Andrew Dickos, in his perceptive survey of film noir, ‘Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir’ (University Press of Kentucky 2002), from a discussion of the films of Nicholas Ray, has this to say about the noir protagonist and by reference Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of Dixon Steele in Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950):
“The world of Nicholas Ray’s noir films so clearly coincides with his vision of the dislocated, violent individual trapped in postwar America that it is fair to say the noir perspective displayed in these films is simply a variant of a vision apparent throughout most of his work. His characters anguish on a personal battleground where social forces structuring human discourse are internally disavowed and raged at and the most formidable opponent finally becomes one’s own conflicted self trying to function in the world… (p. 82)
“In Ray’s world of the angry and spiritually discomfited, Dixon Steele is more tormented by paranoia than any of the others. Certainly the project of screenwriting as an agency of moviemaking challenges one to achieve creative expression only to see the end product so often distorted, mutilated, or made banal by commercial forces. Steele faces this but is, moreover, self-lacerated, as many of Ray’s characters are, by the psychic urge to find meaning in a life personally and routinely bereft of it. This vision, cast in the noir mode and personified by Humphrey Bogart in one of his most intriguing roles, is perhaps better explained by reference to another Ray film, Rebel without a Cause. Victor Perkins described the planetarium sequence, as James Dean and his friends gaze upward at the universe while the narrator comments about gas, fire, and the insignificance of the planet’s impending destruction. “It is against this concept of man’s life as an episode of little consequence”, he wrote, “rather than against society, or his family, that Dean rebels.” * Dixon Steele emerges as a glamorous cultural variant of such rebellion. Violent but not knowing why, provocative but to what end, needful yet closed off, cynical and ruefully philosophical, Steele is, finally, Hollywood’s figure of a troubled man. And who better to personify such a postwar figure than Bogart?” (p. 87)
* Perkins, V.F. ‘The Cinema of Nicholas Ray’, Movie, no. 9 (1963), pp. 4–10.