Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Written by Siglo XX

Director: George Marshall

Tamed by a brunette - framed by a blonde - blamed by the cops!

With a tagline like that, who needs any explanation that The Blue Dahlia is bound to be a classic? Don’t take my word for it; if you haven’t yet seen this noteworthy film, you owe it to yourself to beg, borrow or steal a copy today.

Perhaps overlooked by some, and shamefully not out as an official DVD release, The Blue Dahlia is the original Hollywood Noir Dahlia (referring to ‘a nightclub on the strip’); not to be confused with the present-day film, focusing on The Black Dahlia Murder Case in Los Angeles, Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia (2006), which some have indicated doesn’t quite inspire as a film.


One of the tragedies for The Blue Dahlia is that it was released in the same year as The Big Sleep, which tended to overshadow its significance.

Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) returns home from the war in the South Pacific, and finds his wife, Helen (Doris Dowling) with another man (Eddie Harwood, played by Howard Da Silva). In a Noir film, this can only lead to one thing: the wife is going to die; and the husband is going to have the rap placed squarely on his shoulders for her murder, or at least give the circumstances some consideration while on the lamb. Johnny knows he has to prove his innocence or possibly face the chair. Enter Joyce Haywood (Veronica Lake), who just so happens to be the ex-wife of Johnny’s recently deceased wife’s lover. How convenient. Is she to be the frame while playing the alluring vixen? Someone throw in the towel for poor Johnny. Joyce is turning on the charm throughout.

Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) and George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont) play Johnny’s buddies, also fresh home from the war. Buzz scraps some action in the first scene, and Bendix is no small fry when playing the heavy in Noir roles, supporting or otherwise. You simply have to love a film that starts off with some deliberate tension, indirectly related to the plot, just to establish a character.

Script writing by Raymond Chandler (script or novel credits for Strangers on a Train, Lady in the Lake, The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet, Double Indemnity, Farewell My Lovely and Time to Kill), brings the occasional cracker-jack style to the dialog, lending a quickened pace to the film. Chandler was nominated for an Academy Award for this ‘can’t fix it without plenty of alcohol’ screenplay, with a few notable lines below:

Johnny’s (played by Alan Ladd), ‘You got the wrong lipstick on, Mister’, followed by a crack to Eddie’s (played by Howard Da Silva) jaw; after finding out Eddie was his wife’s lover, bring Johnny’s emotions directly to the surface, as any man might be prone to under the circumstances.

Joyce’s (played by Veronica Lake) ‘Well, you could get wetter if you laid down in the gutter’, to Johnny as he resists entering her car in a cats and dogs downpour.

Buzz’s (played by William Bendix), ‘Baloney! If you think we’re going to help you tie a murder to a guy who’s flown us through 112 missions, you’re off your nut!’ in response to Capt. Hendrickson’s (played by Tom Powers) questions regarding the murder. There’s something about Buzz that isn’t altogether there. Film at Eleven.

A boozing, blackmailing house detective (‘Dad’ Newell, played by Will Wright) round out the supporting cast nicely.

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake are no neophytes to the Noir genre, and their chemistry works well in yet another Paramount Studio setting. One might even go so far as to say Ladd just about made a career out of Noir and other Crime films, though not quite on par with the likes of Dick Powell. This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key are seminal favorites of the Noir Ladd/Lake combo; both films released in 1942, and among personal Noir favorites of many. If anyone could blame Ladd for often having his arm around Lake’s slender frame, they’d have to have their head examined. Just don’t let Buzz know you made the appointment; and you’d better stop playing that monkey music.

Cinematographer, Lionel Lindon, may not be a household name to everyone, though he’s done work on several spectacular 60’s John Frankenheimer films, such as Grand Prix (1966), All Fall Down (1962), and The Young Savages (1961); as well as some earlier Noir/Drama material: Quicksand (1950), Without Honor (1949), Alias Nick Beal (1949). Not a shabby resume, though I’d have personally preferred a bit more play with shadow and light in some scenes. Perhaps a restored print would flesh out more contrast. One can only hope.

The result is an enjoyable Noir/Drama/Mystery, with a bourbon shot for a chaser and a bit of whodunit thrown in for measure. The only question is whether Bendix steals the show from Ladd, given his fine character portrayal of Buzz. If you can find it, The Blue Dahlia is definitely worth a visit.

Bourbon straight, with a bourbon chaser.

Two separate glasses. Get it?

Did somebody say something about a drink?


  1. A church associate of mine fell off a ladder and damaged his wrist. It now looks odd, like Ladd's. So I call him "Raven." I haven't explained why yet...

  2. I thought that Doris Dowling's performance as Alan Ladd's erring wife was the stand-out acting in the film. So much so that something was lost when she popped her clogs.

    This is not the first time that the second lead out-acted the main lead in a Film Noir, in my view. I thought Ann Blyth acted Joan Crawford off the screen in Mildred Pierce, and of course once the incomparable Ann Savage appears in Detour she makes Tom Neal look like a clodhopper.

    Why these three actresses did not build on their success and go on to be big stars is beyond me.

    Thanks - Andrew Bell (UK)

  3. Blue Dahlia is not one of Chandler's better scripts.

    The flick is devoid of typical Chandlerisms. Ray's upper-cut wit, jabbing understatements, and knock-out metaphors are missing. Maybe some dimwit editor or $$$ crazed mogul knocked the chandlerisms over the head and chucked them into the gutter.

    Plus, Ladd is weak and wimpy in this flick. His acting is two dimensional cardboard, at best.

    It's no wonder Chandler preferred Bogart in the lead tough-guy roles.

    Here's what Ray said in his letter to Jamie Hamilton dated May 30, 1946, "Bogart, of course, is also so much better than any other tough-guy actor that he makes bums of the Ladds and Powells.(The Raymond Chandler Papers, Atlantic Monthly Press, p.67)


    How about you and me go dancing tonight? You drive me nuts, babe. I'll show you a good time, and I promise not to think of Marie Windsor, while we're dancing.

    Hard-Boiled Dick

  4. For me, "THE BLACK DAHLIA" is a pretty good film. As for "THE BLUE DAHLIA", I'm watching it right now.