The Writer as Portrayed in Hollywood


Movie Review

In a Lonely Place

Vintage typewriter keyboard

History has recorded countless brilliant writers who turned to alcohol or drugs for their muse. And Hollywood has not been any better in its portrayal of writers in the movies. We’ve been depicted as irresponsible, conniving, manipulative, depressed, and even demented.

Writers understand that showing them at work is dull. Who wants to sit and watch someone type or stare blankly at a clean, white sheet of paper or computer screen for hours?

But showing us in trouble is a different story.

In the 1950 film noir, In A Lonely Place, Humphrey Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a famous and distinguished writer, who is a genius at screenplays, but has an explosive temper.

As the movie opens, Steele is a down-on-his luck screenwriter, yet likeable and intelligent. He has one last shot at writing a movie treatment on an epic novel. The complication is the attractive and young Mildred, who is helping him with the plot of the novel, is murdered just after leaving his home, implicating him as the number one suspect.

That same evening, he catches the eye of his new neighbor, Laurel Gray, played by Gloria Graham. She knows how to help with his issues, and he is more than willing to oblige. Because of her, he finishes the script and the movie is ready to go into production.

Happy with the way everything is falling into place, Dixon and Laurel become engaged, but the murder investigation is still hanging over Dixon’s head. And his anger issues only make things worse. Everyone begins to wonder if he really did kill Mildred. His only saving grace is the detective in charge of the case was Dix’s commanding officer and friend in the war, and his fiancée alibis him throughout.

Then, with one slip of the tongue, all hell breaks loose. And Dixon’s temper flares to the point that anyone close to him is in jeopardy, thereby ruining the murder investigation, his engagement, and his writing career.

The farewell notes in the movie are attributed to the screenplay Dixon has just finished:

I was born when she kissed me; I died when she left me.

            I lived a few weeks while she loved me.

Maybe our imaginations do get us into trouble. We are often misunderstood, yet temperamental, and easily bored. We listen to the characters in our heads, get distracted by the smallest things, yet work feverishly to get it on paper. And all with the knowledge that possibly no one will read one word of it.

But when we sit down and do the work, look at what we create.

We definitely have our moments.


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