sun 22/09/2019

DVD: In a Lonely Place | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: In a Lonely Place

DVD: In a Lonely Place

Nicholas Ray's masterful thriller ponders the screenwriter's art and impossible love

"I lived a few weeks while you loved me": Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) and Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart).Columbia Pictures

In a Lonely Place (1950) contains one of the most harrowing night-time drives in all of film noir. Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart), a volatile screenwriter suspected of murder, accidentally learns that his new girlfriend, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), has been freshly interviewed by detectives. In one of his uncontrollable rages, Dix slaloms through the Hollywood hills, the terrified Laurel in the passenger seat, and scrapes the paint off another car. He beats up the young driver for yelling at him and is about to smash his skull when Laurel screams at him. Is it any wonder she starts to regret their involvement?

Nicholas Ray’s romantic thriller is only a noir by common consent, however. Ray used the genre’s format as a conduit for exploring two torturous processes dependent on evasion and concealment: the distillation of a classy screenplay from a trashy source, which Dix explicates to Laurel and his friends as he writes one, and the curdling of a passionate affair that was bringing about redemption.

Even as they made the film with maximum professionalism in the fall of 1949, Ray and Grahame’s marriage was undergoing its first collapse. A master of psychological realism, Ray bequeathed Dix his own paranoia and Bogart’s brawler image while drawing on Grahame’s elusiveness – apparently real – to ramp up Laurel’s ambiguity. She gave one of her greatest performances.

It isn’t all hell. The clearly post-coital intimacy demonstrated by Dix and Laurel as they smoke and drink cocktails at the end of nightclub performer Hadda Brooks's piano was uncommonly adult for a Hollywood film. Laurel’s attempt to build a surrogate family around Dix with the help of his sweet old agent (Art Smith) and a washed-up, Shakespeare-spouting ham actor (Robert Warwick) is deeply moving. But there’s no brooking Dix’s existential choices – which augured Ray’s own eventual alienation from the studio system.

Among the features on the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray edition are a revealing video essay on Grahame by her biographer Vincent Curcio, a shortened version of the 1975 Ray documentary I’m a Stranger Here Myself, and a radio adaptation of Dorothy B. Hughes’ source novel – the ultra-bleak ending of which Ray felt obliged to eliminate from the movie. 

Dix and Laurel's post-coital intimacy was uncommonly adult for Hollywood


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.