May 29th, 2014

Into the Bay

The Weird Petals Life Plucks

When you can trust nothing else, you can trust whiskey. Bourbon or scotch, generally, but you get the feeling any variety would suit the people in 1946's The Blue Dahlia. Maybe everyone needs anaesthetic after being hurt so many times. The one seemingly trustworthy connexion the protagonist makes in the film comes out of nowhere, in the night, like a fairy tale, and is all kinds of suspicious. With a screenplay by Raymond Chandler, this is more of a clever and exciting crime adventure film than film noir but it has plenty of noir elements, most significantly in its portrait of existential wilderness.

Alan Ladd is navy pilot Johnny Morrison who comes home at the beginning of the film to find his sauced wife Helen (Doris Dowling) partying with a bunch of people he doesn't know, including a well-to-do gentleman named Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva) who's a little too friendly with her. Johnny and Helen are living with the memory of a dead child which may explain Helen's heedless lifestyle until she confesses to Johnny the child died due to her inattention while she was partying.

Chandler was off the booze when he started writing this script but soon had to start drinking heavily in order to finish it. Which may explain how on the one hand alcoholism is faulted for the death of a child but on the same token characters happily ask for things like "Bourbon with a bourbon chaser".

Harwood owns a nightclub and the title of the film comes from both his obsession with the flower and the name of his club, The Blue Dahlia. In my favourite sequence, Johnny, on the lam while he's under suspicion for his wife's murder, is approached by a conspicuously dishonest guy outside the club who asks him if he's tired of carrying a suitcase around, offering to take him to a place where he can get a room. Once they get there there's a really neat, quick series of clever moments from Johnny getting shaken down, to covering for the guys shaking him down, to aiding in an arrest, to getting a hotel room.

There are a lot of moments like this in the movie where what looks like one thing turns out to be another and then another. There are a lot of people who might have killed Helen, we're presented with three strong suspects--I won't spoil for you the killer's identity. Maybe the most intriguing of the three, though, is Buzz (William Bendix), Johnny's friend from the navy who has a plate in his head and has frequent memory lapses and mild auditory hallucinations. In a world where you can't trust anybody, this big brute, who antagonises any "copper" who comes close, is especially lost in the woods. He can't even trust himself but he's always ready to fight for principle.

Veronica Lake plays Joyce, the unlikely trustworthy person who offers Johnny, a stranger, a lift on a dark rainy night. He tells her it's not wise for her to take chances on strangers like him. She says, "It's funny but practically all the people I know were strangers when I met them."