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“It seems that of all the American film stars,” François Truffaut wrote in 1952, “Gloria Grahame is the only one who is also a person.” Indeed, Grahame’s reputation as a human movie star—vulnerable and imperfect—was her calling card. Born in Los Angeles to an architect father and a mother who had acted for years on the British stage, Grahame did nearly all of her finest work for RKO, where she specialized in playing worn-out, sympathetic fallen women who turn on their sleazy, criminal lovers and husbands. As early as her brief role for MGM in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), she was playing spirited women leaning toward—or trapped in—ill repute.

Grahame’s range as an actress, however, extended well beyond bar hostesses and lounge singers. She could be flighty and naïve (The Bad and the Beautiful), cooped-up and frustrated (The Cobweb), or inelegant and clumsy (Oklahoma!). It was her second husband, Nicholas Ray, who directed what might have been her finest performance. Over the course of In a Lonely Place, her character evolves from a stock seductive-woman-next-door into something much richer: a woman in an unstable relationship struggling to unravel a complex web of affections, doubts, hopes, commitments, and fears. Grahame could project desire, suffering, and vengeful anger, but she was also distinctly gifted at projecting ambivalence. Perhaps this is what made her appear onscreen so sharply like a—for lack of a better word—person.

Programmed by Dennis Lim and Dan Sullivan