Noirvember: “The Blue Dahlia” (1946)

There’s a funny story that goes along with the making of “The Blue Dahlia”. Novelist Raymond Chandler was hired to write the screenplay for a film noir; despite several of his novels being adapted into films before, this was the first time he wrote something specifically for the screen. Midway through, Chandler got writer’s block. The former alcoholic decided the only way to finish the screenplay was if he got really drunk, and requested a case of scotch from Paramount producer John Houseman as payment. In a few weeks, Chandler, after much heavy drinking, finished the script.

True or not, “The Blue Dahlia” (directed by George Marshall) is one of the best movies in the film noir genre, and the best one starring genre fixture Alan Ladd, for whom the role of Johnny Morrison was written. Morrison returns home from a Navy mission to find his wife Helen (Doris Dowling), is having an affair with Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva), the owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub. Johnny fights with Helen and leaves, but the next morning Helen is found dead; realizing that he is a likely suspect, Johnny goes about tracking down who really killed her.

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in “The Blue Dahlia”

This was the third movie costarring Ladd and Veronica Lake, who plays Joyce, Eddie’s estranged wife who is attracted to Johnny. The two were a popular pair, partly because Lake was actually quite shorter than the 5’6” Ladd. “The Black Dahlia” also costars William Bendix, Will Wright, and Hugh Beaumont. Ladd’s cold, hard expressions—though not so cold that he isn’t a likeable hero—particularly suit him in this role. Lake also makes for a wonderful femme fatale, although her attempts to learn about Chandler’s work—she hadn’t been familiar with him before—so she could appear well-informed in press interviews without having actually reading anything he wrote didn’t impress the film’s screenwriter, who referred to her as “Moronica Lake.”

“The Blue Dahlia” is everything you could want out of a good film noir: moody characters, stark black-and-white cinematography, and a plot filled with thrilling confrontations and twists that also deals with the plight of soldiers after they come home from the war.

“The Blue Dahlia” is available to rent or buy on all digital platforms. Runtime: 96 minutes.

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