I died when she left me.
I lived a few weeks while she loved me."
Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a Hollywood screenwriter who is commissioned to adapt a novel into a film. Too lazy to read the book, he invites the coat-check girl at his restaurant to his apartment to summarize the book for him. Hours after Steele sends her home, the girl is found murdered in a nearby ravine, and the police latch onto him as the prime suspect. Steele is given an alibi by his neighbor Laurel Gray (Grahame). After being released by the police, Steele strikes up a relationship with Gray, and they soon fall in love.
The police continue to investigate the murder, which puts a strain on their budding romance as Laurel is questioned again and learns about Dixon's history of violent incidents, making her unsure if he's really innocent. As Laurel grows wary of Dixon and he becomes suspicious of her behavior, the tension in their relationship reaches a breaking point.
A bleak thriller, In a Lonely Place is considered a classic of Film Noir.
- Acquitted Too Late: A variation; no judicial consequences are at stake. The real murderer turns himself in anticlimactically, but Laurel and Dix's relationship has already fallen apart.
- Adaptational Heroism: In the movie Dixon Steele, though having an unpredictable and violent temper, is only accused of being a murderer while in the book he is a serial killer and rapist. Ray changed this because he wanted Dixon and his psychological issues to have broader appeal and tone down the Insane Equals Violent nature of the original.
- The Alcoholic: Charlie, a washed-up actor, who seems to be the only person Dixon has any human feeling for.
- Alone with the Psycho: The final scene in which furious Dix confronts Laurel in her apartment.
- Ambiguous Disorder: Something is clearly wrong with Dixon.
- The Confidant: Martha for Laurel.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Dix, as the film goes on.
- "Dear John" Letter: Laurel writes one when she plans to leave for New York, but has to hide it.
- Deconstruction: This film is a reaction against other Film Noir, deliberately moving away from crude murder plots to focus more on the relationship. Specifically, it subverts Bogart's own screen persona, showing how difficult that kind of person would be around and making it decidedly less glamorous.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Discussed after the road rage incident where Dix beat the other driver unconscious.Dix: You heard what he called me.
Laurel: That doesn't justify acting like a madman.
Dix: Nobody can call me the things he did.
Laurel: A blind, knuckle-headed squirrel. That's real bad.
- Double-Meaning Title: Apart from the Title Drop, the movie also illustrates that Dixon Steele has painted himself back into a corner with his Hair-Trigger Temper.
- Downer Ending: While the killer is caught, his victim is still dead, and nothing can bring her back. Dixon has also driven away everyone close to him, even Laurel.
- During the War: How Dixon Steele knew the detective Brub.
- Face Framed in Shadow: Dix is filmed this way for the scene where he spins out his theory of how the murder went down, when he gets way too enthusiastic with his description of the strangulation.
- Film Noir: Dark atmosphere, constant suspicions, murder, Humphrey Bogart... check.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Dix Steele is a tragically accurate version of this, someone who's too paranoid and embittered to be around for a great deal of time.
- "Friends" Rent Control: Dix is a screenwriter who hasn't had a hit in years, and Laurel has no known source of money except an alluded-to wealthy previous lover. Both have fairly nice apartments in Beverly Hills.
- Gaussian Girl: Close-ups on Laurel often show her out-of-focus.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Steele's violent temper is his Fatal Flaw.
- His Own Worst Enemy: Dixon Steele is an embittered and disappointed man with an amazing capacity for self-destruction. By the end of the film, he ruins his friendships and the only good relationship he will ever have, and ends up all alone.
- Horrible Hollywood: In a way, what with Steele being a screenwriter with severe anger issues.
- Incriminating Indifference: The police suspect Steele quickly due to the fact that he barely reacts and even makes a few sarcastic quips about the fact that a woman was murdered minutes after leaving his house.Capt. Lochner: You're told that the girl you were with last night was found in Benedict Canyon, murdered. Dumped from a moving car. What's your reaction? Shock? Horror? Sympathy? No — just petulance at being questioned. A couple of feeble jokes. You puzzle me, Mr. Steele.
Dix: Well, I grant you, the jokes could've been better, but I don't see why the rest should worry you — that is, unless you plan to arrest me on lack of emotion.
- In Name Only: The film is nothing like the novel, and all that is really carried over is the title, the names of the two main characters and Dix's vague occupation.
- Also happens in-story:
- Lack of Empathy: The cops assume that Dix lacks empathy as demonstrated in his cool attitude towards Mildred's death. However, in a scene after the investigation, Dix pays money to send flowers to Mildred's funeral, anonymously.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Dixon Steele's attitude to the novel he's hired to adapt is a self-reference to Ray and screenwriter Andrew Holt's own feelings about Dorothy Hughes' original book. Steele's attempt to use the novel and write a more personal and meaningful story echoes Ray and Holt's attempts to take a pulp thriller and make something more intimate and personal.
- Loose Lips: At the beach Sylvia brings up Laurel's second visit to the police station which was supposed to stay a secret. Dix gets furious and storms off. Happens a second time when Dix's ex Fran lets slip that Laurel sent Dix's script in to the studio without telling him.
- Meaningful Echo: When Dix leaves Laurel at the end she cites a line from his script: "I lived a few weeks while you loved me."
- Most Writers Are Writers: The film starts out with Dixon being a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who has not had a hit "since before the war."
- The Murder After: Though his meeting with the checkroom girl is entirely platonic, Steele falls under suspicion anyway.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Written all over Dixon's face after he stops himself from murdering Laurel at the last minute.
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Laurel has just decided to leave Dix when he comes around to prepare breakfast and propose to her which puts her in an extremely uncomfortable spot.
- Pretty in Mink: Laurel, several times.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The drunken Classically Trained Extra who stumbles down the stairs in Steele's apartment quotes from Shakespeare's Sonnet 29.
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: Most of Laurel and Dix's relationship consists of this. It's lighthearted at first, but grows steadily darker as their relationship becomes more troubled.
- Sociopathic Soldier: It's implied that Steele was like this when he served in World War II.
- Stylistic Suck: The book Steele is supposed to adapt sounds just as melodramatic and boring to the audience as it does to him.
- There Are No Therapists: How different Dixon's life could have been with the help of therapy. Nicholas Ray suggested that at the end, Dix might officially go seek help, implying that he had been too proud to go to a shrink before.
- This Is a Work of Fiction: The opening credits read "The characters and incidents portrayed and the names used herein are fictitious, and any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely accidental and unintentional."
- Title Drop: When Steele is discussing how the crime could have been committed."You get to a lonely place in the road, and you begin to squeeze..."
- Tragic Hero: With Dixon's condition he is bound to stay in a lonely place for all his life.
- Wacky Marriage Proposal: Not so much wacky as out-of-nowhere and incredibly uncomfortable.
- Wag the Director: In-universe example, brought up in conversation early on:Mildred: Before I worked at Paul's, I used to think actors made up their own lines.
Dix: When they get to be big stars they usually do.
- Worst News Judgment Ever: Assaults do not warrant front page headlines, not even in small town weekly newspapers. The large image of a battered and bruised football player making the headlines of a Los Angeles daily newspaper is a stretch.
- Wrongfully Accused: Dixon is continually suspected of murder despite being cleared from Laurel's alibi.