Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), a short-fused screenwriter, takes a hat-check girl home, and she’s found dead the next morning. The police suspect him, especially due to his violent past. He gets a partial alibi from his neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), and the two start a romantic relationship.
This is a strange film for Bogart. Around this time he was either playing sympathetic villains or strong heroes. Here he’s weak, mean, and unsympathetic. Similarly he was in so many beautiful films in the ‘40s and into the ‘50s, and this one is ugly—like they bought cheap film stock. The shots themselves are OK, but several steps down from the sort of thing he’d been doing with Huston and Hawks and Curtiz. At times it is distracting. The secondary actors fit those elements. They aren’t bad, but drab. The cops and his friend’s wife barely register. They bring nothing. Maybe it was a matter of budget.
But this is a Bogart film, and one that gives him a chance to stretch, which means Dixon is interesting and engaging. And Grahame is nearly his equal…nearly. When they are together, the problems are hard to notice. It is strange for a film that focuses almost entirely on these two characters, and with fine performances, that we know so little about them by the time it’s done. She’s a mess, but we don’t know why or even in what way exactly, and he is a gigantic mess, but again, we don’t know why.
The script is decent, if not brilliant. The dialog sings in some places, and is painful in others (the police inspector’s lines stands out as ones best cut). As for the story, I’d rank it as the best of the “Is my lover a murderer?” psychological dramas. It tosses in a red herring that is annoying in that it is so clearly a red herring, but that’s a minor issue, and something needed to be tossed in.
In a Lonely Place is disappointing. There’s plenty of good moments, but those moments didn’t keep me in the picture enough to hide the flaws.