The Blue Dahlia

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Not to be confused with The Black Dahlia (film).
The Blue Dahlia
Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Marshall
Produced by John Houseman
Screenplay by Raymond Chandler
Starring Alan Ladd
Veronica Lake
William Bendix
Music by Robert Emmett Dolan
Harry Simeone
Bernie Wayne
Victor Young
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Edited by Arthur P. Schmidt
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • April 19, 1946 (1946-04-19)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office 1,063,165 admissions (France)[1]

The Blue Dahlia is a 1946 film noir, directed by George Marshall and written by Raymond Chandler.[2][3] The film marks the third pairing of stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.[4]


Navy pilot Lieutenant Commander Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) is put on the inactive list. He returns home to Hollywood from the fighting in the south Pacific, bringing along his buddies and medically discharged crewmates Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) and George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont). Buzz is prone to memory lapses and headaches, and is often short tempered, all likely due to his head wound.

Johnny finds his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) living (and partying) in a hotel bungalow. When he spots her kissing her boyfriend Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva), the owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub, he punches Eddie. Though Johnny is willing to try to salvage their troubled marriage, Helen is not. She tells him that their son did not die of diphtheria as she had written him but because she got drunk at a party and crashed her car. Johnny pulls a gun on her but decides she is not worth it. He drops the pistol and walks out taking a framed photograph of their son.

When Buzz comes looking for Johnny, Helen picks him up in the hotel bar and brings him home, neither one knowing who the other is. Later, Helen calls Eddie and becomes angry when he wants to break off their relationship. Eddie drops by that night to straighten things out. All these comings and goings are noted by the house detective, "Dad" Newell (Will Wright). Dad sees Eddie and gets paid to keep his mouth shut. He later sells information about Johnny's whereabouts to his worried friends.

By chance, Johnny is offered a ride by Joyce (Veronica Lake), Harwood's estranged wife, though he tells her his name is "Jimmy Moore" and they remain unaware of their connection. He brushes off her advances and gets out of the car; but she spends the night at the same inn. When they meet again at breakfast, she talks him into a walk along the beach. However, when Johnny hears on the radio that Helen has been found dead and that the police are looking for him, he leaves without keeping the rendezvous. Joyce puts two and two together and guesses his identity.

Johnny hides out in a flophouse run by a man named Corelli. When he catches Corelli going through his suitcase, a scuffle breaks out, during which the frame of his son's picture is broken. Johnny discovers a message written by Helen and addressed to him on the back of the photograph; it states that Eddie's real name is Bauer, and that he is wanted in New Jersey for murder. Johnny pays a visit to Eddie, but before he can do anything, Joyce shows up. Upon learning that she is Eddie's wife, Johnny leaves in disgust, in the mistaken belief that Joyce was helping her husband all along.

Meanwhile, Corelli calls Eddie's business partner Leo and tells him about Johnny. Leo and one of his men pick up Johnny by pretending to be policemen and take him to Leo's ranch. When the henchman finds and reads Helen's message, Leo has no choice but to dispose of him. Then, though his hands are tied, Johnny manages to strangle Leo and cut himself free before Eddie arrives. Eddie admits to killing a man during a robbery fifteen years ago, but denies murdering Helen, pointing out that he could easily have arranged it much more discreetly. Just then, Leo regains consciousness and tries to shoot Johnny. In the ensuing brawl, Leo accidentally kills Eddie before he himself is shot dead.

When Johnny turns himself in, he finds Buzz about to confess to Helen's murder, even though he cannot remember what happened that night. Johnny is certain he is innocent. He helps Buzz recall that he just walked out. Police Captain Hendrickson (Tom Powers) then accuses Dad (who has already admitted to blackmailing Helen). Hendrickson suggests that when she refused to pay his increased demands after her husband's return, Dad killed her, fearing that she would turn him in to the police or worse, tell Eddie. Dad confesses and pulls out a gun. When he is distracted, Hendrickson shoots him. Afterward, Johnny and Joyce get together.



Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in trailer for "The Blue Dahlia" (1946)

The script was an original by Raymond Chandler, the first original script for the screen he ever wrote.[5] The film was announced in early 1945, and was always envisioned as a vehicle for Alan Ladd; Lake, Bendix and Marshall were also all attached from the beginning.[6] Having been classed 1-A for the World War II military draft, Ladd's career had been interrupted by war service.[7]

Halfway through the script, Chandler developed writers' block. A former alcoholic, he'd become a teetotaler for health reasons. He decided that the only way he could get inspiration to finish the script was to get drunk. Chandler had originally agreed to write the screenplay for nothing 'as a favour' to John Houseman, the producer, but instead asked for a case of scotch as full payment. As a result and for several weeks, Chandler drank heavily, and at the end of that time, presented the finished script.[8]

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.[9] Chandler developed an intense dislike for Lake and referred to her as "Moronica Lake".[10]

Lake later said about her role "I'm not much of a motivating force, but the part is good."[11]

According to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies, it was originally intended for Buzz to be the murderer, but the U.S. military objected to the portrayal of a psychologically disturbed veteran as the killer.[citation needed]


Critical response[edit]

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.[12]

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.[13]


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.[14]


  1. ^ French box office of 1948 at Box Office Story
  2. ^ Variety film review; January 30, 1946, page 12.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; February 2, 1946, page 19.
  4. ^ The Blue Dahlia at the Internet Movie Database.
  5. ^ Looking at Hollywood Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 25 Jan 1945: 16.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Judith Freeman, The Long Embrace, Random House (2008) pages 228-31
  9. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (2001). Peekaboo: The Story of Veronica Lake. Lincoln NE: iUniverse. p. 161. ISBN 0595192394. 
  10. ^ Hare, William (2012). Pulp Fiction to Film Noir: The Great Depression and the Development of a Genre. Jefferson NC: McFarland. p. 104. ISBN 9780786466825. 
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Variety. Film review, April 19, 1946. Last accessed: January 18, 2008.
  13. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, October 22, 2005. Last accessed January 18, 2008.
  14. ^ 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.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]