A Vicious Circle
Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a frequently recognized and popular screenwriter who finds himself suspect No. 1 when a hatcheck girl shows up dead after visiting Dixon's apartment. It is Dixon's lack of emotion which causes the police to become suspicious which puts detective Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) in a difficult situation and he was in the Army with Dixon where they became close friends. Fortunately Dixon's attractive neighbour Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) gives him an alibi and whilst the police are still suspicious it does bring Dixon and the attractive blonde together. But Dixon's volatile nature which causes violent outbursts start to worry Laurel which in turn causes Dixon more stress as he senses her growing fears especially with the police still around putting pressure on him.
"In a Lonely Place" is a movie starring Humphrey Bogart, directed by Nicholas Ray, shot in black & white whilst featuring a crime story causing it to be called film-noir. If that isn't a combination which will appeal to various groups I don't know what movie will. The question really is will "In a Lonely Place" entertain someone who isn't a great fan of Bogart and doesn't go wild for Ray whilst finding the term film-noir little more than an umbrella term to cover just about any black & white movie which has a crime story? The answer is yes but not to the extent it entertains others.
In truth "In a Lonely Place" delivers pretty much all that I expected from this sort of movie, especially one directed by Nicholas Ray. It has a certain look which even over 60 years later still looks sharp and skips along at a decent pace so it never becomes over ponderous or pretentious. It is also filled with classic or should that be stereotypical characters from the conflicted detective to the attractive Laurel with her figure hugging tops and initially quiet beauty.
But what makes "In a Lonely Place" more than just another film noir/ crime story is that it ends up more of a character study. On one hand we have the beautiful and at times almost Icy Laurel who starts to see the dangerous side to Dixon, the volatile side which can emerge in a blink of an eye whilst also still seeing the other side, the generous and loyal friend to those who have earned his respect. And as such we have Dixon and we get to see how his character changes under pressure first from the investigation which digs in to his violent past and then from seeing how Laurel reacts to him when the stress of the investigation starts eating away at him which makes his paranoia and volatile nature worse. Ironically there is still a little matter of did he or didn't he kill the hatcheck girl but it is the character study side which is entertaining.
As such it has to be said that "In a Lonely Place" relies heavily on the performance of Humphrey Bogart and you almost get a sense he gave more of himself to this role than he had ever done before. As such we have this image of a man loyal to those who were friends but quickly angered by anyone who showed him or those he respected disrespect. It is because of this you become more immersed in the character of Dixon rather than the actual crime story.
What this all boils down to is that "In a Lonely Place" probably does score highly for those who are fans of Humphrey Bogart or Nicholas Ray or those who love film-noir. But for those seeking just to be entertained it works well but more as a character study than a crime story.