What an ending. I was shocked and then delighted to see In A Lonely Place (1950) finish the way it does. Nicholas Ray silences the suggestion that the pictures produced in Hollywood’s Golden Age are unashamedly neat and formulaic by refusing to end the picture with a happy resolution (with the couple united) or, as Dorothy B. Hughes’s novel does, with an emphatically tragic one – with the murder of Laurel (Gloria Grahame). Indeed, the poster used for the original release advertises ‘the Bogart suspense picture with the surprise finish’ and the surprise may just be that the film just sort of stops. As ‘THE END’ appears and the frame fades to black, Dix (Humphrey Bogart), thoughtful and alone, wanders away from Laurel, his apartment and the camera (looking down at him from the first floor). He begins the film as a large pair of eyes in a car mirror, looking in the direction of the viewer (though not at her); by the end, he is like an ant, dwarfed by darkness and hiding his face.

We may perhaps infer that Laurel’s last view of Dix is this one (it’s certainly ours anyway). As he walks away, Dix is faceless. As I look again at the poster above, I notice that Bogart’s face is used as a selling point. It dwarfs Laurel and overwhelms the viewer. This face, Ray commented, is ‘an image of our condition’ and stands with an idiosyncratic and weathered appeal.  That which first drew Laurel’s attention – she tells the police inspector (Carl Benton Reid) that she found Dix’s face ‘interesting’ – is now withheld. As the poster shows, Bogart achieves a level of tenderness in his gaze that challenges Dix’s dangerous aggression. As he walks away, the painful thing, perhaps, is that Laurel is left only with an outline: she sees only the form of a man that she suspects is capable of murder and it is left unbalanced – unaccompanied – by Dix’s face and eyes. As he is consumed by the shadows and his boundaries break down, the specifics of his character are engulfed for Laurel by a general fear of his overwhelming psychosis.

Who is to blame for the way things turned out? It’s difficult to say and, in the end, I’m not sure it matters.

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