Friday, 17 June 2016

IN A LONELY PLACE + LA CHIENNE - Blu-Ray/DVD Review Double Bill By Greg Klymkiw - Haunting Nicholas Ray Noir on Criterion. Haunting Jean Renoir Melodrama on Criterion. Hangdog Male Leads make perfect bedfellows. Join in, why don't you? Room for all!

Michel Simon and Humphrey Bogart
Brothers in Lost Love and MURDER!
Almost two decades separate two great male performances twixt two of the screen's greatest hangdog faces - Michel Simon in Jean Renoir's La Chienne and Humphrey Bogart in Nicholas Ray's In A Lonely Place. Both involve the least likely candidates to get mixed up in murder, yet it doesn't take long for both to become embroiled in sordid underworlds; by their own choosing, to be sure, but mostly because deep, deep down, their respective psyches demand it.

The former is one of the best French films of the 30s.

The latter is one of the best American films of the 50s.

Both are unforgettable.

Both are Criterion discs.

Make it a double bill o' delectable despair.

Note: In A Lonely Place reviewed first, just below La Chienne is reviewed.

Is Bogie a killer, or is he just lonely?
Gloria Grahame is beginning to wonder.
In A Lonely Place (1950)
Dir. Nicholas Ray
Scr. Edmund H. North, Andrew Solt
Nvl. Dorothy B. Hughes
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Carl Benton Reid,
Art Smith, Robert Warwick, Martha Stewart, Jeff Donnell, Hedda Brooks

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me.
I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

These are but a few lines from a new screenplay by writer Dixon "Dix" Steele (Humphrey Bogart), but they might as well be the story of his life in Nicholas Ray's haunting film noir classic In A Lonely Place. Easily one of the greatest films of the 50s and featuring a Bogie performance that was the pinnacle of his great career, the film is a definite must-see, but after your first viewing you'll be compelled to see it again and again and yet again.

It's a brooding thriller set against the backdrop of the studio dream factories. Dix, a scrappy drinker, brawler and writer is offered the job to adapt a novel. In a Hollywood watering hole, his harried agent Mel Lippman (Art Smith) begs him to take the job since Dix desperately needs a hit and the best-selling potboiler has huge grosses written all over it. This is exemplified by Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart), a not-too-bright coat check girl, who can barely get the book out of her face.

Dix needs to read the book overnight and render a decision by morning. A 40-watt bulb blinks on above his noggin and he invites Mildred to his pad to tell him the story so he doesn't have to waste time reading it. Mildred suspects Dix wants only to boink her, so she makes a point of mentioning she has a boyfriend. Dix assures her that he's only interested in hiring her for services rendered - she's read the book and now he doesn't have to.

Through the courtyard leading to his pad, with the still-trepidatious coat-check filly in tow, Dix meets eyes with Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), a burgeoning actress and ravishing new neighbour in the apartment complex. Once inside, Dix proves he's good to his word and clearly has no interest in seducing Mildred. She relates the book's story and he's convinced it's a piece of garbage. He shoves some cab money in Mildred's fist and sends her packing so he can get some shuteye.

Then next morning, he gets a visit from his best friend and old army buddy Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy). It's not a social call. Brub is a homicide detective and asks Dix to accompany him "downtown" for an interrogation with Captain Lochner (Carl Benton Reid), a hard-nosed dick.

Mildred, the coat check girl, has been brutally murdered, her body tossed in a very "lonely place". Dix is the prime suspect. Luckily, a band-aid solution to his plight is provided by a partially believable alibi rendered by the sexy doll face Laurel Gray.

This is where In A Lonely Place solidifies its greatness. An impending murder rap places Dix in a love relationship with Laurel which, in turn, inspires him to write a great screenplay, elevating the source material to a film with the potential to be a major prestige picture.

On one hand, the film is one of the most dizzyingly romantic love stories ever made, whilst on the other, it's a genuinely suspense-filled thriller. On both fronts, the film is a compulsive, heavily atmospheric addition to the film noir movement, expertly directed by Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Johnny Guitar, They Live by Night, Bigger Than Life, A Woman's Secret). Ray has always excelled at seeking humanity in the darkest of settings with characters who are cimmerian-to-the-max and In A Lonely Place might well be his greatest work.

He loves her?
He loves her not?
Bogart was a titan. As an actor and star, he was a true original. His performance here, though, blows everything away. Buried beneath the layers of cynicism and just plain meanness, is a man with plenty of romance, love and caring. That it's inspired by Gloria Grahame's Laurel Gray is no surprise. Grahame holds her own against Bogart. Many will remember her as the whore with a heart of gold in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life and Lee Marvin's moll who's disfigured by a pot of scalding coffee tossed in her face in Lang's The Big Heat. Here, she too hits a career pinnacle.

Dix has had a history of violent behaviour. We see several examples of his hair-trigger temper and as the pressures of the homicide case against him mounts, his warm, loving demeanour, which both Laurel and his renewed faith in his writing have allowed to blossom, eventually transform into something truly malevolent.

What finally comes through so poignantly in Ray's astonishing film is just how all of his central characters are in lonely places. Our poor hat-check girl is, at it turns out, in an abusive relationship and seeks solace in cheap melodramatic potboilers. Even that loneliness doesn't save her from the fate of murder in a lonely place. Laurel who once lived a life of aimlessness in search of stardom, finds love, purpose and meaning, only to see it ripped away from her, sending her back to a place even lonelier than before.

