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BLUE DAHLIA, THE (director: George Marshall; screenwriter: Raymond Chandler; cinematographer: Lionel Lindon; editor: Arthur P. Schmidt; music: Victor Young; cast: Alan Ladd (Johnny Morrison), Veronica Lake (Joyce Harwood), William Bendix (Buzz Wanchek), Howard Da Silva (Eddie Harwood), Hugh Beaumont (George Copeland), Tom Powers (Capt. Hendrickson), Doris Dowling (Helen Morrison), Howard Freeman (Corelli), Don Costello (Leo), Will Wright (Dad Newell); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: John Houseman/George Marshall; Paramount; 1946)
“Exciting thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A fresh smelling film noir directed with great skill by George Marshall from the screenplay of Raymond Chandler (the only one he ever wrote for the screen, his other films were adapted from his novels). It eschews moral judgment in favor of a hard-boiled tale that flaunts its flowery style as its way of swimming madly along in LA’s postwar boom and decadence.

Ex-bomber pilot Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) returns to a loud LA as a war hero, accompanied by two of his closest friends, Navy squadron mates under his command, Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) and George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont). Buzz has a steel plate in his head from the war and suffers headaches, loud ringing sounds in his head, spells of violent fits and amnesia.

Johnny on his surprise visit to his ritzy hotel bungalow finds his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) to be unfaithful, at a house party, with the sleazy owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva). The dejected Navy hero leaves her after finding out she was driving when drunk and crashed, killing their young son. Hitching a ride with a mysterious beautiful blonde, he stops off at a roadside hotel near Malibu and soon learns that his wife was murdered that night. He becomes a suspect and decides to return to LA to find the killer of his uncaring floozie wife, and chooses not to go to the police even though he has a good alibi. Johnny believes that even if his wife was a tramp, her killer must be caught and punished.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

In LA, the blonde from the other night mysteriously shows up and helps Johnny escape from the police. Johnny learns that she’s Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake), the ex-wife of Eddie. Despite the evidence showing that Buzz went into a blackout after visiting Helen’s apartment and might have in a blind rage shot her for two-timing his pal, Johnny is not convinced and Buzz can’t remember. With Joyce’s help, the stoic Johnny solves the crime. He runs into the crooked Eddie, his henchmen, a slimeball blackmailing hotel detective (Will Wright), and other lowlife thugs, and events become clearer.

The script was considerably weakened by capitulating to Navy Department objections to having war hero Bendix be the killer, as Chandler wrote it. The plot is changed, and the surprise murderer seems forced onto the script even though the conclusion is resolved satisfactorily. It would have been more interesting for Bendix, so brutalized by the war, to be the killer. Nevertheless this atmospheric film noir rings true as a well-acted and exciting thriller, that is crisply scripted and filled with sharp dialogue.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”