Sylvia Nicolai (Jeff Donnell), etc. and the plots are similar, but the endings are completely different.

Aaaaand that’s all I’m saying about that! I hate spoilers, and I’d hate to ruin either the book or the movie with one because both are worth spending time with.

In the book, we learn right away that Dix Steele is a veteran World War II fighter pilot that ends up in Los Angeles. In both the book and the movie, it’s obvious that Dix can’t recapture the feeling of power and exhilaration the war gave him. The frustration over this rules his life. It’s resulted in a pile of insecurities and a huge inferiority complex that he uses alcohol and anger to deal with.  In noir fashion, Dix is convinced that the “system” is against him. That goes for everyone; employers, friends, bartenders, bus drivers and especially women. He just can’t deal with the lack of respect, power and adrenaline taken from him when “the war crashed to an end.” Anger drives everything he does and he can’t control it.

“Without his uniform, he’s without purpose and dangerous.”  – Megan Abbott, Afterword of In A Lonely Place

Dix’s life after the war consists of one angry decision after another and a whole lot of alcohol. It’s sad to watch, thanks to what I think is one of Humphrey Bogart’s best performances in his career, and I’ve enjoyed almost all of them.

Laurel Gray meets Dix in the apartment building they both live in. (On a side note, this Spanish-style apartment building is amazing). One night, Laurel is questioned by the police about Dix’s whereabouts when a girl that had visited his apartment the night she was murdered. It didn’t scare her, in fact it made him more interesting to her, and “likes his face.” It’s obvious Laurel has had experience with broken men like Dix. While she’s skeptical of him at first, she’s sure she can save him. And then she falls in love with him.

Dix realizes after being in Los Angeles for a few months, that his best buddy from the war, Brub Nicolai also lives in there. Dix hopes seeing him might help bring those old feelings of exhilaration from the war back, so he calls him and sets up a visit. What he finds is a very happily married Brub who has settled nicely into his new life since the war. Of course, Dix is jealous. Dix calls the war, “the best years of my life.” Brub says they were his worst. Oh, and Brub just happens to be the detective that’s investigating the murders of young girls that’s terrorizing the city.

After being let down by Brub’s way of life and lack of love for the war, Dix turns his attention to Laurel. He tries desperately to recreate Brub’s life for himself with Laurel. For a while, we all believe he can do it.

“I was born when you kissed me, I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me.” – he tells her.

We follow Dix through loneliness and excruciating anger. The contrast between Dix and Brub’s lives is stark evidence of the self-hatred that Dix has developed since the war and the consequences that occur because of it. He knows he can never be satisfied with a life like Brub’s, even though he so desperately wants to be. It wouldn’t be enough. Dix flirts with getting caught throughout the story, even that exhilaration would work, but it seems he catches his out of control behavior just in time, every time.

The story is a sad one. Bogart, as usual, is perfect and Grahame is convincing, as usual, as a smart and beautiful femme fatale.  Both the movie and the book give us an interesting psychological profile that can easily consume us.

The book and movie give us a different ending and both are fantastic.


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