My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.
We sniffed The Sweet Smell of Success and felt a bit ill…
It was my turn to pick, and as I’m only linking via female actors in 2020 there were four main conduits: Susan Harrison, Jeff Donnell, Barbara Nicholls and Edith Atwater.
I’d enjoyed Edith Atwater’s performance the most, but her filmography is primarily TV (True Grit being a notable exception, but alas I’ve seen it relatively recently). Susan Harrison was only in one other film (Key Witness) which didn’t sound scintillating. Barbara Nicholls played a lot of brassy bombshells and while she was in more films than Edith or Susan, they didn’t by and large look great.
So that left Jeff Donnell, who fortunately had a great filmography to look through. And I didn’t actually look very far, because I swiftly found Humphrey Bogart starrer In a Lonely Place and the choice kind of made itself.
In The Sweet Smell of Success she played the slightly ditzy secretary of Tony Curtis’ PR agent. She took her name from the Jeff and Mutt cartoon, which I hitherto was blissfully unaware of. Having now googled it, I’m not sure I’ve missed out. She became better known later in life thanks to a long stint in General Hospital, but was in steady work through the 40s, 50s and 60s in predominantly B-movies and latterly TV. Before The sweet Smell of Success I hadn’t seen anything she was in.
In a Lonely Place and me
I like Humphrey Bogart. That’s not exactly a controversial statement, is it? My other half is a 30s/40s/50s film obsessive, and she introduced me to the pleasure of Bogart (and many more besides). I haven’t seen that many of his films though – Casablanca of course, Key Largo, The Maltese Falcon and a few more. Having not really been in the mood for a film noir last week, this time around I was girding myself…
In a Lonely Place (1950): A potentially violent screenwriter is a murder suspect until his lovely neighbor clears him. But she begins to have doubts. 8.0 stars
Last week we were in the mood for something light and got gritty film noir. This time we were ready for gritty film noir and… found ourselves laughing quite heartily. At least for the first half of the film.
Bogie is a famous screenwriter tasked with adapting a romantic epic. The coat-girl at the restaurant where this is discussed happens to have just finished the book in question. Bogie, being not entirely thrilled with the project, invites her back to his to tell him the story. She makes it clear she’s not in it for hanky panky, goes back to his and indeed tells him the story. He boots her out around midnight and, not being a gentleman, tells her to get a cab from just down the street. The following day he’s hauled in by the police after the young woman is found dead: strangled and thrown from a moving car. And Bogie is mysteriously light-hearted about the whole thing.
What ensues is a sort of romance between Bogie and his neighbour while the cloud of suspicion hangs over him. Dry wit gives way to poorly suppressed anger that seems to bubble out of nowhere, and so the film swerves more into the film noir territory we were expecting.
And it’s good, gang. While the tagline promises a surprise ending, we’re not exactly in Sixth Sense territory. The names are a particular joy, with Humphrey Bogart playing Dixon ‘Dix’ Steele and the main investigating detective (and friend of Dix) going by Brub Nickolai! I couldn’t guess what Brub is short for.
Our linking lady Jeff Donnell has a nice role as Brub’s wife, equally fascinated by and horrified by Bogart. And Gloria Grahame does a fine job as the neighbour who falls for Bogart and then, all too late, starts to see the cracks in his façade.
Louise Brooks wrote in her autobiography that this role was closest to what Humphrey Bogart was like in real life, which is a little scary as Dix Steele (god I love that name) has some serious rage issues and a clear history of domestic abuse. Hopefully she means the first half where he has a sparkling dry wit and open creative soul.
Definitely the best film we’ve tackled for a few weeks. If you’re in the market for a bit of wit and a bit of noir mystery then this is your boy.
It’s Tim’s choice. Will he twig and link via one of the women? Or will we be heading for Humphrey Bogart heaven?