Gaby Wood at the LRB:
What does it mean for a romance to take the shape of a murder investigation? In a Lonely Place, Nicholas Ray’s elegantly bitter film about damaged trust, throws that question at its viewers. If all love stories are inquiries of one kind or another, the movie seems to suggest, perhaps they differ only in their relative violence. When filming began, Ray was married to its female lead, Gloria Grahame; by the time it ended, they were living apart. Ray said it was ‘a very personal film’ – and as parting gifts go, it was both poisonous and immortal.
The book on which the film is based – a noir novel written in 1947 by Dorothy B. Hughes – is told from the point of view of a serial strangler named Dixon Steele. We know from the outset that he is guilty; what we don’t know is whether he’ll be caught, and, if he is, how many women he will have killed in the meantime. Hughes, one of very few female crime writers in the noir canon, made it clear that she intended to sidestep the whodunnit in favour of character, and here her focus is on the ways in which women might be seen by a man who ritually kills them. They are viewed through Dix Steele’s eyes as ‘cheats, liars, whores’, and presented by Hughes as perceptive and tough. Though the crimes are technically solved by an astute male detective, the women are on to Dix first.