Wednesday, October 23, 2013
CANON OF FILM: "IN A LONELY PLACE"
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Andrew Solt from the adaptation by Edmund H. North based on the story by Dorothy B. Hughes
If there was ever a director who was ahead of his time, it was Nicholas Ray. If he had started making movies in the ‘70s, he would be right up there with Martin Scorsese in our minds. His films, on top of being expertly shot and made, dealt with characters who were social outcasts. Alienation, before anybody ever heard of the word. Much less, understood what it meant. Yet, his movies weren’t about people fighting against society, they were about those who couldn’t understand it, and yet, what’s most remembered about them are how the characters themselves had to fight inner demons, so deep that sometimes, were not let on to exactly what they are. His most famous film is “Rebel without a Cause,” mostly because of its iconic James Dean performance. I’ve written on that film once before, where I describe many of the hidden sexual symbolisms of the movie. Many of his films involve themes that added sexual confusion to the theme of alienation, like the western “Johnny Guitar,” which makes the male characters unsure weaklings and the women characters strong and murderous. “In a Lonely Place,” doesn’t appear to have quite the same kind of alienation, but what it does have is a character that’s possessed by demons. He can be thoughtful and loving one second, and just as quickly burst into a murderous rage. Dix Steele is one of Bogart’s greatest characters and performances. He’s an unemployed screenwriter who’s renown all over Hollywood for his temper. One late night, instead of reading a novel that he’s been offered to adapt into a screenplay, an act which, on its face Dix would normally never consider if he didn’t need the money, he brings home a hatcheck girl, Mildred (Martha Stewart, no not that one) to tell him the story, as oppose to reading it. She leaves, and then she ends up dead. Dix is the lead suspect, although we know he didn’t do it. An alibi witness corroborates his story, (Gloria Grahame) a next-door neighbor who just moved in. She saw them go in, although we don’t see her watching the girl leave, despite what she says. Does Ms. Grey have an ulterior motive? It’s hard to say. She’s certainly attracted to Dix, and soon after they start an affair, which makes Dix look more suspect, not to mention his long record of violence, including suspected violence against women. As he gets his screenplay nearer and nearer to completion, which of course is nothing like the novel, (Ironically, this movie included many differences from the Dorothy Hughes novel it’s based on) he seems to fall more and more in love with Laurel. He also becomes more and more possessive. All the while, the investigation into the murder continues on, adding one more strain on this already tumultuous romance. The title has multiple double-meanings depending on how you look at it. “In a Lonely Place,” not only shows the loneliness of a man on edge, the loneliness of a killer who’s just killed, an artist’s loneliness as he works, my favorite, and the one I’m most familiar with, but also the loneliness of being in a relationship with someone like that. It’s not a film where characters find love as a cure-all for their ills, instead we get a movie about how an artist must have both his good side and his bad side in order to work. To strip Dix of his demons and anger is to strip Dix of being Dix, something Laurel can only find out gradually. There’s a few movies about films and filmmakers like “Sunset Boulevard,” “8 ½,” and “The Player.” Those movies are good at showing the aspects of filmmaking that they show, but “In a Lonely Place,” shows us what it’s like to be an artist in an industry that strives to work on as little art as possible. And shows what a lonely feeling that can be, even, or especially so, when a relationship is involved.