“In a Lonely Place” (1950) film analysis. Spoilers.
Brub (Frank Lovejoy) demonstrates on Sylvia a possible murder method
When Edmund H. North adapted the story, he stuck close to the original source and John Derek was considered for the role of Dix because in the novel the character was much younger. North’s treatment was not used. Andrew Solt developed the screenplay with regular input from producer Robert Lord and director Nicholas Ray, and the end result is far different from the source novel. Solt claimed that Bogart loved the script so much that he wanted to make it without revisions – Solt maintains that the final cut is very close to his script – but further research shows that Ray made regular rewrites, some added on the day of shooting. In fact, only four pages of the 140-page script had no revisions. The film was produced by Bogart’s Santana Productions company, whose first film was Knock on Any Door (1949), which was directed by Ray and starred Bogart and Derek in the leading roles.
Louise Brooks wrote in her essay “Humphrey and Bogey” that she felt it was the role of Dixon Steele in this movie that came closest to the real Bogart she knew. “Before inertia set in, he played one fascinatingly complex character, craftily directed by Nicholas Ray, in a film whose title perfectly defined Humphrey’s own isolation among people. In a Lonely Place gave him a role that he could play with complexity because the character’s pride in his art, his selfishness, his drunkenness, his lack of energy stabbed with lightning strokes of violence, were shared equally by the real Bogart.” Apparently, on one voyage in their yacht Santana, Bogart showed an inexplicable burst of rage that frightened his wife Lauren Bacall.
The original ending had Dix strangling Laurel to death in the heat of their argument. Sgt. Nicolai comes to tell Dix that he has been cleared of Mildred’s murder but arrests him for killing Laurel. Dix tells Brub that he is finally finished with his screenplay; the final shot was to be of a page in the typewriter which has the significant lines Dix said to Laurel in the car (which he admitted to not knowing where to put) “I was born when she kissed me, I died when she left me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me”. This scene was filmed halfway through the shooting schedule, but Ray hated the ending he had helped write. Ray later said, “I just couldn’t believe the ending that Bundy (screenwriter Andrew Solt) and I had written. I shot it because it was my obligation to do it. Then I kicked everybody off stage except Bogart, Art Smith and Gloria. And we improvised the ending as it is now. In the original ending we had ribbons so it was all tied up into a very neat package, with Lovejoy coming in and arresting him as he was writing the last lines, having killed Gloria. Huh! And I thought, shit, I can’t do it, I just can’t do it! Romances don’t have to end that way. Marriages don’t have to end that way, they don’t have to end in violence. Let the audience make up its own mind what’s going to happen to Bogie when he goes outside the apartment.”
Bacall and Ginger Rogers were considered for the role of Laurel Gray. Bacall was a natural choice given her off-screen marriage to Bogart and their box-office appeal, but Warner Bros. refused to loan her out, a move often thought to be in reaction to Bogart having set up his own independent production company, the type of which Warner Bros. were afraid would jeopardize the future of the major studios. Rogers was the producers’ first choice but Ray believed that his wife Gloria Grahame was right for the part. Even though their marriage was troubled, he insisted that she be cast. Her performance today is unanimously considered to be among her finest.
Grahame and Ray’s marriage was starting to come apart during filming. Grahame was forced to sign a contract stipulating that “my husband [Ray] shall be entitled to direct, control, advise, instruct and even command my actions during the hours from 9 AM to 6 PM, every day except Sunday … I acknowledge that in every conceivable situation his will and judgment shall be considered superior to mine and shall prevail.” Grahame was also forbidden to “nag, cajole, tease or in any other feminine fashion seek to distract or influence him.” The two did separate during filming. Afraid that one of them would be replaced, Ray took to sleeping in a dressing room, lying and saying that he needed to work on the script. Grahame played along with the charade and nobody knew that they had separated. Though there was a brief reconciliation, the couple divorced in 1952, when Ray found Grahame in bed with his thirteen-year-old son.