This was a very interesting role for Humphrey Bogart, and was a bit of a production code buster on several levels.
Bogart plays Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele, who is in somewhat of a writing rut. He also has a quick temper and a paranoia complex. He picks fights with people over the most routine matters and these fights commonly come to blows. He is indeed "in a lonely place" of his own making. Steele has a chance to write a screenplay based on a book, but the author wants him to read the book and give him his opinion in just a matter of a few days. At the restaurant where Steele has talked with the author, the hat check girl says she has just read the book and loves it. Steele invites her to come over to his apartment and tell him about the book to save him the trouble of reading it. This is all very innocent in what Steele intends and in what actually happens. In fact, Steele's reaction, unseen and unheard by the hat check girl, to her semi-literate oral book report is wickedly funny. This shows us Steele's charming and funny side. After the girl tells her story, she leaves. Neighbor Laurel Grey (Gloria Grahame) sees her leave. However, the next day, the girl's strangled body is found next to a road. The police quickly find their way back to Steele's place where, due to his violent past and nonchalant reaction to the murder, he is under immediate suspicion. He finds an alibi in his neighbor Laurel, and this is how they formally meet.
Almost immediately the two begin a relationship that gets serious fast. Laurel finds Steele attentive and interesting. Thus at first Laurel thinks Steele is innocent of the murder, but one by one her doubts grow. Steele explodes over little things, even eventually punching out his own agent over nothing. In fact, Steele's agent is his only real friend and actually is a bit of an enabler for his bad behavior. You always see Steele show his idea of remorse for his actions, even anonymously sending money to a guy he has beaten up over a traffic accident. However, the question that is left to be answered is - exactly what is going on with this guy? Could he have stalked and killed the girl over his anger at something else or someone else entirely? And if he didn't kill the hat check girl, will he eventually kill someone else? Laurel is asking these same questions as she begins to wonder - is it more dangerous to try and run away from Steele, or is it more dangerous to stay? One should never consider saying "yes" to a marriage proposal if it comes down to what is less dangerous.
Laurel is not exactly a finished book herself. Apparently she had a serious relationship with a well-off man just prior to this, and ended it for really no tangible reason. Then there is a kind of gay subtext going on between herself and her masseuse, Martha. They only have one scene together but it certainly throws out more questions than answers, just like the rest of this film.
If you like noir, if you like Bogart, if you like being challenged, watch this film.