Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy
Director: Nicholas Ray
Any Bogart film deserves a place on a must watch or classic movies list. He’s one of my all-time favourite actors. He often played characters who had more than a hint of the amoral, but were also good guys, think Rick Blaine in Casablanca, a lovable cynic who ultimately does the right thing.
Here he plays with that persona as Dixon Steele, a screenwriter with a dark imagination and a violent streak, who playfully asks a waitress to go home with him to talk about a book he’s adapting into a screenplay. The next morning, the girl is found brutally murdered, and he’s the main suspect, but luckily for him, his upstairs neighbour, Laurel (Grahame) saw him walking the girl out and can give him an alibi for the murder.
They hardly know each other, but Dixon is charming and soon they have become friends, and then lovers. But the murder of the girl has remained unsolved. Police drag Laurel into their investigation, casting doubts on Dixon, and making her question who he really is. Revelations about his past leave her with further cause for suspicion, which helps to fuel his own heightened emotions and make him feel jealous and concerned about the relationship. Laurel has to ask herself, did he kill the girl? Who is he really?
The mystery unravels beautifully in this film. As Dixon pursues Laurel, she’s fairly cold and aloof, but as she’s slowly drawn in, the power play shifts, and his slightly controlling and sometimes aggressive demeanor plays on her mind. She becomes more vulnerable, and he feels more like a stranger, though he started out being our protagonist. It’s a masterful switch, and a clever one. We don’t know who or what to believe right up until the final scene, which is a great ending to a marvelous film.
Two lesser performers than these two could not pull off the subtlety of the story. The gentle shifts in power, and the slow erosion of trust, and the feeling that Bogart as Dixon is believable as a man that a woman could both love and fear. He’s not a tyrant, but he’s also not a nice guy.
I think it’s a wonderful film, and it makes me realise that I haven’t seen enough Gloria Grahame, a woman whose off screen life is as interesting as her roles (multiple plastic surgeries on her upper lip and four marriages, one of which was to the director of this film, and another to his son!)
See It If: a classic film noir, and one for those of you who love a good mystery. However, I love it because of Bogart.