The Blue Gardenia

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The Blue Gardenia
Blue gardenia lobby card.jpg
Theatrical release lobby card
Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay by Charles Hoffman
Based on the short-story "Gardenia" 
by Vera Caspary
Starring Anne Baxter
Richard Conte
Ann Sothern
Raymond Burr
Music by Raoul Kraushaar
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Edward Mann
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • March 23, 1953 (1953-03-23) (United States)
Running time 88 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Blue Gardenia is a 1953 black-and-white film noir directed by Fritz Lang and based on a story by Vera Caspary.[1] It stars Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Sothern and Raymond Burr.

The first of Lang's "newspaper noir" movie trio — with While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (both 1956) —, The Blue Gardenia criticizes newspaper coverage of a sensational murder case.

Nat King Cole sings the title song and appears in the movie. The theme song was written by Bob Russell and Lester Lee and arranged by Nelson Riddle.

Film director and writer Peter Bogdanovich called the film "a particularly venomous picture of American life". The director of cinematography was one of RKO Radio Pictures' regulars Nicholas Musuraca, then working at Warner Brothers.

The film could be seen as a partial remake of Whirlpool (1949), which Conte also starred in and likewise centers around a woman who may have committed a murder but can't remember.

Plot[edit]

In Los Angeles, California, Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter) is a single woman who works as a switchboard operator along with her roommates, Crystal Carpenter (Ann Sothern) and Sally Ellis (Jeff Donnell). On her birthday, she decides to celebrate by dining alone at home, with the picture of her beloved fiancée, a soldier serving in the Korean War. At the candlelight dinner table, she opens the letter he sent only to be heartbroken when it reads her boyfriend met a Japanese nurse, and becomes engaged to her. Emotionally upset, Norah accepts a blind date to the Blue Gardenia over the telephone with a womanizing calendar girls artist Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr). At the Blue Gardenia, Harry is surprised to find Norah as he was expecting Crystal. However, he agrees to a date with her, and Norah drinks six strong Polynesian Pearl Divers cocktails. After their date, Harry takes her to his studio apartment where he shows her his pictures, as well as play the record, "The Blue Gardenia", sung by Nat King Cole, which they heard at the restaurant. Barely conscious, Norah passes out on his couch, and Prebble attempts to make a sexual advance on her. She resists, and strikes him with a fire iron. Norah flees the scene leaving behind her grey suede pumps, and returns home.

The next morning, Norah is awaken by Crystal, and has suffered a blackout. At the crime scene, a maid (Almira Sessions) is questioned by police detectives over her account of the murder scene. She admits to cleaning the fingerprints of the fire iron, and placing the shoes in the closet. At Norah's workplace, the police arrive to question women who posed for Prebble. When Norah asks her colleague about the questioning, she is startled, and seeks to read the Los Angeles Chronicle newspaper downstairs, which arrive shortly reporting the murder. Named "The Blue Gardenia Murderess" by newspaper columnist Casey Mayo (Richard Conte), Casey learns from the Blue Gardenia waiter that the murderess was a blonde, and from a flower woman (Celia Lovsky) that she possessed a "quiet voice". That same night, at their home, Sally reads the newspaper reporting that the murderess wore a black dress at the time of the murder. Even more startled, Norah wraps her dress in a newspaper, and burns it in an incinerator. Suddenly, a patrolman arrives questioning why she has her incinerator burning at night, which is a federal offense; Norah explains the ordeal and the patrolman leaves.

Wanting to catch the murderess before the police does, Casey publishes a pleading article, titled "Letter to an Unknown Murderess", calling for her to turn herself in. At his work desk, Casey receives a few phone calls from local women until Norah, at a phone booth in a gas station, arranges to meet Casey at his workplace representing her "friend". A police car arrives to the gas station for refueling causing Norah to flee leaving behind her handkerchief, which she used to disguise her voice. At his office, Casey tells Norah that he is willing to pay for top legal representation as long as her friend agrees to surrender herself. They later go to a diner where Norah tells her friend's account of the murder in which Casey wants Norah's friend to meet him at the diner tomorrow. Norah agrees, and returns home where she confesses the murder when Crystal acknowledges her recently strange behavior, the blind date, and the disappearance of her attire on the night of the murder.

The next day, Crystal directs Casey to Norah, who finally surrenders. Shortly after, the police arrive to arrest her. At an airport, Casey, with his colleague Al (Richard Erdman), notices the airport music being played being identical to the music the maid heard in the morning when she reported the murder. Casey and Police Captain Sam Haynes (George Reeves) question a local music shop clerk about the record. They eventually question Harry's ex-girlfriend Rose Miller (Ruth Storey) whom Harry bought the record for. Rose attempts suicide before being questioned, and at the hospital, she confesses that on the same night, she arrived to Harry's apartment telling him she was pregnant with his child, and wanted him to marry her. He refused and started playing a record. Then Rose noticed Norah's handkerchief by the record player, and out of jealousy killed Harry with a fire iron. Upon this confession, Norah is freed.

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

When first released, the staff at Variety magazine gave the film a lukewarm review: "A stock story and handling keep The Blue Gardenia from being anything more than a regulation mystery melodrama, from a yarn by Vera Caspary. Formula development has an occasional bright spot, mostly because Ann Sothern breathes some life into a stock character and quips ... Baxter and Conte do what they can but fight a losing battle with the script while Burr is a rather obvious wolf. Nat ‘King’ Cole is spotted to sing the title tune, written by Bob Russell and Lester Lee."[2]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz gave the film a mixed review, writing: "A minor film noir from Fritz Lang (Clash by Night/The Big Heat) that never has a chance to bloom because of its dull script. It is based on the short story "Gardenia" by Vera Caspary. It plays as an unimaginative newspaper melodrama that takes jabs at the middle-class and how neurotic and fearful they are about romance. Nat "King" Cole makes a welcome cameo as the house pianist at the nightclub called The Blue Gardenia, crooning in his velvet voice the titular theme song. Noted cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca injects the film with some intriguing noir touches, such as those ominous rain drops on Raymond Burr's window the night of the murder ... Lang himself in interviews dismissed the film as a 'job-for-hire'. ... But the story itself wasn't original and the acting wasn't engaging enough to elevate it past being a mild thriller."[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Blue Gardenia at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  2. ^ Variety. Staff film review, 1953. Accessed: August 3, 2013.
  3. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, October 16, 2004.. Accessed: June 25, 2013.

External links[edit]