Saturday afternoon and evening, a local independent TV station ran 3 black-and-white films from the 1940s and 50s. I watched the first two, both starred Humphrey Bogart: Dead Reckoning (with Lizabeth Scott) and In a Lonely Place (with Gloria Grahame). The latter struck a nerve, and toward the end it became almost impossible to watch. But it is a great movie and highly recommended.
In Place, Bogart stars as Dixon Steele, a jaded screenwriter suspected of murder. His apparent lack of any real human feelings, makes Dixon the prime suspect. Grahame co-stars as Laurel Gray, a neighbor who falls under his Svengali spell. Early in the movie, Dixon seems to be a cynical, emotionless jerk with lots of charisma, but as the film progresses he turns out to be anything but emotionless. He has serious anger management issues . . . with Gray, at the end of the movie, fearing for her life. The film is not about the murder, it is about the relationship between Gray and Dixon.
The film is now considered a classic film noir, as evidenced by its inclusion on Time magazines “All-Time 100 List” and Slant Magazine’s “100 Essential Films.” Critic Ed Gonzalez compared Place to Albert Camus’ absurdist philosophical novel The Stranger (1942). “Laurel and Dixon may love each other but it’s evident that they’re both entirely too victimized by their own selves to sustain this kind of happiness.” The comparison to Stranger only works for the first half of the movie. Dixon’s descent into madness in the second half of the movie departs seriously from the feel and content of the Camus’ oeuvre.
While serving a mission in Belgium and France, I read several of Camus’ works including: The Stranger, The Plague, and Caligula (the latter a play). I enjoyed them, and they resonated with me, perhaps more so than my own professed religion. The idea that life can’t be understood in any rational way (it’s absurd), but should be lived anyway made sense to me. I also felt a certain kinship toward the emotionally deficient main character in Stranger. Thus, I also felt a connection to Dixon in the early scenes in Place.
Unfortunately for me, that is not where the resemblance ends. I also have (I hope it’s mostly had) a bad temper. Thus, the second half of the movie was difficult for me. I’m not a physically violent person like the Dixon character, but I do (did) have serious anger management issues. Sometimes seeing yourself in other people (even if they are just fictional) can be very painful.