Sat, 7 November 2009
A script by Raymond Chandler. Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, and William Bendix in leading roles. Costumes by the great Edith Head, and cinematography by Lionel Lindon, who had been nominated for best cinematography just the year before for the Oscar sensation GOING MY WAY. In short, THE BLUE DAHLIA seems to have everything going it’s way. Why, then, does the film fail to deliver the emotional impact of near contemporary titles like THE KILLERS or THE BIG SLEEP? To frame an answer to this question, we must first displace the many frames through which we have become accustomed to viewing the film—most notably Producer John Houseman’s apocryphal account of how Chandler’s alcoholism impacted the screenplay. If we divest ourselves of these frames and really focus on the film, we see that Chandler’s script rescues, rather than compromises, this movie. THE BLUE DAHLIA is more a victim of an identity crisis, a film unable for reasons of censorship and limited artistic vision to commit fully to the noir worldview that came home full force in 1946. And thus, as a marginal success, it’s a film that can teach us a great deal about how noir came to be both a dominant Hollywood style and a philosophical stance.