AFI lists him as the #1 greatest male screen legend of all time, beating out the likes of Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Brando. Woody Allen made an entire film about an obsessive desire to be him. And though Sinatra gets the credit, he’s the true founding father the original Rat Pack. It’s his slightly lisped voice we hear when someone says ‘Here’s lookin at you’ and ‘This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’ and ‘The stuff dreams are made of’–words that are now an ingrained part of our cultural vocabulary.
Of the 13 films being aired today, the one film that I would personally recommend as the absolute cannot miss you-must-see-this-film-or-else-you-fail-at-life, is Nicholas Ray’s seething, steamy, psychological film noir In A Lonely Place.
Bogart plays the volatile Dixon Steele: a twisted Hollywood screenwriter with a scathing wit and hot temper who is never far from a fight. (There are two within the first ten minutes of the film.) Dixon’s agent has just tasked him with adapting a silly novel into a good script. Rather than wade through the pages, he asks a hat check girl to come home with him and tell him the story. Sound like a proposition? It isn’t. Dixon is much more interested in the hot babe (Gloria Grahame) that just moved in across the courtyard. The hat check girl leaves, Dixon goes to bed, and first thing in the morning he is called to the DA’s office for questioning over her murder.
Bogart’s performance is darkly complex— his vulnerable insecurity manifesting itself with bouts of explosive violence and keeping us guessing, right up to the final seconds of the film, as to whether or not he committed the crime. Bogart’s chemistry with Gloria Grahame is white hot, as is Grahame herself. When she whispers “I don’t want anyone but you,” her lips muffle her speech as they press against Bogart’s cheek. It’s one of the sexiest lines ever spoken.
The passion of his relationship with her is so all-consuming it suggests that she is the first woman he has ever truly loved— is made all the more poignant by the fact that she will probably end up being the only woman he will ever love. The words from one of his scripts lay bare Dixon’s torture: “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.“
Like many of the best noirs, Lonely Place is set in Los Angeles–a city that is often more of a plot device than a mere setting, as is the case here. There is something sinister and dark lurking beneath the bright lights of Tinseltown. A bitter subterranea of thwarted dreams souls lost in a lonely place. Of which Dixon Steele is just another face in the crowd.
Bogart is nothing short of extraordinary here, exhibiting a range not always allowed him on screen. One minute he’s Rick Blaine, the next Duke Mantee, and in certain riveting moments, Bogart foreshadows the insane paranoia of The Treasure of Sierra Madre’s Dobbs. Dixon is layered, difficult, and absolutely needed to be played by the actor who pracitcally invented the onscreen antihero.
Taught, tense, and thoroughly unforgettable, In a Lonely Place is the definitive Bogart film.