The Blue Dahlia
|The Blue Dahlia|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Marshall|
|Produced by||John Houseman|
|Screenplay by||Raymond Chandler|
|Music by||Robert Emmett Dolan
|Edited by||Arthur P. Schmidt|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$2,750,000 (US rentals)
1,063,165 admissions (France)
The Blue Dahlia is a 1946 film noir, directed by George Marshall based on an original screenplay by Raymond Chandler. The film marks the third pairing of stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. It was Chandler's first original screenplay.
Three discharged United States Navy officers, Johnny Morrison, Buzz Wanchek and George Copeland, arrive in Hollywood, California. All three flew together in the same flight crew in the South Pacific. Buzz has a shell shock and a metal plate in his head above his ear.
While George and Buzz get a flat together, Johnny surprises his wife Helen at her old apartment, which is patrolled by a house detective, "Dad" Newell. He discovers that she is having an affair with Eddie Harwood, owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub on the Sunset Strip. Helen, drunk, confesses to Johnny that their son Dickie, whom Johnny believed died of diphtheria, actually died in a car crash that occurred because she was driving drunk. Newell sees Johnny and Helen fight. Later Johnny pulls a gun on Helen, but drops it and leaves. Helen calls Buzz and tells her about the fight.
Buzz goes out to find Johnny. He meets Helen and, unaware of her identity, goes to her bungalow for a drink.
Eddie breaks up with Helen, but Helen blackmails him into seeing her again.
Johnny is picked up in the rain by Joyce Harwood, who is separated from Eddie. Neither reveals their name, and they spend the night in separate rooms in a Malibu inn. The next morning, they have breakfast and he decides to give his marriage another chance. Then the radio announces that Helen has been murdered and that Johnny is suspected.
The police interview Newell, Harwood, Buzz and George.
After Johnny checks into a cheap hotel under an assumed name, Corelli, the hotel manager, finds Johnny's photo of himself with Dickie and tries to blackmail him. Johnny beats Corelli up, then discovers that on the back of the photo, Helen has revealed that Eddie is really Bauer, a murderer wanted in New Jersey.
Corelli revives and sells information on Johnny's identity to a gangster named Leo, who kidnaps him.
Buzz and George visit Eddie at the Blue Dahlia, and Joyce introduces herself. As Joyce picks at a blue dahlia flower, the nightclub's music sets off a painful ring in Buzz's head, and lapsing into a fit, he remembers the agonizing music he heard while at Helen's bungalow as she played with a blue dahlia.
Johnny escapes Leo's henchmen as Eddie arrives and forces him to admit that fifteen years before he was involved in the shooting of a bank messenger.
Leo tries to shoot Johnny, but hits Eddie instead. Johnny flees to the Blue Dahlia, where the police are trying to force a confused Buzz to admit he killed Helen.
Johnny enters and suggests that Joyce turn up the music. As his head pounds, Buzz remembers leaving Helen alive in her bungalow. Police Captain Henrickson then confronts Newell with the accusation that he tried to blackmail Helen about her affair, and when she refused to comply, killed her. Newell then tries to escape from the office, but is shot by Henrickson.
Later, outside the Blue Dahlia, Buzz and George decide to go for a drink, leaving Johnny and Joyce together.
- Alan Ladd as Johnny Morrison / "Jimmy Moore"
- Veronica Lake as Joyce Harwood
- William Bendix as Buzz Wanchek
- Howard Da Silva as Eddie Harwood
- Doris Dowling as Helen Morrison
- Hugh Beaumont as George Copeland
- Tom Powers as Captain Hendrickson
- Howard Freeman as Corelli
- Don Costello as Leo
- Will Wright as "Dad" Newell
Paramount were looking for a new vehicle for Alan Ladd and producer John Houseman approached Raymond Chandler. Chandler wrote a 90-page treatment in two weeks. It was the first original script for the screen he ever wrote. Paramount agreed to buy the project.
The film was announced in early 1945. Ladd, Lake, Bendix and Marshall were also all attached from the beginning.
Ladd had served for ten months in the army in 1943 before being honorably discharged due to illness; however he was recently re-classified 1-A for the World War II military draft, and may have had to go back into the Army. Paramount kept applying for deferments so he could make films but he was due for induction in May 1945; as a result The Blue Dahlia was written and produced relatively quickly. (In the end, all men aged 30 or over would be released from this obligation.)
Shooting began in March 1945 without a completed screenplay. John Houseman later recalled:
It was not until the middle of our fourth week that a faint chill of alarm invaded the studio when the script girl pointed out that the camera was rapidly gaining on the script. We had shot sixty-two pages in four weeks; Chandler, during that time, had turned in only twenty-two-with another thirty to go.