And Dix? Struggling his whole life with what seems like a blend of a bi-polar imbalance in addition to memories of his experience in a bloody, senseless world war, have been his constant companions, no matter what brief oases appear. Loneliness is his life. What should have been a magical time, is quashed.

What's worse, I think, is that Dix knows his whole life will be relegated to despair.

All these people, in spite of the dream factories around them, face nothing but heartache. Even more telling is that we get a mirror-view sense of life through the lens of Nicholas Ray. The words Dix writes in his script might well apply to us all:
I was born when she kissed me.

I died when she left me.

I lived a few weeks while she loved me.
We should all live for a few weeks in our otherwise miserable lives.


The Criterion Collection edition of In A Lonely Place comes complete with a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray; a new audio commentary featuring film scholar Dana Polan; I’m a Stranger Here Myself, a 1975 documentary about director Nicholas Ray, slightly condensed for this release; a new interview with biographer Vincent Curcio about actor Gloria Grahame; a piece from 2002 featuring filmmaker Curtis Hanson; a radio adaptation from 1948 of the original Dorothy B. Hughes novel, broadcast on the program "Suspense"; the trailer; and an essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith.
Maurice (Michel Simon) loves Lulu (Janie Marèse). Lulu loves his money, but loves her pimp (Georges Flamant)
a whole lot more. Ain't it always the way?
La Chienne (1931)
Dir. Jean Renoir
Scr. Renoir & André Mouézy-Éon
Nvl. Georges de La Fouchardière
Starring: Michel Simon, Janie Marèse, Georges Flamant,
Magdeleine Bérubet, Roger Gaillard

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Michel Simon probably wins hand-down in the hangdog mug sweepstakes. He was also one of the greatest actors who ever lived. To director Jean Renoir, Simon was not only a close friend, but a constant presence in Renoir's work. Simon was to Renoir what DeNiro was to Scorsese or John Wayne to John Ford. Just after working together on the delightfully sordid and pain-wracked melodrama La Chienne, Simon delivered one of his most famous and beloved performances in Boudu Saved From Drowning (remade by Paul Mazursky in 1986 as Down and Out in Beverly Hills with Nick Nolte in the role of the itinerant beggar who takes over the household of a bourgeois family).

Based on the novel "La Chienne" ("The Bitch") by Georges de La Fouchardière and remade in 1945 by Fritz Lang as Scarlet Street with Edward G. Robinson in the role Simon immortalized here, Renoir's film is despair-ridden as all get-out, but features the great French auteur's mordant wit and irony within the social context of the great story. It's not by accident, but by design that Renoir frames his film within the context of a Punch and Judy-like puppet show, its tiny, box-like proscenium opening and closing upon a live-action rendering of what's essentially a morality play.

Michel Simon as the dweeby longtime hosiery cashier Maurice Legrand seems born to be under thumb of women who abuse him. His wife Adèle (Magdeleine Bérubet) constantly berates him, dismisses his only joy as an amateur painter and never fails to compare him unfavourably to her long-lost and presumed-to-be-dead husband, Sgt. Alexis Godard (Roger Gaillard), the Great Man's stern portrait erected prominently in their home. When Maurice meets the beautiful, young hooker Lulu (Janie Marèse) he's smitten, but also sees in her someone who is more abused and downtrodden than he is. He wants nothing more than to offer shelter, protection and love.

Lowly Clerk, Sleazy Pimp: Who to Choose?
When she discovers he's a painter, Dédé (Georges Flamant), her pimp and love of her life sees a great opportunity to make some easy dough. He's able to sell a couple of paintings to a gallery owner and in no time, there's considerable demand for Maurice's work. Lulu convinces Maurice to paint more and begins to take credit for the work since he never signs his paintings and eventually agrees that she should sign them.

When the long lost Sgt. appears as not dead but very much alive, Maurice sees a great opportunity to leave his horrid Adèle and move in permanently with Lulu. Things, of course, are going to go terribly wrong. On the surface, just desserts come to all involved, but there's no sweetness to temper the bitterness.

All humanity in the world of Renoir's great film are reduced to puppets on a tiny stage. Even when the film is in full-on live-action "realism" mode, Renoir so often frames in box-like, proscenium fashion as if everyone is but a player, made of wood rather than flesh and blood, exuding big emotions and meeting with ends which only could be earned in a world of morality and melodramatics.

In so doing, the film is infused with far more humanity and honesty than most pictures of its own time (or any time, for that matter). Maurice's loneliness, the vaguely cretinous "qualities" Simon brings to the role and his desperation to love (and be loved) drive him to desperate actions.

And yet, by the end of the film, our sympathies almost lie with the pimp.

Such is the greatness of Renoir. He confounds all expectations.


The Criterion Collection edition of La Chienne includes a new, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray; an Introduction to the film from 1961 by director Jean Renoir; a new interview with Renoir scholar Christopher Faulkner; a new restoration of On purge bébé (1931), Renoir’s first sound film, also starring Michel Simon; Jean Renoir le patron: “Michel Simon” a ninety-five-minute 1967 French television program featuring a conversation between Renoir and Simon, directed by Jacques Rivette; a new English subtitle translation; an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau and an astoundingly gorgeous new cover designed by Blutch.