The Black Dahlia (film)
|The Black Dahlia|
Theatrical Release Poster
|Directed by||Brian De Palma|
|Produced by||Art Linson
|Written by||Josh Friedman|
|Based on||The Black Dahlia
by James Ellroy
|Music by||Mark Isham|
|Edited by||Bill Pankow|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
The Black Dahlia is a 2006 American neo noir crime thriller film directed by Brian De Palma. It is drawn from a novel of the same name by James Ellroy, writer of L.A. Confidential and stars Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank. The film is based on the murder of Elizabeth Short and had its world premiere as opener at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival on August 30, 2006. Wide release was on September 15, 2006. Despite being both a critical and financial failure, the film was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 79th Academy Awards but lost to Pan's Labyrinth.
In Los Angeles, on January 15, 1947, LAPD officers Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), investigate the murder and dismemberment of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), soon dubbed 'The Black Dahlia' by the press.
Bucky learns that Elizabeth was an aspiring actress who appeared in a pornographic film. Through his investigation, Bucky learns that Elizabeth liked to hang out with lesbians. He goes to a lesbian nightclub and meets Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank), who looks very much like Elizabeth. Madeleine, who comes from a prominent family, tells Bucky that she was 'very close' with Elizabeth but asks him to keep her name out of the papers. In exchange for his silence, she promises him sexual favors. Continuing his relationship with Madeleine, Bucky meets her wealthy parents, Emmett (John Kavanagh) and Ramona (Fiona Shaw).
Bucky's partner, Lee, also becomes obsessed with Elizabeth's murder. Lee's obsession leads him to become erratic and abusive towards his long-time girlfriend Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), who is also one of Bucky's close friends. After Lee and Bucky have a nasty argument about a previous case, Bucky goes to Lee and Kay's to apologize, only to learn from Kay that Lee was responding to a tip about a recently released convict, Bobby DeWitt. Bucky goes to the location and gets into an altercation with DeWitt in the atrium of the building. DeWitt is gunned down by Lee, standing on the stairs across the atrium. Bucky sees a man sneak up behind Lee, wrapping a rope around Lee's neck. Lee fights back while Bucky, paralyzed with shock, watches from across the atrium as a second shadowy figure steps out and slits Lee's throat. Lee and the man holding the rope fall over the railing to their deaths several floors below.
Dealing with the grief of losing Lee propels Bucky and Kay into a sexual encounter. The next morning, Bucky finds money from a bank robbery hidden in Lee/Kay's bathroom. Kay reveals that she had been DeWitt's girlfriend, that DeWitt had mistreated her, and that DeWitt had done the bank robbery. Lee had rescued Kay and stolen DeWitt's bank robbery money. Lee needed to kill DeWitt now that he was out of prison—leading to the encounter that resulted in Lee's death. Bucky leaves, furious with Lee and Kay for their actions and lies. He returns to Madeleine's family mansion and continues his intense relationship with her. Kay is furious when she discovers the relationship, especially with the fact that Madeleine bears a striking resemblance to the same girl Lee obsessed over before he was killed, and leaves the scene.
Watching an old movie one night, Bucky notices that a bedroom scene matches the set in Elizabeth's pornographic movie. The credits at the end of the film includes the statement "Special Thanks to Emmett Linscott", Madeleine's father. Bucky's search for answers leads him to an incomplete housing project that Madeleine's father had started just below the Hollywoodland sign. In one of the empty houses, Bucky recognizes the set that was used to film Elizabeth's pornographic movie. In a barn on the property, Bucky finds where Elizabeth was killed and her body butchered, as well as a drawing of a man with a Glasgow smile. The drawing resembles a painting in Madeleine's family home and matches the disfiguring smile carved into Elizabeth's face during her murder.
Bucky confronts Madeleine and her father in their home, accusing them of murdering Elizabeth. Madeleine's mother Ramona reveals that she was the one to kill Elizabeth, who looked so much like Madeleine. She confesses first that Madeleine was not fathered by Emmett but rather by his best friend, George. She further reveals that George had been on set when Elizabeth's pornographic film was made, becoming infatuated with her. Finally, she felt that Elizabeth looked too much like Madeleine, was bothered that George was going to have sex with someone who looked like his own daughter, and decided to kill Elizabeth first. Upon finishing her confession, Ramona kills herself.
