Friday, July 23, 2010

Screening: The Blue Dahlia at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater

As part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Oscar Noir Screening Series, The Blue Dahlia was presented on the big screen Monday night.

The Blue Dahlia (Paramount, 1946)
Starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard da Silva and Hugh Beaumont
Directed by George Marshall
Written by Raymond Chandler
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing - Original Screenplay

Johnny Morrison (Ladd) arrives home from the Navy to his wife Helen, who wants nothing to do with him and everything to do with drinking and partying.  During an argument Johnny pulls a gun on her, then thinks better of it.  He tosses the gun down, grabs his suitcase and walks out.  Unfortunately, the next morning she is found shot to death and Johnny becomes the prime suspect.  The web of other suspects and accomplices includes Johnny's two best friends and former war comrades Buzz (Bendix) and George (Beaumont), Helen's latest lover Eddie Harwood (da Silva) and Harwood's beautiful, estranged wife (Lake), who coincidentally becomes Johnny's love interest.

In my opinion, Bendix stole this movie.  Buzz, who is extremely loyal to Johnny, has returned from the war with an unfortunate souvenir: a plate in his head that causes him horrible headaches and blackouts.  It's during one of these episodes that he encounters Helen after Johnny has left her.  Blunt and coarse, but essentially a good guy, the lingering suspicion that Buzz might have committed the crime during one of these blackouts is heartbreaking.

Some Blue Dahlia trivia:
  • The Blue Dahlia script was still being written as the movie was being filmed.  Ladd had received a medical discharge from the Army Air Forces, but a year later Paramount learned that the actor would be called back to service in a few months.  Wanting to get him into one last film before his departure, they looked for a project that could begin filming as soon as possible.  Raymond Chandler had been working on a novel that he was having trouble finishing and thinking of turning into a screenplay.  Paramount bought it and Chandler went to work on the script.  He hadn't even figured out who his killer was when the cameras began rolling.
  • As production on The Blue Dahlia began to overtake Chandler's writing progress the famously hard-drinking writer, who had been on the wagon for health reasons, told the studio the only way he could finish the script on time was to work at home and resume drinking.  The studio agreed to his odd demands and Chandler went on an extended bender and finished the script.
  • Chandler originally intended for Buzz to be the killer, but the U.S. military objected to the depiction of a veteran turned murderer because of brain injuries suffered in combat.  In fact, the Navy threatened to never cooperate with any future Paramount production if Buzz was the killer, so Chandler had to pin the crime on another character.
  • The Blue Dahlia is the only script Chandler wrote directly for the screen.  All his other scripts were adaptations.
  • In one scene, a thug who helped kidnap Johnny is seen nursing a broken toe suffered during a fight.  This was not in the script - the actor had actually been injured filming the fight and director George Marshall incorporated it into the film.
  • Less than a year after The Blue Dahlia's release, one of the most famous crimes in Los Angeles history took its nickname from the film when the mutilated body of a young woman was found in a vacant lot.  In death, murder victim Elizabeth Short was dubbed "The Black Dahlia".
This week's animated short was the Oscar-nominated Donald's Crime, in which Donald Duck raids his nephews' piggy bank so he can take Daisy Duck on a date.  Eventually Donald's conscience gets the better of him, turning him into a desperate, hunted fugitive (at least in his mind).  Finally, he stumbles across a quick dishwashing job and is able to restock the coins pilfered from the piggy bank.

In Captain Marvel news, Billy Batson and company are still trying to discover the identity of The Scorpion while making some miraculous escapes from The Scorpion's henchmen (the latter courtesy of Billy's secret Captain Marvel alter-ego) and The Scorpion is still trying to get the lenses (no, I don't know how that works) he needs to put his evil plans (whatever they are) into motion.  I've missed a number of screenings so I'm not exactly up on this series, but I have a feeling each installment pretty much follows the same pattern: Get our heroes out of last week's cliffhanger, have their mission make a bit of dangerous progress, then set up a cliffhanger for next week.  Still, as cheesy as this serial is by today's standards, it's definitely an enjoyable crowd-pleaser and a fun look back on the movie-going experience of yesteryear.  Kudos to whoever decided to include this as part of the program.

The Blue Dahlia on imdbAlan Ladd on imdbVeronica Lake on imdbWilliam Bendix on imdbGeorge Marshall on imdbRaymond Chandler on imdbFilm Noir on WikipediaAdventures of Captain Marvel on imdbDonald's Crime on imdbThe Black Dahlia Murder on Wikipedia


Images from the screening program.

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