Being a man is fantastic (as long there is no draft).
Being a Man’s Man, though … that’s a different story. A Man’s Man must be tough and always ready to fight. A Man’s Man shows a brazen disregard for his own safety and even his own physical and mental health. It must be a difficult, unhappy life.
Will Smith is a Man’s Man. And I do not mean that as a compliment. He must be deeply troubled. To think of the ego and perverse pride that drove him up to the Oscar stage. I can’t imagine it. But Humphrey Bogart could.
Long before the term Toxic Masculinity was coined, the great Humphrey Bogart was exploring the self-destructive mind of the Man’s Man.
Bogart plays Dixon Steele: a Hollywood screenwriter on the downside of his career. Since the war, he hasn’t had any hit movies. But he has hit some people and gotten arrested for assault.
Five minutes into “In a Lonely Place,” Steele tries to start a road rage fight and attacks a guy at the bar. The interesting thing is: Steele isn’t even angry; he’s cynical and self-loathing, and the only way he knows how to express himself is fisticuffs.
Things get interesting when the young woman Steele hung out with on Saturday night is murdered. With his history of violence, the cops view Steele as the lead suspect. And Steele is too stubborn to even try to change their minds.
When he learns about the murder, he barely shrugs. He’s too morbid to get worked up about it. Steele refuses to even claim that he is innocent. He would rather serve time for a crime he did not commit than show weakness or fear.
Sounds like a cool customer, right? In the hands of a lesser actor, Dixon Steele would have been a simple unflappable tough guy. But Humphrey Bogart shows us that Steele’s macho posturing is nothing to admire.
At the heart of “In a Lonely Place” is Steele’s relationship with his amazing girlfriend Laurel Gray (Gloria Graham). They start off sickeningly sweet. But Steele quickly sabotages any chance at lasting love.
Like most unhappy men, Steele is a terrible boyfriend. He’s moody and controlling. And while Steele never hurts Laurel, his fits of violence frighten her. She begins to suspect that he really did kill that woman.
This film is every bit as depressing as the title suggests. And it’s a flawless piece of cinema.
Humphrey Bogart is famous for playing suave detectives. But his greatest talent was exploring the dark mind of the flawed American Man’s Man.
“In a Lonely Place” argues that every Man’s Man is flawed. They are a menace to society, their loved ones, to Chris Rock, and to themselves.