A few days later, remembering something Lee had said during the investigation, Bucky visits Madeleine's sister Martha with some questions. He learns that Lee knew about the lesbian relationship between Madeleine and Elizabeth and was blackmailing Madeleine's father to keep it secret. Bucky finds Madeleine at a seedy motel, and she admits to being the shadowy figure who slit Lee's throat. Although she insists that Bucky wants to have sex with her rather than kill her, he tells her she is wrong and shoots her dead. Bucky later goes to Kay's house. Kay tells him to come in and closes the door as the film ends.
- Josh Hartnett as Police Officer Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert
- Scarlett Johansson as Katherine 'Kay' Lake
- Aaron Eckhart as Police Officer Lee Blanchard
- Hilary Swank as Madeleine Linscott
- Mia Kirshner as Elizabeth Short
- Mike Starr as Detective Russ Millard
- Fiona Shaw as Ramona Linscott
- Patrick Fischler as Deputy DA Ellis Loew
- James Otis as Dolph Bleichert
- John Kavanagh as Emmett Linscott
- Troy Evans as Chief Ted Green
- Pepe Serna as Tomas Dos Santos
- Angus MacInnes as Captain John Tierney
- Rachel Miner as Martha Linscott
- Victor McGuire as Sgt. Bill Koenig
- Gregg Henry as Pete Lukins
- Jemima Rooper as Lorna Mertz
- Rose McGowan as Sheryl Saddon
- Steve Eastin as Detective
- Ian McNeice as Coroner
- Richard Brake as Bobby DeWitt
- William Finley as Georgie Tilden
- Joost Scholte as Madeleine's GI
- Fatso-Fasano as Dealer
Development and production
The film was originally in pre-production with David Fincher attached as director and Mark Wahlberg attached to play Lee Blanchard. Wahlberg was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with the planned filming of The Italian Job. Fincher originally envisioned "a five-hour, $80-million mini-series with movie stars."
When De Palma became director, he replaced Wahlberg with Aaron Eckhart shortly before shooting began in April 2005.
This film was shot in Los Angeles, California and in Pernik, Bulgaria, at an estimated cost of $50 million. Only a handful of exterior scenes were filmed in Los Angeles; MacArthur Park, Pantages Theatre (and adjoining bar The Frolic Room) at Hollywood and Vine, and the Alto-Nido Apartments are perhaps the most recognizable landmarks. A standing set on the backlot of Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia, Bulgaria, was used to represent Leimert Park.
Scenes from the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs appear in this film.
David Denby of The New Yorker described it as "a kind of fattened goose that’s been stuffed with goose-liver pâté. It’s overrich and fundamentally unsatisfying... There are scenes that display De Palma’s customary visual brilliance... (b)ut the movie is so complicated, the narrative so awkward, that when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place we get no tingle of satisfaction." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine commented "De Palma throws everything at the screen, but almost nothing sticks." J. Hoberman of The Village Voice stated that the film "rarely achieves the rhapsodic (let alone the delirious)."
However, Mia Kirshner's performance as Elizabeth Short was praised by many critics. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com, in a largely negative review, notes that the eponymous character was "played wonderfully by Mia Kirshner..." Mick LaSalle wrote that Kirshner "makes a real impression of the Dahlia as a sad, lonely dreamer, a pathetic figure." J. R. Jones described her performance as "haunting" and that the film's fictional screen tests "deliver the emotional darkness so lacking in the rest of the movie."
The film opened on September 15, 2006 in 2,226 theaters. It came in second place over its opening weekend (losing out to Gridiron Gang), with an estimated $10 million gross box office. It ended its theatrical run after domestically grossing $22,545,080, and grossing $26,787,612 in foreign theaters for a global total of $49,332,692.
- Rachel Abramowitz (2007-02-27). "2 men, 1 obsession: the quest for justice". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- David Denby (2006-09-18). "Inescapable Pasts". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- J. Hoberman (2006-09-05). "Ghost World". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- Stephanie Zacharek (2006-09-15). "The Black Dahlia". Salon.com. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- Mick LaSalle (2006-09-15). "'Black Dahlia' may look good, but it's noir lite". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- J. R. Jones (2006-08-29). "The Black Dahlia". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- The Black Dahlia at Box Office Mojo
- Official film site
- The Black Dahlia at the Internet Movie Database
- The Black Dahlia at AllMovie
- The Black Dahlia at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Black Dahlia at Box Office Mojo
- A Dark Moment in the Harsh Hollywood Sun - The New York Times, February 5, 2006