The problem was the ending. Originally Chander intended the killer to be Buzz having a blackout. However the Navy did not want a service man to be portrayed as a murderer and Paramount told Chandler that he had to come up with a new ending. Chandler responded at first with writer's block. Houseman:
Still, I was not worried. Ray had written such stories for years and I was quite confident that sooner or later (probably later since he seemed to enjoy the suspense) he would wind up the proceedings with an 'artistic' revelation (it was his word) and a caustic last line. But as the days went by and the camera went on chewing its way through the script and still no ending arrived, signs of tension began to appear.
Paramount offered Chandler a $5,000 incentive to finish the script but this did not work according to Houseman:
It was the front-office calculation, I suppose, that by dangling this fresh carrot before Chandler's nose they were executing a brilliant and cunning maneuver. They did not know their man. They succeeded, instead, in disturbing him in three distinct and separate ways: One, his faith in himself was destroyed. By never letting Ray share my apprehensions, I had convinced him of my confidence in his ability to finish the script on time. This sense of security was now hopelessly shattered. Two, he had been insulted. To Ray, the bonus was nothing but a bribe. To be offered a large additional sum of money for the completion of an assignment for which he had already contracted and which he had every intention of fulfilling was by his standards a degradation and a dishonor. Three, by going to him behind my back they had invited him to betray a friend and fellow Public School man. The way the interview had been conducted ('sneakily') filled Ray with humiliation and rage.
Chandler wanted to quit but Houseman convinced him to sleep on it. The next day Chandler said he would be able to finish the film if he resumed drinking. Houseman said the writer's requirements were "two Cadillac limousines, to stand day and night outside the house with drivers available," "six secretaries," and "a direct line open at all times to my office by day, to the studio switchboard at night and to my home at all times." Houseman agreed and says Chandler then started drinking.
[Chandler] did not minimize the hazards [of drinking]," said Houseman in 1964, "he pointed out that his plan...would call for deep faith on my part and supreme courage on his, since he would in effect be completing the script at the risk of his life. (It wasn't the drinking that was dangerous, he explained, since he had a doctor who gave him such massive injections of glucose that he could last for weeks with no solid food at all. It was the sobering up that was parlous; the terrible strain of his return to normal living).
At the end of that time, Chandler presented the finished script.
Chandler was unhappy with the forced ending and with Veronica Lake's performance as Joyce Harwood. "The only times she's good is when she keeps her mouth shut and looks mysterious," he told a friend. "The moment she tries to behave as if she had a brain she falls flat on her face. The scenes we had to cut out because she loused them up! And there are three godawful close shots of her looking perturbed that make me want to throw my lunch over the fence."
Chandler received a lot of deference on the set, but Veronica Lake was not familiar with him; so, upon asking about him and being told, "he's the greatest mystery writer around", she made a point of listening intently to an analysis of his work by the film's publicity director in order to impress newspaper reporters with her knowledge of a writer she had never read. Chandler developed an intense dislike for Lake and referred to her as "Moronica Lake".
Lake later said about her role "I'm not much of a motivating force, but the part is good."
The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a positive review and wrote,
Playing a discharged naval flier returning home from the Pacific first to find his wife unfaithful, then to find her murdered and himself in hiding as the suspect, Alan Ladd does a bangup job. Performance has a warm appeal, while in his relentless track down of the real criminal, Ladd has a cold, steel-like quality that is potent. Fight scenes are stark and brutal, and tremendously effective.
Critic Dennis Schwartz called the film
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 novels of others and, ironically, film adaptations of his novels were all written by other screenwriters). 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.
Raymond Chandler was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).
The Blue Dahlia was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the April 21, 1949 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in their original film roles.
The movie was also adapted into a stage play in 1989.
- "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
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- Fade-out on Raymond Chandler Lochte, Richard S. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 14 Dec 1969: 60.
- SCREEN NEWS: Warners Pay $100,000 Down for 'Hasty Heart' Joan Blondell Gets Top Part Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 Feb 1945: 21.
- Veronica Lake And Alan Ladd Teamed Again, by Frank Daugherty. Special to The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) [Boston, Mass] 11 May 1945: 5.
- "Action Taken to Curb Outbreak of Rabies". Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 May 1945: A12.
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- "Change of Pace in Roles Beckons Veronica Lake: Star to Pause at Career's Crossroads Roles to Shift for Veronica". Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 July 1945: C1.
- Variety. Film review, April 19, 1946. Last accessed: January 18, 2008.
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- Loving Re-Creation of The Blue Dahlia SYLVIE DRAKE Times Theater Writer. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 20 Feb 1989: OC_D6.
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- on YouTube
- Review of film at New York Times
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