Humphrey Bogart as Dixon “Dix” Steele, frustrated screenwriter who’s “been out of circulation too long”
Los Angeles, Summer 1949
Film: In a Lonely Place
Release Date: May 17, 1950
Director: Nicholas Ray
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As #NoirVember continues, we shift our sartorial focus to a seminal figure in the development and enduring popularity of film noir: Humphrey Bogart. In movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946), Bogie cemented the wisecracking private eye persona often driving the heart of this subgenre, but he did not play a detective in the suspenseful thriller considered to be among his best, In a Lonely Place.
This 1950 noir co-starred Gloria Grahame and directed by Nicholas Ray, her husband at the time, though both Bogie and screenwriter Edmund North had envisioned the then-Mrs. Bogart, Lauren Bacall, to take the role of the “sultry and smooth… striking-looking girl with high cheek bones and tawny hair” as the character of Laurel Gray was described in the North’s screenplay. While Warner Brothers refused to lend Bacall to Bogart’s Santana Productions, Bogie was able to keep the leading role to deliver one of the most explosive and authentic performances of his prolific career.
Many—including Louise Brooks—have cited the introspective role of Dixon Steele as the closest that Bogart ever came to portraying himself, a charming yet insecure artist who felt isolated from much of the rest of the world and protective of the quality of his work in an industry that was increasingly less interested in the integrity of one’s craft.
“The parallels between Steele and Bogart are striking—the aloofness, the lightning-quick intelligence evident even in hack work, the flashes of humor and warmth,” wrote A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax in their biography of the actor. “All of which suggests that Dixon Steele may be the closest Bogart came to portraying his own inner turmoil, his difficulty with woman, and his often resentful dependence on an industry that rewarded lavishly and punished fearsomely.” Bogart was also known to dole out some fearsome punishment himself, particularly as the result of excessive drinking or during his tempestuous third marriage to Mayo Methot.
Lauren Bacall’s memoirs include a few incidents of Bogie’s frightening rage, often the result of excessive drinking, countered by an almost hopelessly romantic side. Though protective of both his work and his loved ones, Bogart never seemed to flex the domineering muscle that Dix Steele wielded so wantonly.
In fact, the violently possessive Dix seems to share that trait more with director Nicholas Ray, who insisted his then-wife Gloria Grahame include in her contract to work on the film that he “shall be entitled to direct, control, advise, instruct and even command my actions during the hours from 9 AM to 6 PM, every day except Sunday… I acknowledge that in every conceivable situation his will and judgment shall be considered superior to mine and shall prevail.” The insultingly draconian contract stipulations indicate just how fissured the still-fledgling Ray-Grahame marital union was at the time and, though they would briefly reconcile after secretly separating during In a Lonely Place‘s production, the two irreconcilably split when Ray discovered Grahame in bed with his 13-year-old son Tony, whom she would marry nearly a decade later.
In a Lonely Place begins as we follow Dix Steele on his way to meet friends for drinks, and the screenwriter’s simultaneously cold, cynical, and confrontational personality is established while his Mercury convertible is stopped at a red light. Beside him, a starlet from his latest film excitedly calls out to him, though Dix apologizes for not recognizing her as he makes it a point to never watch his own movies. Suddenly, the woman’s husband irrationally yells at our hero to stop “bothering” his wife, and Dix can’t help but to needle the bombastic blowhard until the man speeds away.
Upon his arrival at Paul’s, his favorite L.A. watering hole and a thinly veiled pastiche of Bogie’s usual haunt Romanoff’s, Dix isn’t even spared the criticism of children. “Don’t bother, he’s nobody,” a pigtailed girl tells a young autograph-seeker, and Dix can’t help but to agree though he still signs the boy’s autograph book with his full name… with an exclamation point!
Dix encounters considerably more enthusiasm inside the club, where the ingénue hat-check clerk, Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart… no, not that one), requests more time with the novel that Dix’s pals want him to adapt for the screen. Only halfway into his G&T, Dix’s combative nature again gets the best of him when he attacks a boastful director who mocked his washed-up old pal Charlie (Robert Warwick), a “movie idol of the roaring ’20s!”, who’s been reduced to a brandy-swiller reciting tired prose. According Sperber and Lax, Dix’s protective attitude over the old man mirrored the real-life friendship between Humphrey Bogart and Robert Warwick as the latter “had encouraged the young Bogart not to give up during a difficult period early in his stage career and helped him get parts.”
“There goes Dix again,” comments Frances Randolph (Alix Talton), the glamorous brunette in a nearby booth who has her own troubled history with the brooding writer and his dark side. The club’s owner, Paul (Steven Geray), is also no stranger to Dix’s aggression, though he asks that he try to restrict his brawling to the parking lot and to “take it easy” while he orders him some ham and eggs. Too tired and upset to read the book he’s being hired to adapt, Dix asks the bright-eyed Mildred to accompany him to his “sorta hacienda-like” home at the Beverly Patio Apartments, where she could explain the story to him. It turns out to be a fateful decision when Mildred is found murdered the next morning in Benedict Canyon… and Dix becomes the prime suspect with only his alluring new neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) providing any shred of an alibi.
