A Two-fer Movie Review: In a Lonely Place (1950) & This Gun for Hire (1942)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
There are two things that immediately stand out, for me, about this film.
One: Humphrey Bogart was a genuinely great actor, who could do a whole lot more than simply play "hardboiled," cynical, fast-talking private detectives, seemingly jaded but endowed with a "heart of gold," like Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade (and variations like Rick in Casablanca).
Two: At a running time of just a shade over ninety minutes, I thought to myself, yet again, at the conclusion of this film that: They sure knew how to pack a whole lot of story in just an hour and a half, in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s.
I want to start by saying that, although I am by no means an expert in the filmography of Mr. Bogart, this is the most powerful and disturbing performance I have seen him put on so far. It even surpasses his brilliance in Dark Passage.
Mr. Bogart is both mesmerizing and terrible (in the fearsome sense) to behold.
His co-star, Miss Gloria Grahame, plays off Bogart brilliantly, as we witness Dixon Steele (Bogart) bend the will of a formidable woman, Laurel Gray (Grahame), into an anguished, overwrought, quivering mass of nerves --- who, almost literally, doesn't know whether she's coming or going.
What's it about?
Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele (Bogart) makes a fantastic first impression, and has many fine qualities to recommend him. He is good-looking, in a rough-hewn sort of way; he is funny, charming, suave, sophisticated (perhaps even a bit cynical). And he is charming company at cocktail parties.
But alas, Dixon Steele is not a perfect man (Who is?). But his imperfection is rather socially disruptive. You see, Steele has a violent temper; and not even the fair sex, it seems, are to be spared the back of his hand, or worse, the circling of his fingers around her throat in anger.
With emotional baggage in tow, Dixon Steele starts a new relationship with the unsuspecting Laurel Gray (Grahame). But when a young girl from the typing pool, who had some connection to Steele, is found brutally murdered near his residence, then... Heavens to Betsy!
Is Steele guilty? Did his legendary temper take him over the edge? Is he innocent?
In the end, for the dramatic purposes of this film, will it even matter?
This Gun for Hire (1942)
This one stars Alan Ladd and co-stars Veronica Lake.
The first thing to say is that Alan Ladd was a good professional actor, who could play both good guys and bad guys well. Though I think he was slightly more convincing in the heroic role.
This film is fine, okay, more than competently put together and directed. I have no complaints, really. But neither do I come with glowing appreciation.
The movie is okay. Just okay.
One problem, I think, is the fact that Alan Ladd's character ("sadistic killer-for-hire Raven"), is not given enough room to breathe.
This movie is not as much fun as it should have been. This is mainly because of the dreary, unlikeable presence of the Raven --- which, I believe is the performance Ladd was supposed to give.
This film is one of those anti-Communist pieces, in which a lifelong criminal bad guy finds partial redemption by striking a blow for America, by doing his small bit to smash a Communist covert operation... here in America!
Ladd and Veronica Lake have good chemistry here, and I wish more could have been done with that dynamic. Infusing that relationship with more adventurousness would have aired this film out, so to speak. Their relationship and situational progression (sorry, I'm just making up words here) feels cramped, dingy, and unworthy of the talents of these two actors.
Nevertheless, the film is a perfectly functional, sturdily built, mid-level action movie of the film noir genre, for the period.
Thank you for reading!