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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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 so little 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.


Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Very perceptive comment about actors recalling a project's merits in terms of its financial performance, and I think you've got something there.

Eddie Cantor made his dramatic debut in M-G-M's FORTY LITTLE MOTHERS (1940); far from typical Cantor (he plays a quiet college professor who cares for an abandoned baby) and I think he's terrific in it... but in his 1957 book biography he dismisses it as a failure. Do you happen to have the financials for this picture? They might support your theory.

2:58 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

As a matter of fact, Scott, "Forty Little Mothers" did lose $364K, which makes Cantor's dismissal of it understandable.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thought you might enjoy my In a Lonely Place article from last summer:

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Always liked this film ... I don't know if I can access the streaming, but I'd love to see it again!

10:45 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I first saw In a Lonely Place at Eastman House a few years ago and it immediately became one of my favorite movies--certainly my favorite Bogart. And anything with Gloria Grahame leaps to the top of the list.

I figured it would've been a hard sell, but I thought that, since it came from his company, Bogart was going out of his way to do something risky. Just wish the guy who plays his agent wasn't so over the top--the rest of the cast hits all the right notes, even the hatcheck girl (and especially his cop friend's wife).

I saw that this was on Crackle, but I'm trying not to overwatch favorites just because they're readily available--tends to make things stale for me.

11:29 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I might have reacted the same to the Crackle thing, but it had been at least five years since I saw "In a Lonely Place," so it seemed like good a time as any to look at it again.

12:01 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I love this film and I consider it more of a drama than film noir.

There are several great posters for this film. These are three of my favorites.



But this one from Argentina is my favorite

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Dan in Missouri said...

Although not an ideal way to watch amovie, In a Lonely Place can be watched for free on a computer at along with many other movies and an interesting mix of old television shows.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Dan in Missouri said...

A typo correctiion: It is of course,, not
Dan in Missouri

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Talking about IN A LONELY PLACE without mentioning Nicholas Ray is like talking about PEEPING TOM without mentioning Michael Powell.

It's not a crime or anything. It's just weird.

6:06 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Chris, I kind of did that on purpose ... seems most everything about "Lonely Place" focuses on Ray. I just didn't want to parrot what better writers have already said.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Your comments and Scott's follow up about old school movie stars of a certain era rating the success of their own films largely on commercial terms are particularly spot on when we are talking about projects on which their own production companies took the lead. I seem to remember Danny Kaye singling out KNOCK ON WOOD as his favorite of his pictures. That one was nestled between two much bigger box office hits, HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON and WHITE CHRISTMAS, but he explained that WOOD was the best because it was one movie that 'got everything right' or some such. I'm thinkin' it made money, got great reviews (NY Times had it on their 10 best list!) AND it was a personal project with his own money involved. Caught up with it the other night (first time in decades)... first half of the film is so busy setting up subplots and sub-subplots they don't actually get around to being funny until 45 minutes into the show. Writers-producers-directors Panama and Frank greatly improved that formula for a later Dena production (Kaye's company) THE COURT JESTER. But am pretty sure that one tanked when first released. TV viewing boomers have justly declared JESTER a classic, but Kaye was apparently less impressed, lumping it in with so many of his other films that didn't have 'everything right.'

11:12 PM  
Anonymous StevenT said...

In the book, by Dorothy B. Hughes, Dixon Steele is in fact the murderer, resulting in a mediocre "damsel in distress" sort of thriller.

Steele's being innocent in the movie changes everything. I don't know who's idea it was, but it was brilliant.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

The "killer" on "Lonely Place" (as I recall) was one Henry Kesler, an "in-joke", as Kesler was the AD on the film. He later became a director at Ziv and he and his wife Nancy were practically my parents' closest friends. He was also a great guy!


5:18 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I had read about that name thing somewhere, RJ. Great to hear from someone who actually knew the inspiration for "Lonely Place's" killer.

6:36 AM  

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