Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tonight's Movie: The Blue Gardenia (1953)

A lonely long-distance telephone operator wakes up from a hangover to discover that the man who was her bad date the previous evening has been murdered. Unable to remember all the events from the night in question, the terrified woman is soon on the run from the police. Will a newspaper reporter help put her in jail or clear her name?

The scared phone operator is played effectively by Anne Baxter, with Richard Conte as the reporter and Raymond Burr as the murder victim. (It's fascinating that Burr played such straight-arrow types in his TV series, given his slimy film noir characters, notably in HIS KIND OF WOMAN.) The supporting cast includes Ann Sothern and Jeff Donnell as Baxter's roommates, with George Reeves as the homicide detective on the case. Long-faced character actor Norman Leavitt, whose acting career stretched from playing a cowboy in THE HARVEY GIRLS in 1946 to playing a gravedigger in an episode of QUINCY, M.E. in 1978, has a pivotal role.

One of the movie's greatest pleasures is the on-screen presence of Nat King Cole, who sings the title song in a nightclub sequence. His voice is heard again later in the film singing the same song, via both a record and a juke box. The haunting song gives the film great mood.

The initial turns of the plot can be seen coming a mile away, but the film builds up steam as it goes along, becoming an absorbing whodunit. The Los Angeles setting provides additional atmosphere, although the locale is conveyed through references to the area rather than location filming. Footage of L.A. is limited to shots of freeways and City Hall during the opening and closing title sequences.

THE BLUE GARDENIA -- a title I used to confuse with THE BLUE DAHLIA -- is the first film in director Fritz Lang's "newspaper noir" trio. Lang's other "newspaper noir" films were WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, both starring frequent film noir leading man Dana Andrews.

The movie runs 90 minutes and was filmed in black and white. It's based on a story by Vera Caspary, who also wrote the book LAURA, which inspired the classic film of the same name.

THE BLUE GARDENIA is available on both DVD and VHS.


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