Time: 94 mins.
SYNOPSIS: A down-and-out screenwriter, Dixon Steele, is accused of killing a hat check girl he invited to his apartment to discuss a novel he's supposed to adapt. His beautiful next door neighbor provides him an alibi and the pair soon become inseparable, their burgeoning love giving him inspiration to write again. Unfortunately, the pressure of the unsolved mystery and Dixon's penchant for violence create a wedge between the couple they might not be able to overcome.
BOTTOM LINE: This is a dark and twisted tale that kept me on the edge of my seat. I don't think I've ever encountered a romantic leading man that I liked and feared all at the same time. Bogart is slightly miscast as a Hollywood player, but once the film gets going that minor detail fails to matter. His intensity and desperation made me glad he was in my television and not actually in my living room. His character can be charming when he wants to be, unfortunately that's not often enough for me to believe that someone like Grahame would fall in love with him. He is accused of murder after all and doesn't seem to care one iota that this young girl is dead. Sure, he just met her and he knows he didn't kill her, but the rest of us are kept in suspense for the entire film. Granted he's connected and a girl has to work, however, once he begins to show his darker side, one would think Grahame would have the sense to run to the nearest exit.
Of course, if she did, there would be no movie. She loves being the center of his attention and his muse. She convinces herself that his violent tendencies are exacerbated by his writer's block and that if she can releave his frustration and help him get back on track everything will be fine and he'll turn into the loving man of her dreams. Too bad for them that the police have every reason to suspect him, though nothing concrete to pin on him except his past and his attitude. The fact that he's a writer makes his cold and clinical assessment of his situation a bit justifiable, however, it doesn't take Grahame long to wonder if she's going to be next. He claims to love her, yet his blind rages are like living with a stick of dynamite, anything can set them off and no one's safe from the shrapnel. The police captain's suspicions begin to take a toll on their burgeoning love, making her fear the worst for their future while desperating wanting a happy ending. It's an emotional tightrope walked perfectly by both cast and director, leaving you on the edge of your seat until the last frame.
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that this story does not end well, but I have to give them kudos for an ending even I didn't expect. Bogart is brilliant here. He makes you believe he's capable of the murder while also causing you to hope that he's innocent. His character's violent nature is rare to see in a romantic lead and yet you don't doubt his genuine love and affection for Grahame for one second. This is one of the more complex characters he's ever played. Grahame was just coming into her own and this role is one she knocks out of the park. She's sultry, smart and sweet. Just a regular gal looking for love who may have found it in a very unfortunate place. She gives Bogart sex appeal and makes him seem like a good catch and that's not always easy to do. One is truly drawn into her predicament, torn between love and disaster. It's a powerful, nuanced performance. Despite her quick exit, Martha Stewart makes quite an impression as the young coat check girl who meets a brutal end. You have to care about her and want justice for her death – even though she's somewhat annoying – for the story to work. There's a great deal of light and shade in this film, both emotionally and visually, making it one of the better romantic thrillers out there. Catch it if you can...unless you're a stickler for happily ever after.