This movie presents Humphrey Bogart in possibly his most intriguing role. Bogart plays Dix Steele, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter with a hair trigger temper. His long-suffering agent, Mel (played by Art Smith), talks him into adapting a book into a movie. The very book that Marjorie, the hat check girl at the club where they meet has nearly finished. So, rather than read the book, Dix invites Marjorie to his place, asking her for a summary.
On the way to Dix’s apartment, a neighbor, Laurel (played by the awesome Gloria Grahame), sees them together. And once inside his place, Marjorie does not throw off her clothes and sleep with Dix. She really does tell him the story, which as it turns out, stinks. Dix then sends Marjorie home by cab.
Unfortunately, Dix is informed the next day that Marjorie was murdered and he’s a suspect. And all because he happens to get hot under the collar now and then, along with being too lazy to read a crappy book.
However, fortunately, Laurel can vouch for Dix. She confirms that Marjorie left his apartment alone and in fine health. One thing leads to another and – voila! – love is in the air.
Dix throws himself into writing a new script, with Laurel supporting his efforts.
Oh, if only the movie could’ve ended there. But that wouldn’t be much of a movie, let alone a film noir. So, of course, things get screwed.
The thing is, Dix is a complicated guy. He has these weird temperamental outbursts. In fact, he seems bound and determined to throw suspicion on himself. This keeps him on the cops’ radar, murder suspect-wise.
And, as much as Laurel loves Dix, she becomes flat out scared of him. To the point where, when asked to marry him, she agrees, but only because she fears having the crap beaten out of her.
This movie is not only a lesser-known film noir gem, but it may feature one of Bogart’s finest performances. Gloria Grahame perfectly captures her character’s combined assurance, fear, and love for Dix, while harboring doubt about their relationship.
On top of which, the cinematography contributes to the tension, particularly during the scene of Dix describing strangulation. Dix also takes Laurel on a wild car ride that will have you on the edge of your seat.
I dare not say more for fear of revealing complete spoilers. But this movie has one of the most frustrating endings ever. A perfect example of how timing is everything.
This stellar example of film noir deserves nothing less than two thumbs up!