bluedahlia (93K)An aura of sour, curdled cynicism pervades The Blue Dahlia, an otherwise rather routine murder mystery from an original script by Raymond Chandler. Not one of his more standout efforts, The Blue Dahlia perhaps justifiably suffers in comparison with films adapted from Chandler's hard-boiled Philip Marlowe detective fiction, such as the renowned The Big Sleep, released later in 1946, and Murder My Sweet, from 1944.

Nevertheless, The Blue Dahlia's milieu of dark rain-slicked streets and seedy, compromised characters earns its distinction as vintage noir. The Blue Dahlia was also one of the first major Hollywood productions to touch on the issue of re-integrating dazed, shell-shocked war veterans back into society - having been released some seven months ahead of 1946's Oscar-winning The Best Years Of Our Lives - offering an intriguing example of the new narrative possibilities opening up for the crime film.

dahliabourbon (75K) From the beginning, it's painfully evident that things aren't going to go smoothly for former Navy flier Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) and his sidekicks George (pre-Ward Cleaver Hugh Beaumont) and Buzz (William Bendix). The trio de-mob in Los Angeles not to a hero's welcome from a grateful homefront, but to a dark city swarming with low-life grifters and insidious lounge lizards. Their first stop upon alighting from their Greyhound is a louche little dive where they glumly commemorate their wartime cameraderie by pounding back multiple shots of bourbon. The steel plate that a war wound has left in Buzz's head vibrates psychotically whenever he hears blasts of jazz - or "monkey music" in Buzz-speak - and so he's quickly in a scrap due to a uniformed serviceman's unwise choice of a jukebox soundtrack. The panicky bouts of amnesiac fugue that hearing "monkey music" induce in Buzz are a recurrent plot element throughout the rest of the film.

Things get even worse when Johnny returns home to his ritzy Hollywood bungalow to find a rowdy party underway and his gin-soaked minx of a wife Helen in the arms of a shady nightclub owner. The couple inevitably quarrel, and Johnny stomps out into the rain after Helen admits that their infant son's death during the war came about not as a result of diphtheria as Johnny had been informed, but as the consequence of Helen's drunken driving.

When Helen predictably turns up dead the next morning, police suspicion inevitably falls on Johnny, and the rest of The Blue Dahlia traces his passage through a treacherous night-world where everyone is implicated and things are never what they seem on the surface.

bendix (65K) The Blue Dahlia suffers a bit from a deficiency of dramatic tension the rest of the way. One of the film's focal points is the unfortunate Buzz, who has a habit of lurching off into the night under the spell of "monkey music" and a naive compulsion to clear his war buddy of suspicion in the death of his wife. What looks at first to be a pivotal scene involves an unwitting encounter between Buzz and the doomed Helen at the bar of the bungalow complex. It culminates in Helen inviting Buzz back to her lair for a nightcap, an episode that Buzz can only partially and hazily recall at the film's climax.

If Buzz's obvious mental instability sets up the expectation of Buzz's involvement in Helen's death, that assumption falls away at The Blue Dahlia's soggy climax, with the revelation that the murderer is, in fact, a creepy old house detective whose motives for the killing are murky at best.

Despite its narrative flaws however, The Blue Dahlia on the whole is nonetheless an evocative exemplar of the bleak new sensibility creeping into crime films in the wake of World War Two. It's a grim place where shadowy, dazed figures numbed and conditioned by violence stumble through a realm where corruption and treachery lurk at every turn.


chandler (78K)By the time he sat down to work on the screenplay of The Blue Dahlia in late 1944, Raymond Chandler had been employed as a writer for Paramount Studios for less than two years. Already though, the grinding pace of the writer's lot in the Hollywood studio system was wearing on the bookish, donnish Chandler, despite his years of having peddled film treatments of his novels and stories and his instinctive feel for the grimy underbelly of Los Angeles.

The first half of the script Chandler completed smoothly and in good time, but roadlocks and obstacles mounted as he searched for a suitable conclusion to his story. As interference from concerned Paramount executives mounted, Chandler's frustrations and writers block boiled over to the point where he declared that the only way he could finish the script was by holing up in total isolation at his house and staying drunk for the duration of the assignment.

This, apparently, he did, embarking on a week-long bender that ultimately produced a finished script, but cost Chandler a whole month of recuperation for his stenuous efforts. It wasn't the end of Chandler's travails though, as the U.S. Navy Department pressured Paramount into altering Chandler's intended ending and gave him fresh reasons to tie one on.

In Chandler's original treatment, The Blue Dahlia's killer is, of course, that walking time-bomb Buzz. Paramount bowed, however, to the Navy's objection to portraying its veterans as violent zombies prone to mental blackouts. The new ending imposed on the film, according to Chandler, made "a routine whodunit out of a fairly original idea," in which Buzz's partial recall of events during the fateful night had yielded piecemeal clues that ultimately made his guilt obvious to others, but not to himself.