In a Lonely Place
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When a gifted but washed-up screenwriter with a hair-trigger temper—Humphrey Bogart, in a revelatory, vulnerable performance—becomes the prime suspect in a brutal Tinseltown murder, the only person who can supply an alibi for him is a seductive neighbor (Gloria Grahame) with her own troubled past. The emotionally charged In a Lonely Place, freely adapted from a Dorothy B. Hughes thriller, is a brilliant, turbulent mix of suspenseful noir and devastating melodrama, fueled by powerhouse performances. An uncompromising tale of two people desperate to love yet struggling with their demons and each other, this is one of the greatest films of the 1950s, and a benchmark in the career of the classic Hollywood auteur Nicholas Ray.
Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place receives a Criterion upgrade on Blu-ray, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K scan of the original camera negative.
With the transfer being handled by Sony I’m a bit surprised this didn’t get a 4K scan, though that hasn’t dampened the final presentation much, if any. We still get a very pleasing, at times even striking, image that delivers the details and depth one would hope for from the format. A few scenes can lack a certain sharpness and look a bit hazy, but it appears to be more a limitation with the source materials. Black levels are nicely balanced with fine, clean tonal shifts in the gray levels, delivering excellent shadow delineation in the darker scenes. Film grain is rendered cleanly, looking natural and never digital or blocky, and in the end the image keeps a filmic quality.
There is some noticeable fading at the edges at times, and there are some slight fluctuations in the image, but otherwise the restoration work has been very thorough. Overall it’s the best I’ve seen the film, looking fairly fresh and new here.
The film comes with a lossless PCM 1.0 mono track. It’s about what I would expect for the age of the film: fidelity is limited and it does come off a bit flat, but dialogue is clear and the film’s score is balanced well so that the higher moments don’t come off all that edgy or screechy. The track also sounds fairly clean, and I didn’t notice any pops, drops, or cracks.
Criterion provides a number of good supplements for this title, though skimps over some of the more interesting aspects to the film. At least we get a new audio commentary—something that seems to be getting rarer and rarer lately—featuring Dana Polan, who wrote the BFI Film Classics book on the film, back in 1993. The commentary doesn’t start out too promising as it’s very clear he’s reading from notes, but he loosens up a bit and the track begins to flow a bit better. While covering the film’s production and sharing some backstories about it (like the fact that Nicholas Ray and then-wife Gloria Grahame were, as one would say, “on the outs”) he also talks about the film’s growing stature over the years, what makes it stand-out from other noirs of the time, its presentation of L.A. and Hollywood, the handling of the central relationship, and how Ray frames and/or lights its characters to convey the information we need about them. He also talks a bit about the film’s original script, which includes the original ending, and makes comparisons to the original novel. This latter aspect isn’t delved into as much as I would have liked but the track as a whole is a solid one, loaded with information while moving at a brisk pace.
Criterion then includes a “slightly condensed” edit of a documentary about director Nicholas Ray, I’m a Stranger Here Myself. The documentary meets up with Ray while he’s working with his students on a film (by the looks of it, We Can’t Go Home Again), getting brief interviews with some of his students and even Ray himself. It’s an interesting set-up, the class living in a communal-type situation (much to the chagrin of the more conservative elements of the university) while making the film. This aspect proves interesting and I sort of wished we got more of this, but the documentary is more of a brief examination of Ray’s career, focusing on a few of his titles, like In a Lonely Place and Rebel Without a Cause. The documentary also gets interviews with director François Truffaut and actors John Houseman and Natalie Wood. Truffaut, who, like many of his Cahiers du cinéma ilk, championed the director, talks about his work, while both Houseman and Wood talk about working with the man, Wood recalling how she got the part in Rebel. Houseman’s portion is particularly great, though, talking about how Ray got “screwed” by the Hollywood system, and the juvenile in me gets a huge kick out of hearing Houseman saying “screwed” and “screwing” over and over again.
As to what was trimmed out it appears to be clips from Rebel Without a Cause and possibly a couple of other films, and it also appears Criterion has inserted stills over some of the clips at least. I was surprised by this (at least the removal of Rebel since Warner Bros. let Criterion put clips from The Road Warrior in their Coen brother/Del Toro feature on Inside Llewyn Davis, though maybe it’s a different sort of rights situation. At any rate, all of the important information feels to be here and it’s an excellent inclusion on Criterion’s part nonetheless. It runs about 40-minutes.
Next, scholar Vincent Curcio, author of Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame, talks about the career of Gloria Grahame, with In a Lonely Place being of particular importance. He gives a bit of a backstory to her life while also talking about the lengths she would go to for her career, which included changing her looks for roles, even going as far as plastic surgery. Unsurprisingly he talks at great length about the tumultuous relationship between her and Nicholas Ray and how the film was more than likely a reflection on their marriage at the time. He then closes by talking a bit about her later career and her other work. At 17-minutes it’s not as in-depth as one would probably like (especially about her later career), really only focusing on the period around In a Lonely Place, but it’s another decent inclusion.
”In a Lonely Place”: Revisited is a feature carried over from the Sony DVD. The 20-minute segment features director Curtis Hanson talking about the film and the impact it had on him, while visiting the apartment complex that served as the basis for the apartment set in the film (and is where Ray first lived when he moved to Los Angeles). Hanson also talks in great detail about the production, the novel on which it’s based (“loosely” I might add), and the various script changes that occurred. Some of the material that Hanson touches on is covered in the previous features admittedly but he does expand on a few areas that Polan really only touched on, like the novel and the original script, which was also changed drastically.
The one area I was hoping to be covered to a certain degree in the features was the original novel, by Dorothy B. Hughes; the film borrows the basic premise from the novel but the novel does differ drastically from the film in certain areas. Hanson talks a bit about it in his feature, especially how the loose adaptation may have been a subtle meta reference in the film in Bogart’s refusal to do a straight adaptation of the novel he’s working on. Polan also talks about the novel and Hughes (particularly her importance in the history of crime fiction and focusing on the psyche of criminals), but other than these mentions there isn’t a real direct comparison of any sort.
Making up somewhat for that is a 1948 radio episode of Suspense (#287), which features an adaptation of Hughes’ In a Lonely Place starring Robert Montgomery and Lurene Tuttle. This is actually closer to the book and I think some will be surprised how different it is from the film. The adaptation runs shy of an hour.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and the included insert features an essay by Imogen Sara Smith, going over the film’s refreshing take on the noir, Bogart’s performance, how personal the film was to its director, and the film’s ending.
Though I ultimately enjoyed going through this release I was still a little disappointed about the lack of specific coverage on certain details about the film. Yes, throughout all of the features, the ending, the novel, and Hughes are brought up, though I would have loved a more specific feature on one or all of these items instead of picking up details throughout, and all of these details never cohere into something all that in-depth about any of those subjects. Also, I was a bit surprised about the lack of anything around Humphrey Bogart, since this is the first film Criterion has released featuring the star (not counting their LaserDiscs of course).
Having said that, though, what Criterion provides is still engaging and informative, and all of it proves to be worth the time of going through.
Criterion delivers a strong special edition for the film, providing some insightful supplements and a strong video presentation. Those fond of the film need look no further than this edition.