People tend to forget story comes from a printed page, be it a screenplay treatment, a novel or short story. Hollywood of yesterday was a fountain head of searching for the story in the headlines or the best seller lists. Today, film still comes from various sources. Concepts can be re imagined or remade; the cheap way of doing film with rare exceptions.
Dorothy B. Hughes wrote the novel IN A LONELY PLACE in 1947 and brought it to screen in 1950. The book was claustrophobic and terrifyingly similar to Patrick Bateman in Brett Easton Ellis’s novel AMERICAN PSYCHO.
Ellis starts with voluminous amounts of inane detail about clothes and other considerations in a stream of consciousness point of view designed to get under the reader’s skin. This is the mind of Patrick Bateman and what is going to happen is going to happen regardless of you, the reader, thinking it’s wrong. You should not be surprised or repelled when it does.
Of course, things were different in 1947. Hughes’ Dixon Steele was a crime writer and a sociopath, not a screen writer as in the film. An author is not an everyday occupation, yet her choice for Steele gives him a grounding. Dixon still has the temper, which is evident in the film, however, in the book it is laser sharp and homicidal. Two particular moments in the book I wish were in the film bring this to light.
Firstly, Dixon is having dinner as he is a bachelor with his policeman friend Brub and his wife. The conversation is filled with hints that Dixon understands the current serial killer case that Brub is working on. His friend pumps him for information on how someone like this killer would operate as Dixon is an author. Steele gives him so very close to his heart ways this killer would work.
The second moment happens after the dinner party when Steele stalks a random girl at bus stop. You get his point of view as he abandons his car to walk behind her, and begin talking to her to finding out about her. A sense of dread is created over what comes next. This Dixon Steele is a monster capable of grooming a victim just because he could. He also operates outside the law while projecting being a bestselling crime author.
The Hughes novel is smaller in scope and different then the film. They look like two different stories. The interesting point of this is that the novel IN A LONELY PLACE (1947) was written by an underappreciated woman while AMERICAN PSYCHO was written by a bestselling male.
IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), has been called one of the most perfect examples of the film Noir genre ever produced, even if it was in the later stages of the movement. To me, it is one of those celluloid gems that you say you are just going to watch a few moments to see how it looks and end up watching the whole thing. Have done that a few times so it is time to own it and why not the crème de la crème edition by Criterion.
Story wise many of us know it’s about the loneliness and love of screen writer Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and the neighbor Laurel (Gloria Grahame), who literally walks into his life as he is escorting another female friend there to give him a verbal summary of the book he is to write into screenplay yet has not bothered to read.
The woman he brings home is murdered the next morning and Dixon is the prime suspect. His alibi is Laurel.
The Criterion edition far surpasses others in extra and technical quality. The film is given a 2k restoration, leaving a present image to view considering the age of the source material. The blacks are black with strong depth of field for all the action that is important in Film Noir. The faces fill the screen when in close-up in the original aspect ratio (black bars on either side of your monitor). One drawback are the process shots on the beach with rear projection, which is not made to be more apparent then intended. The night scenes on Hollywood streets are well worth it, especially when Dix almost has a punch up with a passerby in a car who thinks he is trying to pick up his wife. The chrome glints well under the lights.
IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) has a monaural sound track, but it has been remastered so all the dialogue and music is clear. There is an optional audio track with film scholar Dana Polan chatting about the film.
Documentaries on Nicholas Ray and interviews with Gloria Grahame -even a 1948 radio adaption of the original Dorothy Hughes novel – are different from the film adaptation. The book itself is more claustrophobic; concentrating on Dixon as he ponders killing a woman whom he may see after having dinner with friends. He plots the movements down to the bus she takes home.
This edition is a strong purchase for the quality and care that went into the package. You also gets a large essay by critic Imogen Sarah Smith, although I warn you it contains spoilers along with its insightful commentary.
Hollywood tends to produce the franchise film. Many are not worth seeing, even for the actors in them. The serials are made to get bums in seats weekly, or, in this case, every few months. Difference is branded as art house. How many actors both today and yesterday clambered for a story?
I was sitting in a film theater watching the previews when a trailer for the new CALL OF THE WILD with Harrison Ford came on. Two women beside me turned to each other and said loudly, “CGI!” when the dog was on screen. Is this wrong to have these effects? When it is at the expense of story, yes. If the effects are integral to the story, no. It will always be the story.
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