Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Blue Dahlia (1946)

I first watched THE BLUE DAHLIA over seven years ago, when I was in my first year as a blogger, and at that time I reviewed it very briefly.

This classic Alan Ladd-Veronica Lake movie is part of the Dark Crimes DVD set which I received last Christmas. I previously revisited the other Ladd-Lake film in the set, THE GLASS KEY (1942), and I thought the occasion of Alan Ladd's centennial yesterday would be a great time to take a fresh look at THE BLUE DAHLIA.

THE BLUE DAHLIA is a movie I like a lot. It's got a well-plotted story, with the Raymond Chandler screenplay also conveying a nice feel for Southern California; it's also got Ladd and Lake striking plenty of sparks as they verbally spar, as well as lots of great "movie faces."

Johnny Morrison (Ladd) comes home from the war along with his pals George (Hugh Beaumont) and Buzz (William Bendix). Johnny quickly realizes his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) was not only unfaithful, but her irresponsible behavior had led to the death of their little boy while he was away, and he walks out in disgust.

Later that night Helen is murdered, and of course Johnny is Suspect No. 1. However, there are a number of other people who visited Helen that evening, including her lover, Harwood (Howard Da Silva); the house detective (Will Wright) at her apartment complex; and Buzz, who has mental issues due to a brain injury suffered in the war.

Before Johnny learns of Helen's death, he meets a lovely blonde (Veronica Lake) who just happens to be the estranged wife of Helen's boyfriend...

This was the third teaming of Ladd and Lake, following THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) and THE GLASS KEY; they would later costar in SAIGON (1948), a film I would certainly like to see. I don't think they so much as kiss in this one, but they're great fun to watch together; they have that special combustible movie magic which jumps off the screen. It's said that a number of Lake's costars didn't enjoy working with her, but if Ladd was one of them, you can't tell on film. They're extremely well matched physically and in terms of personality.

The Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica doubles as the Cavendish in this film, where Helen meets her doom. As I wrote back in 2006, "Although the film just hints at L.A. and Southern California with some brief visuals -- City Hall, the L.A. skyline at night, the beach -- it successfully conveyed a real sense of 'place.'"

One of the fun things about THE BLUE DAHLIA is spotting various faces as they go by. For instance, Tom Powers, who wryly plays Police Captain Hendrickson, would go on to play the ornery neighbor in one of my favorite John Wayne movies, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), while Howard Da Silva would later turn up in a significant role in Ladd's THE GREAT GATSBY (1949).

Frank Faylen, who has a small role as a crook trying to shake down Johnny for some cash, had a really nice part as a gambler in a George Montgomery Western I saw a few days ago, THE LONE GUN (1954). And a very tiny bit role, a photographer in a police department corridor, was played by James Millican, who played Wyatt Earp in another recently seen Montgomery Western, GUN BELT (1953). Millican started in bit parts in the early '30s before finally starting to play more significant roles in the late '40s; he died too soon, in 1955.

The cute hatcheck girl is Noel Neill of the SUPERMAN TV series. A very young Anthony Caruso, near the beginning of a half-century career, is the G.I. playing the jukebox as the movie begins. And yes, the ubiquitous Bess Flowers is one of the guests at the cocktail party!

I was intrigued by Doris Dowling as Ladd's wife, and fascinated by her impossibly complicated hairstyle, wondering if Helen was supposed to have done it herself! I was unfamiliar with Dowling's work and learned that just prior to this film she had had a key role in THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), which I've not yet seen.  An interesting bit of trivia is that Dowling's first husband was Artie Shaw; Dowling was Wife No. 7, out of 8 total, for the oft-married musician and band leader.

THE BLUE DAHLIA runs 96 minutes. It was directed by George Marshall and produced by John Houseman. It was filmed in black and white by Lionel Linden.

As mentioned, this Paramount film is part of the Dark Crimes DVD collection from TCM. The DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix.

The movie also had a VHS release in the Universal Noir series.

THE BLUE DAHLIA has been shown in the TCM ESSENTIALS series. The terrific trailer is on the TCM website; I love the way it has the names Ladd, Lake, and Bendix in giant letters as the trailer begins.

April 2018 Update: I had the wonderful opportunity to see this film in 35mm on the opening night of the 20th Annual Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood.


Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for pointing out all the famous faces that I, gotta admit, never EVER clued in on before! I'll have to give the movie another watch, just for that!

7:26 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's really fun, Carley, I hope you'll enjoy taking a fresh look and noticing all the fun players scattered throughout the movie. Thanks for your note!

Best wishes,

12:11 AM  

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