This film is considered to be one of Humphrey Bogart’s finest by many critics. He is very engaging as a passionate, dark, anti-hero with a checkered past. As always, Bogie becomes the character, making acting look effortless. (“He’s so interesting, isn’t he?” my dad commented after a particularly intense scene.)
Bogart plays middle-aged, famous, and jaded LA screenwriter, Dixon Steele. He’s a man who likes drinking, fighting, and speaking whatever is on his mind. One night, he is approached by Mildred Atkinson, a pretty young coat check girl. She gushes about the movies he’s written, and wants to know more about famous people. Steele grudgingly takes her home to talk more (she kept insisting), but grows weary of her praise, naivete, and chattiness. Politely, he sends the girl on her way, saying he’s had a very long day.
The next morning, one of his friendly local cops comes to his apartment. We learn that the coat check girl was murdered just a few blocks from Steele’s home. He is their number one suspect, and has a history of getting rough with people (indcluding an ex-girlfriend).
But his new neighbor, an aspiring actress named Laurel Grey (Gloria Grahame), says she saw him at his door after the girl left. Laurel boldly comments (in front of some detectives, including Steele’s friend Captain Lochner) that she finds Steele’s face “interesting.” They quickly become a couple.
The writer and actress are a swell pair for a few weeks. He gets a burst of creativity; she takes care of his home/meals/friends. But Steele seems to have “a strange fascination with death,” as Captain Lochner’s wife comments after a dinner party. (The scripts he writes include creative ways to murder people, we learn.) Eventually, Laurel starts to get suspicious because of Steele’s sudden mood swings and bursts of violence. Could Steele have killed Mildred? And even if he’s not a murderer, should Laurel stay with such an unpredictable man?
A recent review of the film: