Thursday, January 29, 2004

In A Lonely Place

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Humphrey Bogart: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of)

I love movies that start out as one thing and then become something else. In A Lonely Place isn't as extreme an example of this as, say, From Dusk Til Dawn, but it does make a pretty nifty transition from a light mystery to a darker drama with thriller elements.

It starts out with Bogart playing Dix Steele, an alcoholic screenwriter, genial to his friends but somewhat dismissive of others around him (most of whom richly deserve his contempt). He's given the task of adapting a best-selling novel which he really doesn't want to read, so invites the coat-check girl who has read it home with him. The overly-perky girl soon gets on his nerves, however, especially when they bump into his pretty next-door neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). He eventually sends the girl away, only to be told the next morning by an old army friend now working for the police department that she's been murdered. The neighbor is able to offer an alibi, though, and confesses her attraction to him. What she'll soon discover, though, is that beneath his intelligence and wit, there's a dark side.

The woman-in-peril movie is a genre that has probably never been out of vogue; this is one of the better examples I've seen. Bogart, a movie star who's perfectly capable of being a creep, is perfect casting, and Grahame is quite convincing as someone who thinks she knows what she's getting into only to be surprised by the extent. Having the investigating officer be an old army pal of Bogart's character seems a little contrived (especially when he and his wife invite Steele to dinner in the middle of the investigation), but the investigation becomes somewhat secondary over the course of the movie as it shifts focus to Dix & Laurel's relationship and pasts.

In A Lonely Place is a well-done genre movie, with a pair of very good lead performances, wit, suspense, and an excellent ending. That's something I've been noticing about older movies lately - between having all the credits up front and not feeling the need for epilogues, their endings seem much more powerful. There's no time wasted after the critical event, and as a result, movies like In A Lonely Place seem to have a greater impact than many of their modern counterparts.

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