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The Blue Dahlia
USA 1946
Directed by George Marshall
Running time 96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


With the only screenplay written expressly for the screen by Raymond Chandler, The Blue Dahlia is a typically convoluted story of bourbon-drinking tough guys and gatt-packing two-bit crooks, fast dames and dead bodies set in immediate post-war Los Angeles.

De-mobbed pilot Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) returns to LA as a war hero, accompanied by his fighting buddies, Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) and George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont). George is Mr Sensible but Buzz who has a steel plate in his head from the war is a loose cannon. In his absence Johnny’s wife Helen (Doris Dowling) has taken to the booze and become an all-round tramp, one of her suitors being Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva), owner of The Blue Dahlia nightclub. Johnny thinks their boy died of diphtheria but in a fit of anger Helen tells him she killed him when driving drunk. Not a pretty situation you might rightly say but then hey ho it’s the movies and as Johnny tramps down Lonely Street who does he meet but a mysterious beautiful blonde (Veronica Lake). They hit it off of course and when the next morning Johnny finds out that the cops are after him for the murder of his wife she’s going to prove mighty handy in his search for the real killer.

The Blue Dahlia is relatively minor noir, having many of the "hard-boiled" qualities of dialogue and characterisation but lacking the requisite darkness, thus leaving the ultra-cool Lake a jewel in a very ordinary setting. Apparently Chandler had so little regard for Marshall’s directorial skills that he directed some of the scenes himself. Probably more damaging to the author’s work however is that in the immediate post-war environment the Navy Department objected to the script’s original ending, resulting in a horribly contrived tacked-on solution of the mystery. For all its faults, not least of which is Bendix’s over-acting, the film is nevertheless enjoyable entertainment for nostalgia buffs.

FYI: Sadly this was also the 27 year-old Lake's last film of note, her career spiralling downwards in a string of lack-lustre movies and alcoholism until her death in 1973. Apparently one of the precipitating causes was that she cut her hair at the request of the American Government who were trying to pre-empt injury to factory girls imitating the star's signature look.

DVD Extras: Available as part of a 4 disc box set of contemporary Paramount Veronica Lake/Alan Ladd films that include This Gun For Hire and The Glass Key as well the Charles Laughton classic The Big Clock. The set includes an insert essay by freelance film writer Rose Capp who gives a brief contextualization of the films within the noir style.

 

 

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