What’d He Wear?
It’s appropriate that Humphrey Bogart would bring his own distinctive style to the role to which he related so strongly, continuing his usual practice of wearing mostly his own clothing in his movies rather than the wares of a costume designer. Indeed, a few Bogie standards appear across In a Lonely Place such as the heavy twill sport jacket worn during the beach party (which the actor wore when photographed for the February 12, 1949, cover of Photoplay magazine) and a patterned sports coat that’s undoubtedly the same light gray-blue jacket he would later wear in The Barefoot Contessa.
It wasn’t just Bogart’s dressed-down sport jackets that he brought to the big screen. Approaching middle age, the actor’s roles were drifting closer to those of thoughtful observers than action heroes and with this maturation, he evolved his style from sharply striped suits and long ties to staid solid suits complemented by patterned bow ties that delivered a professorial whimsy to otherwise serious characters like the intrepid district attorney in The Enforcer, the unromantic Linus Larrabee in Sabrina, and—of course—Dixon Steele.
Dix Steele’s full-fitting dark suit seems to be reserved solely for going out for drinks, be it a boisterous celebration with friends or a quiet date. Until a suit proven to be this one appears correctly identified in an archive or auction, the true color is lost to history. The rest of the details are much clearer, starting with the single-breasted jacket. The ventless jacket is structured with wide, padded shoulders that give the lean-framed Bogart a more imposing silhouette. The notch lapels roll to a low two-button stance. He wears a white linen pocket square in the welted breast pocket, and the straight hip pockets are jetted with no flaps. Each sleeve is finished with four buttons on the cuff.
The trousers have forward pleats, likely a double set on each side of the fly per Bogart’s usual. Through the belt, he wears a brown leather belt that contrasts against the darker suit and closes through a curved single-prong buckle. The trousers have side pockets and are finished with turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
One of the first things Dix does upon returning to his apartment with Mildred is to retreat into his bedroom and take off his shoes, tossing each one across the room. His dark leather oxfords appear to have a cap toe and are worn with dark socks.
Dix wears a plain white cotton shirt with a long point collar, plain front, breast pocket, and button cuffs. Aside from the distinctive collar with its era-specific shape and length, the details of the shirt are not unlike the standard off-the-rack offerings at any American department store, though you can be assured that considerably finer craftsmanship and fabric was used to create Bogart’s shirt.
Released just after his 50th birthday, In a Lonely Place marked the first film of Bogart’s final decade and the first of his “bow tie movies” where the actor almost exclusively wore bow-tied neckwear with his lounge suits. While patterned bow ties may carry a tame or preppy connotation these days, the esteemed Sir Hardy Amies suggested otherwise in his 1964 tome ABC of Men’s Fashion, writing that “on less genial characters, it can have an aggressive air and can arouse some kind of resentment at first meeting of a new acquaintance.”
Dix Steele makes his on-screen introduction wearing a pointed-end (or “diamond-tip”) bow tie in a dark silk twill, patterned with large white polka dots.
After the opening scene, Dix spends most of his screen time either casually dressed or inside, neither of which call for a hat. Thus, viewers are only graced with familiar sight of Bogie in a beautifully shaped fedora during the opening scene of him motoring his Mercury convertible to Paul’s. The dark felt hat has a sharply creased crown, a dark grosgrain band of moderate width, and grosgrain edges.
Bogart had famously worn a Borsalino fedora in Casablanca (1942) nearly a decade earlier, and the prolific Italian hatmaker recently capitalized on this association with its introduction of “The Bogart”, a classically styled fedora in a gray “Sebino” felt mixture of hare and rabbit fur, unveiled in September 2018.
Either unaware of uncaring of how the young Mildred will interpret his changing into loungewear for their late night discussion of Althea Bruce, Dix changes out of his suit jacket, bow tie, and oxfords and into a plaid silk shawl-collared robe and dark leather slippers, though still wearing the same white shirt and suit trousers and he had on before. “I took off my shoes and put on this robe because I like to be comfortable when I work,” he assures a suspicious Mildred.
The evening proceeds with Dix getting steadily drunker as he listens to Mildred tell Althea’s tale, though he interrupts to correct her pronunciation (“Althea”, not “Alathea”) and when she puts far too much energy into re-enacting Althea’s death by drowning as she screams “Help! Help! Help!” Her suspicions abated, Mildred begins showing a romantic interest just in time for Dix to shut her down and send her around the corner to a taxi cab stand to make her way home… which she never does, landing the last man known to see her alive—and while she was screaming for help, no less—under considerable suspicion.
Dix has no way of knowing that his acquaintance from earlier in the night had been brutally murdered by the time he answers his door at 5 a.m. to find his cop friend, Detective Sergeant “Brub” Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy), eager to bring him in for questioning. “I’ve been asleep for hours,” Dix informs him. “With your clothes on?” counters Brub, alerting Dix that this is more than just a social call.
