Favorites List --- In a Lonely Place
I thought Crackle was merely what came between snap and pop, but turns out there's a place by that name streaming movies "for free" to Sony Blu-Ray users. Enough programming travels on air now to confuse sharpest observers. My stumble across In a Lonely Place at Crackle was unexpected as most else watched lately ... but how do you pass up quality so good as this? Most are high-definition, shorthand for best ever look of titles seen endlessly before, but never to such perfection as here. In a Lonely Place has been called a cult film, more recently film noir, anything but the flop it was when new. Do seek it out if you haven't already (at Crackle or elsewhere), for here's a doomed romance tinged with mystery/suspense and what's maybe Humphrey Bogart's top-of-them-all performance under fine direction by Nicholas Ray. It lasts 94 minutes and those pass quick. Why did it tank? I'm suspecting the title bore guilt there. In a Lonely Place suggests where many among audiences lived, some (if not all) of the time. Maybe this turned them off going in 1950, plus Bogart having no business in merchandise bearing such label (his name still synonymous with gats and gals, whether he liked it or not). Exhibs felt similarly: Why Bogart doesn't make action pictures as before, I'll never know ... most of my patrons don't understand it, and they don't keep it a secret. Domestic rentals for In a Lonely Place croaked at $954K --- no Bogart picture had earned solittle since before High Sierra.
I read Bogart never liked In a Lonely Place. Speculation was, he thought the character of Dixon Steele struck too close to home. Anyone who's read an HB bio knows there are parallels, though to cite these as reason for the star's antipathy strikes me as doubtful. More persuasive is simple fact In a Lonely Place struck too close to Santana account books, greasing wheels toward that independent company's disillusionment. It wasn't uncommon for players to assign merit based on a project's commercial outcome. If critics didn't respond and a public wouldn't attend, how could you call something good? To 1950 tastes, In a Lonely Place lacked a genre fit it needed. Columbia tried positioning it as a mystery, but where's real doubt of Dix Steele's innocence, at least among viewers if not characters in the film? Promise of a "surprise finish" was emphasized on posters, virtually setting up customers for a fall. Variety spoke bluntly to lack of an audience-pleasing ending. The film's mature and understated wrap-up would not be rewarded by a marketplace expecting third-act fireworks, especially from Bogart. I looked for and couldn't find indication HB pushed In a Lonely Place as he had just previous Tokyo Joe (via personal appearances). Could it be he got a squint at the finished product and wrote it off?
Bogart was, among other things, peeved over Warners' refusal to loan wife Lauren Bacall for In a Lonely Place (they even nixed her walking onstage when Bogie appeared with Tokyo Joe in New York). Would Bacall as Lonely Place co-star wear so well as Gloria Grahame? The latter seems the better actress to modern sensibilities, certainly as a noir icon she surpasses Bacall. Considering freight their offscreen love hauled, I wonder if Lonely Place might have been thrown askew as a fifth Bogart-Bacall teaming, Santana/Columbia's road-company Dark Passage being surest route to a more conventional film than In a Lonely Place turned out to be. With regard latter's inside Hollywood setting, there'd be few patrons identifying with show-biz characters, even marginal ones dramatized here. When had movieland been so sourly depicted prior to 1950? It is doubtful that this type of presentation furthers the industry's public relations, said The Motion Picture Herald, perhaps unmindful of grenades a few month's later Sunset Boulevard would toss. H'wood excess had generally played for comedy, as with Sullivan's Travels, but Lonely Place enactors saw movie fans for dumbbell cretins and each other as popcorn salesmen. There's a meanness to Bogart's bum-rushing a cocktail waitress (and eventual murder victim) whose offense is liking popular novels and films based on them. Writers could be cruel turning lasers on a public they held in contempt even in best of times. One of them, Andrew Solt, complained of cut-rate sets built for In a Lonely Place, specifically a restaurant/bar said to have been patterned after Bogart's own after-hours haunt, Romanoff's. Well, this was Columbia, after all, and likely as not, skimpy $ they advanced, plus what Santana bank-borrowed, would not have been enough to put Lonely Place in Bogart's accustomed Warner class.
Trade reviewers were warm/cold, recognizing high-grade effort with doubts a few expressed over commercial prospect. A strange admixture of romance and melodrama, came word from a May preview Variety attended, displayed in episodic fashion to provide moderate entertainment at best (though that trade did file a later, more positive "official" review). Motion Picture Herald's outlook was brighter (... should go over big at the boxoffice) and all agreed Bogart had done exemplary work. Sometimes confidence, or lack of same, in a new film was revealed by key city openings. In a Lonely Place hit grounds running in New York and Chicago, but it wasn't the picture doing heavy lifting. Patti Page and Frankie Laine were headlining the Paramount's Broadway stage bill, resulting in a first week's $80,000 the movie surely would not have delivered on its own hoof. Chicago's Oriental Theatre offered in-person Louis Armstrong as buttress to Bogart with $38,000 banked for an opening frame. So, given pick between Satchmo and Bogie, which would have settled your decision to go? Frankie Laine (or at least his shadow) followed In a Lonely Place to its Los Angeles saturation run, where FL's When You're Smiling played second feature (and mood relief?) to Bogart's dark walk. There was no stage revue, and the bill closed after eleven days with total receipts of $41,500. In a Lonely Place would not be reissued, and television release came in December 1960. As to HB and his producing company, Army Archerd reported: Bogart was all smiles yesterday (2/17/55) --- received the check (almost a million bucks) from Columbia for his stock in Santana. The deal called for HB ownership in eight features to be transferred, including six made for Columbia (the actor owned some of And Baby Makes Three and The Family Secret in addition to ones he top-lined), along with interest in The African Queen and Beat The Devil. It was later said that Bogie framed a copy of the check to hang on his den wall.