Sunday, August 19, 2018

Review of “The Blue Dahlia” at #NoirCityChicago

I went to see The Blue Dahlia, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, last night. The 1946 Paramount release, directed by George Marshall was presented in a clean 35mm print. The original screenplay from detective story legend, Raymond Chandler is just a tad less confusing than Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep released the same year. But like that Bogie and Bacall classic, The Blue Dahlia is just as enjoyable nonetheless.

Terrific publicity shot of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake
Introduced by Film Noir Foundation Founder and President, Eddie Muller, who provided some interesting background information, as well as putting the film in context. For example, the film was rushed into production before star Alan Ladd was off to serve in the Navy toward the end of World War II. Muller also noted that Ladd’s Dahlia and frequent costar, Veronica Lake, was never a femme fatale, at least not in the films she made with Ladd. Muller said Lake, by contrast, was always a self-confident woman, a positive example to the women watching her on the big screen. Muller said that Ladd and Lake were the 1940s most popular acting team. Judging from the box office success of their films, one could reasonably make that argument.

Seeing the film with an audience was a delight. The best part of the film was the snappy dialogue between all the major characters. Some of the situations portrayed were laugh-out-loud funny, but probably weren’t meant to be so in 1946. Besides the top-billed Ladd and Lake, there’s great support from William Bendix, Doris Dowling, Howard Da Silva, and Hugh Beaumont (yes, Ward Cleaver before Leave it to Beaver fame).

Lobby card for The Blue Dahlia featuring Ladd and Lake
The plot surrounds the murder of Ladd’s wife after he returns home from military service. When Ladd discovers that his wife has been unfaithful and was responsible for the death of their young son, he walks out on her. Their arguing overheard by the house detective at Dowling’s bungalow, casts suspicion on Ladd when Dowling ends up dead. Ladd goes on the run when he realizes he’s a murder suspect. Lake picks up Ladd in her car when she finds him walking in the rain. Lake befriends Ladd and the two strike up an uneasy friendship. When it is revealed that Lake is the estranged wife of Da Silva, the nightclub-owning-gambler and Dowling’s boyfriend and potential murderer, things get complicated. Just about everyone in the movie has a motive to bump off Miss Dowling, which holds your suspense, but also makes the plot difficult to follow at times. But no matter, it’s the dialogue between Ladd and Lake and the other cast members (as Muller noted in his introduction) that really make this movie hum.

Without giving in to spoilers, let’s say that everything makes sense in the end.

The Blue Dahlia was a big hit for Paramount and one of the most popular of Ladd and Lake’s films. Ladd’s career continued to climb, but Lake’s was pretty much over by the end of the decade.

The Noir City Chicago film festival runs through August 23. The see the remaining films on the schedule, click here.

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