There’s nothing more joyous than discovering a new movie that you just love. On April 10, I finally watched George Marshall’s noir masterpiece The Blue Dahlia, which aired on TCM during its Oscar month. That’s because the film’s script, by Raymond Chandler, was nominated for an Oscar. I could not believe that I hadn’t seen it before.
Released in 1946, the film has all the noir traits you expect. Alan Ladd plays Johnny Morrison, a Navy pilot who comes home from the war, only to find that his wife, Helen (Doris Dowling), is cheating on him with nightclub owner/mobster Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva). After walking out on her, he runs into a mysterious woman (Veronica Lake), who later turns out to be Eddie’s wife, Joyce. While away, Helen is mysteriously murdered. Who killed her? Was it Eddie? Did Johnny somehow make it back to kill her? Was it hotel house detective “Dad” Newell (Will Wright)? Or was it Johnny’s friend and fellow war vet Buzz (William Bendix)?
While on his journey to find out the truth, Johnny runs into a number of seedy people, as if Chandler has some kind of “quota of darkness” he needs to hit in his script.
The Blue Dahlia, which gets its name from Eddie’s club, isn’t quite as perfect as Double Indemnity or Out of the Past because it does have the wrong director at the helm. Marshall was much better at comedies than serious films, so the movie isn’t quite as dark as it could have been. Still, Marshall does an admirable job, even if he isn’t as showy as better known auteurs.
Ladd and Lake, who made several noir films together, are also a perfect match, even if Lake doesn’t come into the picture until much later than expected. Bendix and Da Silva also give really good performances in their supporting parts. I’m not sure how Academy voters saw the script as the only thing good enough for a nomination when Bendix is giving a performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nod.
Marshall can’t completely kill Chandler’s well-layered script, which is surprisingly easier to follow than other noirs. Whatever flaws it may have (which are few), The Blue Dahlia is still a classic noir and I’ll be watching for the next time it shows up on TCM.