David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

Slam Bradley, in a lonely place

There's a curious moment in Catwoman #37 (written by Ed Brubaker, his last issue on the title, alas). Selina Kyle's friends have thrown her a surprise birthday party. Slam Bradley, an aging PI who carries a painful torch for Selina, winds up on the roof with Selina's friend Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Leslie exits gracefully, letting Selina and Slam have a few minutes alone. Before she does, though, we get a snippet of conversation:

SLAM. " -- like that Bogart movie, In a Lonely Place, y'know?"
LESLIE. "Oh, please, Slam. It's never been like that between you two."
SLAM. "No, but in my head, in my heart, sometimes, I just don't know..."

It's a little exchange, but it's striking. Because that's a really weird thing for Slam to say.

"In a Lonely Place" is a classic noir. Not as famous as some of Bogart's other pictures, but it's a great film, and the only reason I can think of that this comment on Slam's part didn't make people sit bolt upright is that most folks aren't familiar with the movie.

The film's romance ends unhappily. Humphrey Bogart's Dixon does not ride off into the sunset with Gloria Graham's Laurel: quoth one reviewer, "Laurel and Dixon may love each other but it's evident that they're both entirely too victimized by their own selves to sustain this kind of happiness. In the end, their love resembles a rehearsal for the next and hopefully less complicated romance."

That's not the freaky part.

Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who is hired to adapt an epic novel that isn't just a bestseller; it's also a piece of shit. The hatcheck girl at a restaurant he frequents, however, loves the book. She is also young, cute, and quite impressionable, so Steele invites her back to his place to tell him all about it. Of course, she winds up dead.

Steele is accused of the murder. His neighbor, Laurel Gray, who has a crush on him, gives him an alibi. The two fall in love. As their relationship deepens, the murder story unfolds.

This is the creepy part: Dixon Steele has one hell of a nasty streak.

He doesn't just deny the murder to the cops; he profiles the killer for them, helpfully pointing out that he has killed lots of people in fiction, so knows what he's talking about. He has a history of violence to his co-workers, and to strangers, and to women. He gave one actress a broken nose. He's jealous and insecure, prone to depression and flashes of rage. All of this is all too familiar to Laurel, who's just coming out of an abusive relationship -- but it's still terrifying. Especially when Dixon gets into a fender bender (for which he is at fault), and reacts by brutally beating the other driver in full view of Laurel.

Dixon wants to marry Laurel. Laurel tells him yes, because she's afraid not to. When she tries to leave, he nearly strangles her.

Dixon is proven innocent of the murder, but it doesn't matter. He's not a murderer, but that doesn't make him any less a beast. Laurel leaves him. Even if Dixon loves her more than he's ever loved another human being -- which the movie suggests he does -- she's seen everything he is and she can never trust him any more.

A line from Dixon's script, in hindsight, turns out to sum up the relationship from his perspective: "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

I don't think I need to point out that if you're identifying your love, however painful, with the one in that movie, there are serious problems. Either Slam is having some seriously dark and nasty thoughts, or... or I don't know what. I'm trying to figure out if Slam identifies with Dixon, or with Laurel. Actually, I think that the movie probably does a better job of describing Selina's relationship with Batman, in many ways... though both Selina and Batman are sufficiently Dixonish in their own ways that I'm not sure who would be who there, either.

I like Slam's taste in movies. But I think a better (and more fitting) epitaph for his relationship with Selina might be the last words of Orson Welles, in The Lady in Shanghai: "The only way to stay out of trouble is to grow old, so I guess I'll concentrate on that. Maybe I'll grow old enough that I'll forget her. Maybe I'll die trying."

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