Before: I don’t know much about this. But a film noir starring Bogart and directed by Nicholas Ray? You can’t go wrong with that!
After: This film is anchored by the tension between two opposing genres. The first is a romance between has-been writer Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and his neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). The second is a murder of a young coat-check girl which may or may not have been committed by Dixon.
Gloria at first thinks he is innocent. In fact, she clears him with the police by being his alibi. But as things move along she thinks there might be more going on she doesn’t yet know about. The dark side of Dixon’s personality is slowly emerging. The best part of the film is the way it makes you feel Laurel’s doubts as to what actually happened.
Bogart is great playing a character that appears to be honest and sincere, albeit gruff. He speaks his mind and leaves everything out on the table. As the film goes on we learn more and more about his character, which puts more and more doubt on what happened the night of the murder.
Is the matter-of-fact attitude that Dixon has what drew Laurel to him? It’s unclear, and that is where the film falls short. The romance happens too quickly and doesn’t have any weight. Unfortunately, because of this, that half of the story doesn’t push hard enough against the thriller half.
It’s a shame, because the rest of the film is really stellar. The acting is great all around, especially in the supporting cast. There are moments of humor and moments of real excitement and tension. But no matter how much the film does right, it was always sitting on a foundation that was half-faulty. The result is a film that approaches greatness, but can never quite get there.