In a Lonely Place (1950)
Directed by Nicholas Ray
The Big Heat (1953)
Directed by Fritz Lang
Though he came from the upper crust himself, for the first decade of his career Humphrey Bogart most often played brutish thugs; it took The Maltese Falcon and especially Casablanca to cement his new image as a poised sophisticate and romantic lead. Like no other film, In a Lonely Place reveals those two personae to be coterminous, peeling back the courtliness and charm from the snarling predator beneath and exposing at the same time his anguish and vulnerability.
Bogie plays a volatile screenwriter under suspicion of murder and, having suffered an alcoholic blackout, not even convinced of his own innocence. Ray, however, keeps the mystery simmering on the back burner in order to focus on the romance between Bogart and a neighbor, played by Gloria Grahame, who provides him an unexpected alibi. (Grahame and Ray had married in 1948, and production coincided with the breakdown of their relationship.) By the film’s conclusion, the resolution of the murder plot is a mere asterisk dangling at the end of their shared history.
The Big Heat likewise has its underpinnings in violence and ill-fated love. Glenn Ford stars as the hard-nosed cop and devoted family man, opposite Grahame as the hot-blooded gangster’s girlfriend. Their paths cross as they each suffer at the hands of the local crime syndicate—Ford, when the mob’s retaliation reaches into his home, and Grahame, in a moment of shocking and casual brutality with far-reaching consequences. Familiar as the plot may be, Lang renders it with lacerating fury, geometric precision, and a strong stomach: it’s the genuine tenderness of the domestic scenes that gives the more savage moments their sting. Eli Goldfarb (August 24 at Film Forum’s “Return of the Double Feature,” with 2-for-1 admission throughout the day’s showtimes)