About three weeks after Mildred’s murder, Dix and Laurel are deeply in love and always by each other’s side, including a date to a swanky nightclub where “Queen of the Boogie” Hadda Brooks serenades them with Ray Noble’s 1938 ballad “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” over highballs. Given the occasion, Dix again wears his dark lounge suit and white shirt, this time with another diamond-tip bow tie and a white boutonnière on his left lapel.
The third and final occasion calling for Dix’s dark suit and bow tie is his and Laurel’s engagement party at Paul’s, attended only by a few close friends like Mel, Charlie, and his ex-flame Fran, who unknowingly stirs the pot by mentioning the script that Laurel had snuck to Dix’s agent Mel Lippman (Art Smith). He wears yet another pointed-end bow tie, this one patterned in a complex mini-check resembling a small-scale shadow plaid with a dark double grid-check overlaying it.
The movie ends with an increasingly paranoid Dix nearly strangling Laurel and bringing their love affair to a screeching halt just before they get a call absolving Dix of suspicion in the murder that had been increasingly driving them apart. The original ending was far darker, culminating in Dix actually killing Laurel during their argument and swiftly arrested by Sgt. Nicolai, who had come to personally tell him that he was cleared of Mildred’s murder. This scripted ending was filmed first before Ray—who hated it—improvised the new ending. Still, some frames exist that depict a worn-looking Bogie, his bow tie undone, sitting on the bed next to what is presumably Laurel’s corpse.
Another accessory linked to Bogart is his father’s ring, gifted to the actor upon the death of Belmont DeForest Bogart in 1934 and worn in many of his subsequent movies over the following decades. The gold ring has three square stones across the front, two rubies flanking a center diamond.
Many replica makers have tossed their hats into the proverbial ring (pun intended), offering replicas of various quality on Amazon, The Hollywood Collection, and The Hollywood Originals, though I would imagine many skilled jewelers could make a high-quality tribute ring for any Bogie-head looking to emulate this icon.
Dix’s wristwatch is a chronograph with a round white dial with three registers at 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00, worn on an exotic leather strap.
A colorized photo of Bogart and Edward G. Robinson at Walter Huston’s funeral shows the actor wearing a similar outfit of a blue-gray suit, white shirt, and navy polka-dot bow tie. I’m not sure the source or provenance of the colorization, but it provides a reasonable basis for a possible color combination for those seeking to echo what the actor may have been wearing.
As Walter Huston died in April 1950, just a few months after In a Lonely Place production wrapped, it’s possible that Bogart wore some of the same pieces to mourn his friend and fellow actor.
Another possibility is that he’s wearing the same navy blue suit that would appear in full color for a scene in The Barefoot Contessa, a movie with proven sartorial overlaps with In a Lonely Place that was only released three years later. Bogart’s Harry Dawes is only briefly seen wearing this navy suit, though the ventless, two-button jacket and double-forward pleated trousers worn with brown leather belt share unmistakable stylistic similarities to Dix’s suit.
If I had to guess… I’d say the suit in In a Lonely Place was a dark navy blue.
What to Imbibe
Dix Steele orders a Gin & Tonic when out with his pals, including “popcorn salesman” director Lloyd Barnes (Morris Ankrum) who orders a Stinger—a light drink as frothy as the movies he directs—and Dix’s mild-mannered agent Mel Lippman who orders milk to treat his ulcers.
Back at his apartment, Dix mixes himself another highball, presumably another G&T as we see a bottle of dry gin among the items on his bar. Mildred, who doesn’t drink, needs assurance that Dix’s motives are pure before excitedly requesting “a ginger ale with a twist of lemon… that’s known as a Horse’s Neck!”
Dix would probably prefer the Horse’s Neck “with a Kick”, described by Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide as two ounces of bourbon in an ice-filled Collins glass topped off with ginger ale and a spiraled lemon rind over the rim. According to Aliza Kelly Faragher in The Mixology of Astrology, “its defining feature is the presentation: a long strip of lemon peel draped over the side of the glass to represent a horse’s neck.”
For what it’s worth, Ms. Faragher classifies the drink as one she would recommend to a Sagittarius, which was the star sign of Gloria Grahame, born November 28, 1923.
How to Get the Look
To dress like Dix Steele is to dress like Humphrey Bogart, with a simple high-contrast combination of a dark single-breasted suit and plain white shirt forming the foundation and adding character by tying on a nearly patterned bow tie. To finish the look, fold a plain white linen pocket square into your suit jacket’s breast pocket, don a personal piece of jewelry like a gold ring that’s been passed down through the family, and—perhaps most important of all—have a comfortable robe waiting for you to return home.
- Dark navy wool suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Double forward-pleated high-rise trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton shirt with long point collar, plain front, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Dark polka-dot or mini-checked bow tie
- Brown leather belt with curved metal single-prong buckle
- Dark leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Dark dress socks
- Gold ring with two ruby stones flanking a center diamond stone
- Chronograph watch with white triple-register dial and dark exotic leather band
- Dark felt fedora with dark grosgrain band and edges
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. In a Lonely Place was made exactly 70 years ago with production from October 25 through December 1, 1949.
There’s no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality.