Directed by Nicholas Ray in 1950 and based on the novel of the same name by Dorothy B. Hughes, In A Lonely Place introduces us to a jaded Hollywood screenwriter named Dixon Steele (Humphry Bogart, who worked with Ray one year prior on Knock On Any Door). Dix to his friends, he's a little rough around the edges but hey, he's got character, a bit of a temper too. We see this in an early scene where, when stopped at a traffic light, he almost winds up in a fistfight with a stranger over a minor traffic mishap.
After that, he makes it to the nightclub where he's arranged to meet his agent, Mel Lippman (Art Smith), who is hopeful that Dix will get out of this slump he's been in for some time now. Mel tries to talk him into adapting a popular novel into a screenplay and with some encouragement from Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart), the pretty coat check girl at the club, he gives it some thought. That night, he takes Mildred back to his place to talk about the book. He later sends her on her way, to go get a cab at the taxi stand around the corner but that night, she turns up dead and he's a suspect. A friend of Dix's from the army, Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy), is working the case and he brings him in for questioning. Here he meets a beautiful blonde named Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). She's a failed actress who just so happens to be the new tenant in the building where he rents his apartment. He saw her from his balcony the night Mildred was murdered, and more importantly Laurel saw Mildred leave his place alive that night.
Dix is released, he has a witness that can back his story up after all, but Brub's commanding officer, Captain Lochner (Carl Benton Reid), remains suspicious of him. Soon enough, Dix and Laurel are falling fast in love with each other. She's inspired him to get his writing career back on track, but soon enough she starts to wonder if his violent past might have something to do with Mildred's death after all… and then he proposes to her.
Produced by Bogart's own Santana Productions, In A Lonely Place didn't set the box office on fire in its day despite some critical acclaim, however it's rightly gone on to be considered a legitimate classic. Bogart, perfectly cast in a role that by all accounts wasn't so far removed from his off camera persona, does an amazing job of bringing Dixon Stapleton to life. He nails every aspect of the character: the romantic side we see early on in his dealings with Laurel, his disillusionment with the Hollywood machine, his hot temper and penchant for sporadic violence and the periodic dealings with self-confidence issues. It's a part that seems tailor made for the actor and he really runs with it here. Likewise, Gloria Grahame does excellent work here in a part that was at one point intended to go to Bogart's wife, Lauren Bacall. She was under contract to Warner Brothers at the time which is why it didn't happen, and that led to Ray casting Grahame, his own wife, in the lead. She too does excellent work here, and you have to wonder if the fact that she and Ray were having more than their fair share of marital problems during the shoot affected the way she played the part at all. She's also incredibly sexy here, and the camera makes no qualms whatsoever about highlighting her very distinct and alluring physical features. It's fascinating to watch the two leads in the film, each one broken in his/her own way and doom to see the love they find crumble under the stress of the murder investigation to which they are each linked.
While the screen play may take some liberties in how it adapts the novel, Ray's direction is assured and appropriately slick. It builds to a finish that hits like a punch in the gut, but that ending feels inevitable, not gimmicky or tacked onto the film the way it could have been. The film is also interesting for how it takes some pretty obvious pot shots at the Hollywood establishment. Given that Bogart had ‘gone out on his own' with Santana Productions after rising to fame playing parts for the majors, this feels like it has a personal connection to the actor. If at times the film feels more like a character piece than a traditional thriller, so be it. When everything comes together in a way that feels as natural, effortless and earnest as it does with In A Lonely Place you don't mind so much.The Blu-ray:
In A Lonely Place arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded transfer framed at 1.33.1 fullframe on a 50GB disc from a new 2k master taken from the original 35mm negative and it looks excellent. The black and white image shows frequently impressive detail, though it should be noted that there are a few shots that are intentionally soft looking. Grain is present but there isn't really any obvious print damage, the picture is remarkably clean and very film like. There's good depth to the image, even in some of the darker interior scenes, and the image demonstrates good shadow detail throughout. Contrast looks spot on, so we get nice, bright whites alongside rich, deep blacks and a pretty full grey scale covering everything in between. Compression artifacts are never a problem and the picture is free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. Criterion have done an excellent job in the visuals department for this release.Sound:
The only audio option for the feature is an English language LPCM Mono track, while optional closed captioning is provided in English only. For an older single channel mix, this track sounds very good. The score has good range and depth to it and the dialogue sounds nice and natural. The track is consistently well balanced and free of any audible hiss or distortion.Extras:
Extras start off with a commentary track from Dana Polan, the man who wrote the BFI Film Classics book on the feature. It's a solid track containing a lot of good information delivered at a fine pace and with a very listenable vibe. Polan spends a good bit of time disussing the source material that was adapted for the film, but so too does he go into detail about why certain shots are filmed from the angles that Ray chose to use, some of the locations that pop up in the film, biographical detail about the different cast and crew members and quite a bit more. Alongside the barrage of facts, Dolan also offers up some interesting critical analysis about the development of the relationship between the two leads, some opinions on what makes the characters work the way that they do, and a good bit of insight into how and why the script plays out the way it does in this particular take on the book.
Criterion have also included a host of featurettes on this disc, starting with a seventeen minute piece entitled Gloria Grahame that, as you'd guess, covers the life and times of the film's lead actress who passed away from breast cancer in 1981. The featurette is made up of input from author Vincent Curcio, the man who wrote the Grahame biography Suicide Blonde: The Life Of Gloria Grahame and clearly he knows his stuff. He talks about how she rose to prominence in the 1940s, the early years of her career, some of the highlights from her filmography, her stage work, and of course her personal life including her marriage to Nicholas Ray. Also worth watching is the twenty-one minute piece In A Lonely Place Revisited in which filmmaker Curtis Hanson talks about what makes this film unique in the pantheons of film noir and classic thrillers while also touching on Ray's directorial style and the importance of the performances in the feature. Criterion has also included an episode of a radio program from March of 1948 entitled Suspense that is a sixty minute adaptation of the novel that features Robert Montgomery and Lurene Tuttle in the roles played by Bogart and Grahame in the film.
Outside of that the disc also contains the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. Inside the clear keepcase is an insert booklet containing credits for the feature and the disc as well as an essay on the picture written by Imogen Sara Smith.
In A Lonely Place is an excellent film, a thriller with plenty of romance and drama worked in that really benefits from some great performances and impressively tight direction. Criterion has rolled out the red carpet for this release, giving it a beautiful presentation and throwing a really solid selection of supplements onto the disc to complement the feature attraction. Highly recommended.