The Black Dahlia (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Black Dahlia
Black dahlia ver264.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrian De Palma
Screenplay byJosh Friedman
Based onThe Black Dahlia
by James Ellroy
Produced by
CinematographyVilmos Zsigmond
Edited byBill Pankow
Music byMark Isham
Distributed by
Release date
  • August 9, 2006 (2006-08-09) (Tokyo)
  • September 15, 2006 (2006-09-15) (United States)
  • October 5, 2006 (2006-10-05) (Germany)
Running time
120 minutes[2]
  • United States
  • France
  • Germany[3]
Budget$50 million[1]
Box office$49.3 million[1]

The Black Dahlia is a 2006 neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Brian De Palma, written by Josh Friedman, and starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, and Mia Kirshner. It is an adaptation of the 1987 novel of the same name by James Ellroy, in turn drawn from the widely sensationalized murder of Elizabeth Short.

The film was screened at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival on August 30, 2006, and was released in the United States on September 15, 2006. Despite its failure both critically and financially, effectively ousting De Palma from the Hollywood studio system (his subsequent films have been filmed and financed overseas), it was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 79th Academy Awards, losing to Pan's Labyrinth. Mia Kirshner's performance as Short was widely praised, as was that of Scarlett Johansson.


LAPD Detectives Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert and Lee Blanchard are paired as partners after engaging in a boxing match to raise funds for the department. Lee introduces Bucky to his girlfriend Kay Lake, and the trio becomes inseparable. Bucky is shocked when Kay tells him she isn't sleeping with Lee, and later tries to seduce him, but he refuses. He also discovers that Kay has been branded with the initials "BD", for Bobby DeWitt, the gangster whose arrest and conviction for a big bank robbery made Lee's career.

Soon after, on January 15, 1947, Elizabeth Short's dismembered body is found and she is dubbed "The Black Dahlia" by the press. Both detectives become obsessed with solving the case.

Bucky learns that Elizabeth was an aspiring actress who appeared in a pornographic film and hung out with lesbians. He goes to a lesbian nightclub and meets Madeleine Linscott, 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 sexual favors. She introduces him to her wealthy parents almost immediately.

Lee's obsession leads him to become erratic and abusive toward Kay. 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 Bobby DeWitt. Bucky finds DeWitt in the atrium of a building before he is gunned down by Lee, then sees a man garrote Lee before a second 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.

The grief of losing Lee propels Bucky and Kay into having sex. The next morning, Bucky finds money hidden in Lee and Kay's bathroom. Kay reveals that she had been DeWitt's girlfriend and that he abused her. Lee rescued Kay, stole DeWitt's money, and put DeWitt behind bars. Bucky realizes Lee was there to kill DeWitt and leaves, furious, to return to Madeleine, where he notices a painting of a leering clown. Kay follows him and she is appalled to see Madeleine's striking resemblance to the Dahlia.

Bucky starts putting the pieces together and remembers props in another movie matched the set in Elizabeth's pornographic film. The end credits thanked Emmett Linscott, Madeleine's father, and Bucky digs deeper into a story Madeleine told about him using old film sets to build cheap firetrap housing. In an empty house below the Hollywoodland sign built by Emmett, Bucky recognizes the set that was used in Elizabeth's film. He finds evidence in a barn on the property that Elizabeth was killed and butchered there, as well as a drawing of a man with a Glasgow smile. The drawing matches the painting in Madeleine's home and the gruesome smile carved into Elizabeth's face.

Bucky confronts Madeleine and her father in their home and Madeleine's mother, Ramona, reveals that she killed Elizabeth. She confesses that Madeleine was not fathered by Emmett but rather by his best friend, Georgie. She says Georgie became infatuated while watching Elizabeth film the pornography. Ramona was disturbed by the idea of George having sex with someone who looked so much like his own daughter, and lured Elizabeth to the house and killed her. Before Bucky can decide what to do, Ramona shoots herself.

A few days later, remembering something Lee said during the investigation, Bucky visits Madeleine's sister Martha with some questions. He learns that Lee knew about Madeleine and Elizabeth, and blackmailed Madeleine's father to keep it secret. Bucky finds Madeleine at a seedy motel, and she admits to being the one 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 goes to Kay's house and she invites him in and closes the door.




The film shooting on location in Hollywood, June 2005. Black Angel is on the marquee.

James B. Harris optioned the film rights to the novel shortly after it was published in 1987. He planned to direct the adaptation and completed a script before abandoning the project to make another film. The project then languished in development hell for several years. In 1997, L.A. Confidential, the third book in Ellroy's L.A. Quartet, was adapted into a critically acclaimed and highly successful film of the same name.[4] Its success meant that several studios became interested in adapting Ellroy's other novels. Universal acquired the rights to The Black Dahlia shortly after the release of L.A. Confidential. Josh Friedman was hired to write the screenplay.[5] Friedman has claimed that he worked on the script from 1997 to 2005. His original script featured a cameo appearance by Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, reprising their roles as Bud White and Edmund Exley respectively. David Fincher was chosen to direct to Ellroy's approval having enjoyed his work on Seven. Fincher envisioned the story as a five-hour, $80 million mini-series with film stars. However, the plan fell through and Fincher left the project and moved on to direct Zodiac.[6]


Michael Douglas, Johnny Depp, Gabriel Byrne, and Billy Crudup were considered to play Lee Blanchard. Paul Walker, Stephen Dorff, and Chris O'Donnell were considered for Bucky Bleichert. Fairuza Balk and Tiffani Thiessen were considered for Elizabeth Short. Sherilyn Fenn, who had been the front runner for the part in the late eighties, was also a contender.

