The Blue Dahlia Reviews
No surprise, since the conditions under which it was made were hardly dreamy. Thumb through the depths of the godsend that is Wikipedia and it's clear that the product in front of us is a result of a myriad of studio stresses. Consider that the film started shooting before Chandler was even finished with the screenplay (with the man's heavy drinking wasting additional time in wrapping things up), that the studio had to deal with the stresses of leading man Alan Ladd possibly getting drafted, and that Chandler himself developed an intense, unfounded dislike for heroine Veronica Lake which ensured bountiful on-set tension.
In the end, "The Blue Dahlia" was a hit, a box-office bonanza which briefly revitalized Lake's flagging career and brought Chandler an Oscar nomination for his screenplay. But 70 plus years later and the movie feels like a noir dazzler that forgets what it means to sizzle. It has the blueprint in place to help itself work up toward the dizzying heights set by the aforementioned masterpieces but doesn't have the passion to get there. It feels like exactly what it is: a movie made with high anxiety by severely talented people.
The feature, plodding if competently made, is headlined by Ladd, here playing a discharged United States Navy officer readjusting to civilian life with cohorts Buzz (Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont). Named Johnny Morrison and hoping his life will return to its comfortable predictability after he settles back into domesticity, he's surprised to arrive home and find that his spouse, Helen (Doris Dowling), is having an affair with Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva), the owner of local Blue Dahlia nightclub.
Enraged, Morrison walks out, gets drenched by the evening rain, and is coincidentally picked up by Harwood's wife, Joyce (Lake), with whom he exchanges flirtations and eventually rooms with in a Malibu hotel later that night (in separate quarters, no less). Come the next morning, Morrison decides that he might as well give his marriage a chance - not necessarily his wife's fault that she got lonely in his absence.
But blasting radios announce that such is no longer an option for the former army man: Helen has been found murdered in their home, a handful of bullets having penetrated her heart. Morrison, of course, is the prime suspect. Helen's widespread extramarital activity was well-known to most, and it would make sense that he retaliate in such a callous manner. Forced to go on the run, with Joyce by his side, Morrison must clear his name, clever amateur detective work getting him far.
But we've seen this all before - "The Blue Dahlia" is a run-of-the-mill wrong-man story which isn't helped by Ladd's decidedly unsympathetic exterior (he seems relatively inclined to beat up his wife, even if she is venomous) and by the lack of urgency clearly a result of the movie's slapped together middle and final acts. The ending is particularly a let down - the reveal is scarcely juicy and the manner in which it's delivered is straight-faced rather than gasping.
I wish, then, that "The Blue Dahlia" had flavors of melodrama. This story should be told with Hitchcockian flair, and yet it always seems to be at a standstill. For a better Ladd/Lake pairing, look in the direction of their first collaboration, "This Gun for Hire" (1942). That film knew how to use them. "The Blue Dahlia" doesn't.
A bomber pilot in the military returns home to find a wife that parties too much and has no shortage of acquaintances. She is found murdered one night and the pilot is immediately pursued as a suspect. He will have to try and clear his name while eluding the law.
"I'll buy you a drink some rainy day."
"It's raining now."
George Marshall, director of Eight on the Lam, Advance to the Rear, It Started with a Kiss, Duel in the Jungle, Destroy, and The Sad Sack, delivers The Blue Dahlia. The storyline for this picture was fairly cliché for the crime thriller drama the script was well written and the characters were well executed. I thought the acting was better than average and the cast includes Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Hugh Beaumont, and Doris Dowling.
"That thing gives me a headache."
"Well ain't that a pity."
This came on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) some time ago and I decided to DVR it as an interesting crime thriller. I loved the main character, his charisma, and Ladd's performance. I thought there was the perfect level of grit with his character. The movie is fairly cliché, but worth a viewing due to Ladd's performance.
"You get around, don't you?"
It is the only original screenplay by Raymond Chandler. The film itself plays at the pace of the novel more than a film. In that sense it provides a full set for the viewer from beginning to end. Unlike other Chandler sources, this one has few lines that are memorable in comparison to his other works. This film is not available on DVD in the US so there is no restored copy to watch it from, only VHS. For hardcore lovers of noir films, this will be an enjoyable treat, for others it might not be as satisfying. Unlike other Chandler films, there are few clues to engage the viewer and the "mystery" aspect of it is less apparent. A great watch to see Ladd and Veronica Lake together and enjoy mid 1940's hard boil atmosphere.
There is a long period where the viewer feels confidence in where the plot is going. The ending provides a surprise twist. For many, the twist appears as contrived, but according to sources, the military had a say on where the film needed to conclude. If that is true, this film needed more work to find a better angle on how to tell the story.
This movie took a while to grow on me (like 45 minutes) but then it became so massively typical of Chandler that I had to love it. And the twist? How the crap could I see that coming? I'm still shaking my head at not guessing at it.
I really did like this movie, but I think I might have loved it if it were in book form. I want more mafia subplot.
With it's tough guy lead, bizarre affectations and lurid situations, The Blue Dahlia is just about as pulpy as it gets. The William Bendix character is quite memorable, but I feel like the Eddie Harwood character is the most understated of the lot. He's clearly meant to be the bad guy of the film, but he's one of the least violent characters of the lot. He also seems to have gotten in over his head with the events surrounding him, and he's clearly trying to wrestle loose of them. In fact, this might be one of the only noire films where the true villain of the picture was the victim herself. The wife (Doris Dowling) is a truly unrepentant figure, even going so far as to laugh in her husband's face as she decribes the death of their son. The conclusion of the film and the actual reveal of the killer are a little unsatisfying for my taste, but let's not quibble over the destination when the journey was so much fun.