The Golden Age of Hollywood

Why Did They Laugh? In a Lonely Place...

So why do they laugh?

I went to see one of the best film noirs ever last Friday night - In a Lonely Place - and I left frustrated. They laughed at it. Not everyone... but enough to make me question whether I should even see old movies with others again.

Friday night at the Film Forum in New York City. I drove down from Connecticut stag. The better half couldn't make it but I try to keep her away from Gloria Grahame anyway.

The theater was packed. Susan Ray was in the lobby signing copies of one of Nick Ray's books. I missed her introduction from earlier in the night. She must have been quite a bit younger than Ray when they were married... Philip Kaufman is making a movie of the book.

I entered the theater and was shocked that the theater was so small. Also, nearly every seat was taken. I had no choice but to sit in the back. I was pleasantly surprised to see the excellent turnout for the late screening.

The previews started. A few independent art film trailers. The audio was bad and I couldn't make out the dialog for most of it.

Then the movie started. It's a wonderful new print of the film. The picture is perfect and the audio was crystal clear.

The film begins.

Now, understand In a Lonely Place isn't a piece of camp. Nor is it over the top like seeing Sunset Blvd or Johnny Guitar today. It's a straight drama/mystery. It's adult and isn't corny at all.

Tell that to the audience. Ok... the beginning of the movie is light hearted. The drunk actor and the coat-room girl are funny. I get that people are laughing. They should be. It's funny.

But then the murder happens. Every time the chief-of-police character spoke there were laughs. OK. I understand. Film goers today are used to sophisticated police talk from watching Law and Order and CSI. Some of his dialog was probably dumbed down a bit for audience in the 1950s. At one point he tells Gloria Grahame about the murder. The scene gets huge laughs...

Why is that funny? Is it the “vice-like grip” line the cop spits out? I don't get it.

The movie moves forward.

The man next to me – sporting a shaved head and thick dark-rimmed glasses – would make a “hmph” sound every time he thought something sounded corny. He would break in to laughter whenever Bogie would lose control. When Bogart picks up a rock to beat a man the audience began to howl.

Hilarious, right? The didn't laugh at the “knuckle-headed squirrel” line. They laughed at the “200-dollar paint job” which I understand. It was so much cheaper then. But is that a laugh-out-loud funny? Then Bogie picks up the rock and Gloria screams at him. The audience erupts in laughter. Explain it to me... why? Are we now laughing at the film? The film is a classic by almost anyones definition. If Batman picked up a rock and threatened to smash the Joker's face in would people be roaring during The Dark Knight?

Mercifully, The huge laughs from the audience was over by then. But the guy next to me had me thinking that I should find a big rock and test it on his melon. He was making the “hmph” noise every few minutes now. I wound anticipate a line and wait for him to disapprove of it.

His “hmph”s were getting louder and more frequent. It was like he wanted his wife and everyone around him to know that the movie was way to simple for him.

When Gloria Grahame – with tears in her eyes says “yesterday this would have meant so much to us...” snickers were heard behind me and an audible “hmph” next to me. I'm just about to go Dixon on him.

The the heartbreaker...

Gloria Grahame looks down at her love walking away with tears flowing down her face...

was met with a loud “hmph” beside me mixed in with giggling a row behind.

So these few audience members hated it -- and made sure everyone else in the theater knew. They went to the theater to see an old quaint film and make fun of it. Fine. But do they realize that other people love the film? They're ruining the absolutely heartbreaking ending for me. What about the people that never saw the film before? Did the drama even resonate with them? I think not.

As I left the theater I stopped the man who sat next to me and I asked him, “Did you think it was a comedy?” He looked startled and didn't answer. I went looking for a rock on the side of the road while he took off quickly.

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Comment by Marcus on August 4, 2009 at 1:39am
I remember seeing " A Night at the Opera" in the eighties at a long closed repitory theatre here in Michigan. Well, a bunch of rowdies screamed in laughter... not at the comedy-- but at the straight opera singing of Kitty Carlile & Allen Jones! Ruined the whole experience for everybody else. Ignorance...
Comment by Dan Day, Jr. on July 25, 2009 at 10:28am
That's what society is now. I don't know how many times I've had to defend myself for loving "crappy, old, black and white movies." You can be a sheep, or you can be a free-thinking individual. I'm pretty sure what everyone on this site is.
Comment by Abdullah aka Chuck on July 22, 2009 at 8:50pm
Why did they laugh?.....IGNORANCE!
Comment by Joanne C on July 22, 2009 at 6:19am
Steve O,
That was a very disturbing post. I don't get it, either. If the main point of those few people was to go to an old film to make fun of it why not stay at home and make fun of it there? Maybe they all got high before going to the theatre and everything seemed hilarious to them. I've gone to many classic film screenings, including silent films, and have never had an experience like that. I realize these films aren't everyone's cup of tea, but if they don't like what they see most people will do the decent thing and walk out.

I'm sorry you had to drive all the way in to the city for that unfortunate experience.
Comment by diane on July 21, 2009 at 11:29pm
I don't think I could have stood it - the laughs I mean.
The only time I have seen "In a Lonely Place" , I was in my teens and had stayed
up until about 1 in the morning to watch it on television. There was no traffic outside,
everything was so still and quiet, I'll never forget it. I would love to see it again but I
never have. I'm so sorry a few bores spoilt it for you -that experiance would send me
scuttling back to my beloved DVDs in the comfort of my lounge room never to return
to the "outside" again!!!

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