The film was originally in pre-production with David Fincher attached as director, Josh Hartnett attached to play Bucky Bleichert 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."[7] Fincher apparently wanted Julianna Margulies for Madeleine and Jennifer Connelly for Elizabeth. Fincher eventually left the project as he felt he wasn't going to be able to make the film exactly as he had envisioned.

When De Palma became director, he replaced Wahlberg with Aaron Eckhart shortly before shooting began in April 2005. Hartnett had remained attached to the project all this time. Gwen Stefani was considered for the part of Kay Lake. Eva Green was offered the role of the evil Madeleine Linscott, but declined as she feared being typecast as a femme fatale. Kate Beckinsale, Fairuza Balk (who had previously been considered for the Dahlia) and Rachel Bilson were also considered for the part. De Palma originally wanted Maggie Gyllenhaal for Elizabeth Short, but she declined as she disliked how the murder was used as a plot device and felt that the story disrespected Short's memory. Rose McGowan auditioned for the part but was eventually cast in a minor role as Short's roommate. Mia Kirshner was originally hired to read lines with potential actors in the auditions. However, De Palma and Friedman were so impressed with her that she was cast in the title role. Kirshner said she felt a tremendous responsibility to do justice to the real Elizabeth Short and to honour her memory. She made a decision not to look at the original autopsy photos and to focus on Short as she had been in life. Kirshner would receive critical acclaim for her performance.


The film was shot in Los Angeles 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 also appear in the film.


James Horner was originally on board the project to score the film's music but in February 2006, it was reported that Mark Isham had replaced him.[8]


De Palma's initial cut of the film ran over three hours long, but was cut down to a little over two hours at the insistence of the producers. Author Ellroy, who was highly critical of the released version, claims this rough cut is a superior version of the film and a more faithful adaptation of his novel.[9]


Box office[edit]

The film opened on September 15, 2006 in 2,226 theaters and came in second place over its opening weekend (behind fellow newcomer Gridiron Gang), with $10 million. It ended its theatrical run after domestically grossing $22.5 million in North America and $27.8 million in foreign countries for a global total of $49.3 million, against a budget of $50 million.[1]

Critical response[edit]

A location shot for the film, showing a rainmaking rig, a sprinkler system used to create the appearance of rain on the set – a commonly employed practical effect.

Highly anticipated by many after the success of L.A. Confidential, the film received mixed reviews from critics. At Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 32%, based on 194 reviews, with an average rating of 4.85/10. The site's consensus states, "Though this ambitious noir crime-drama captures the atmosphere of its era, it suffers from subpar performances, a convoluted story, and the inevitable comparisons to other, more successful films of its genre."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a score 49 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[11] On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

David Denby of The New Yorker described the film 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.[13]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine commented that "De Palma throws everything at the screen, but almost nothing sticks."[14] J. Hoberman of The Village Voice stated that the film "rarely achieves the rhapsodic (let alone the delirious)."[15]

However, Kirshner's performance as Elizabeth was praised by many critics. Stephanie Zacharek of, in a largely negative review, notes that the eponymous character was "played wonderfully by Mia Kirshner".[16] Mick LaSalle wrote that Kirshner "makes a real impression of the Dahlia as a sad, lonely dreamer, a pathetic figure."[17] 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."[18]


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Award Best Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Hall of Shame Won
American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Vilmos Zsigmond Nominated
Hollywood Film Awards Cinematographer of the Year Won
International Dubbing Gran Priz Audience Award for Best Voice Actor (dubbing Josh Hartnett) Adriano Giannini Nominated
Audience Award for Best Voice Actress (dubbing Hilary Swank) Laura Lenghi Nominated
Audience Award for Best Voice Actress (dubbing Scarlett Johansson) Ilaria Stagni Nominated
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best Production Design Dante Ferretti Won
Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing for Sound Effects and Foley in a Foreign Film Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond Nominated
Best Costume Design Jenny Beavan Nominated
Teen Choice Award Choice Movie Actress – Drama Scarlett Johanssen Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards Worst Sense of Direction Brian De Palma Nominated
Worst Supporting Actress Fiona Shaw Nominated
Worst On-Screen Couple Josh Hartnett Nominated
Aaron Eckhart Nominated
Hilary Swank Nominated
Scarlett Johanssen Nominated
Worst Ensemble Nominated
Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Brian De Palma Nominated


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Black Dahlia (2006)". Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ "THE BLACK DAHLIA (15)". British Board of Film Classification. August 30, 2006. Retrieved November 14, 2015.
  3. ^ "The Black Dahlia (2006)". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  4. ^ Dargis, Manohla (September 15, 2006). "The Black Dahlia - Movies - Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  5. ^ "What Writers Do".
  6. ^ Abramowitz, Rachel (February 28, 2007). "2 Men, 1 Obsession: The Quest for Justice". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Rachel Abramowitz (February 27, 2007). "2 men, 1 obsession: the quest for justice". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  8. ^ "The Black Dahlia [Original Soundtrack Recording] - Mark Isham | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  9. ^ Arnold, William; Critic, P.-I. Movie (September 15, 2006). "'The Black Dahlia' sure does look great but it's less thrilling". Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  10. ^ "The Black Dahlia (2006)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 14, 2015.
  11. ^ "The Black Dahlia reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved November 14, 2015.
  12. ^ "CinemaScore".
  13. ^ David Denby (September 18, 2006). "Inescapable Pasts". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  14. ^ "Movie Review". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 6, 2006. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  15. ^ J. Hoberman (September 5, 2006). "Ghost World". The Village Voice. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  16. ^ Stephanie Zacharek (September 15, 2006). "The Black Dahlia". Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  17. ^ Mick LaSalle (September 15, 2006). "'Black Dahlia' may look good, but it's noir lite". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
  18. ^ J. R. Jones (August 29, 2006). "The Black Dahlia". Chicago Reader. Retrieved August 29, 2011.

External links[edit]