IN A LONELY PLACE is a unique film noir, one without detectives or sleuthing or mobsters or a femme fatale, but it has the worldview of film noir in spades. Pause for Sam Spade joke to permeate.
Bogart is a Hollywood screenwriter with a chip on his shoulder, starting fights with loud directors, treating women like crap, and generally acting like a Hollywood screenwriter, compelled to do his work, hating that writers are treated like shit. He was the last person to see a young woman before she was murdered. His neighbor, Gloria Grahame, vouches for him, and they begin an affair while he works on a screenplay while under a cloud of suspicion. Love, adventure and laughs follow. Then the commercial break ends and we’re back to this miserable slab of darkness.
Director Nicholas Ray–who was separating from wife Grahame during filming–is most famous for REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, two masterpieces I’ve never been able to get through. That’s saying something, since I’ve gotten through MANOS, ZATT! and STEEL MAGNOLIAS. He makes up for any sins with this, a look at Hollywood without an ounce of the playfulness of SUNSET BOULEVARD (a superior movie, but how critical can it be if Hollywood loves it?). No one but the losers get off easy here.
The significant element, the thing that makes this stand out, is the Bogart character’s lack of likability. We see how society WANTS him to be found guilty because he’s creepy, cranky and mean. Time and again we’ve seen cases where people enjoy hating on those charged with crimes, and then are disappointed when the mean guy gets off. Of course (of COURSE!) we only want the guilty to be sent to the hoosegow (sp?) but if we’re really honest, we want to see the pricks sent packing, too. In a Lonely Place touches on this desire as no other film has.
There’s a lot to enjoy and explore here but for me the thing that makes In a Lonely Place significant is the obvious thing, that society loves being seduced by the romantic, wronged accused. A bad disposition is enough to get society on its hind legs, hoping you get taught a lesson the hard way.