Film noir is the porn of pessimists, who like nothing more than to watch stylishly photographed movies in which the Robert Mitchums of the world make the mistake of going to bed with the Jane Greers of the world, for which they pay with their lives. In LaBrava, Elmore Leonard dreamed up the perfect title for a nonexistent film noir: “Obituary.” That’s a movie somebody needs to make.
Alas, I’m just as hopeless a case–I’m one of those pathetic cinephiles who can’t settle on the best place to hang his framed On Dangerous Ground lobby card–and in the interests of spreading my addiction more widely, I want to pass the word that Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place is now available on DVD. In a Lonely Place is well known to serious film buffs and Humphrey Bogart fanatics, but if you don’t fall into either of those two categories, you probably haven’t seen it. Do so. Bogart plays Dixon Steele, an almost-washed-up screenwriter who gets tagged with a brutal murder at the precise moment that he falls hard for Laurel Gray, a blonde with a past-and-a-half. Gloria Grahame, the ultimate film-noir babe, is eerily perfect as Laurel, and as all cinephiles know, she was simultaneously (1) married to Nicholas Ray and (2) having an affair with Ray’s teenage son while the movie was in production. Yikes!
As for Bogart, he never made a better movie, and I do mean Casablanca. David Thomson nails it: “This last [film] penetrates the toughness that Bogart so often assumed and reaches an intractable malevolence that is more frightening than any of his gangsters.”
This, by the way, is the film in which Bogart rasps out the line of a lifetime: “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” If that doesn’t make you go ooooh, film noir is not for you.