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Customer Review

45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A first-rate Alan Ladd Forties noir, with Veronica Lake and William Bendix, 11 July 2007
This review is from: The Blue Dahlia [DVD] (DVD)
"Bourbon, straight, with a bourbon chaser." That's Johnny Morrison's drink. Johnny's just been discharged from the Navy, along with two of his pals who were under his command. There's George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont), easy going and loyal, and Buzz Wancheck (William Bendix), big and burly, just as loyal to Johnny as George is, with a metal plate in his head, a variable memory and who sometimes goes into rages.

Johnny leaves his two pals in a Los Angeles hotel and goes to The Cavendish Court in the evening to meet his wife, Helen (Doris Dowling). The Cavendish is a high priced hotel with private bungalows, a careless attitude about parties and an aging security man who doesn't mind taking a few under-the-table dollars for various services. Johnny finds his wife, alright. He learns quickly what her philosophy is. "I take all the drinks I like, any time, any place," Helen Morrison says at one point. "I go where I want to with anybody I want. I just happen to be that kind of a girl." She's giving a drunken party at her bungalow. Before long Johnny sees her being too friendly with Eddie Harwood (Howard De Silva), a well-dressed hood and owner of The Blue Dahlia nightclub. Johnny punches Harwood and leaves in a cold rage. He's picked up by a blonde in a convertible. "You oughta have more sense than to take chances with strangers like this," he tells her. "It's funny," she says, "but practically all the people I know were strangers when I met them." The next morning he hears on the radio that his wife has been murdered with his gun, and he's being hunted by the cops.

What's he going to do? In this first-rate murder mystery, Johnny decides to find the killer himself. His wife might have been a tramp, but she was his wife. Trouble is, there are a lot of possible murderers. And the blonde who picked him up? It turns out she's Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake), Eddie's estranged wife. Something clicks between them. When she lets him out of the car that night, they talk briefly and then he turns and walks away. "Don't you ever say good night?" she calls out to him. Johnny walks back. "It's goodbye,' he tells her, "and it's hard to say 'goodbye.'" "Why is it?" Joyce asks him. "You've never seen me before tonight." Johnny looks at her. You can see he's regretting ever marrying his wife. ""Every guy's seen you before, somewhere" he tells her. "The trick is to find you."

The Blue Dahlia has a tight, complex script by Raymond Chandler. The direction by George Marshall is efficient and fast-paced. The characters, and the actors who play them, are vivid, especially Bendix. Buzz Wancheck may be loyal to Johnny, but ticking away behind that metal plate in his head is a potential time bomb. Loud, fast music -- monkey music, Buzz calls it -- can trigger ferocious headaches and the kind of anger-fueled rage you don't want to be around. Howard Da Silva was a fine actor and his Eddie Harwood is more than a conventional gangster. He's smooth, ruthless, friendly, smart, corrupt...and he still is carrying at least a small torch for Joyce. Will Wright as "Dad" Newall turns in a great performance as the sleazy, defensive security man at the Cavendish. He's one more of the great character actors people remember by their faces and their performances, but whose name is never remembered.

This was the third of the Alan Ladd/Vernonica Lake vehicles the two made during the Forties, beginning with This Gun for Hire in 1942 and followed by The Glass Key that same year. Although they evidently didn't much care for each other off screen, on screen they generated quite a bit of electricity. Lake in high heels never topped five feet. She usually came across as sexy but no one's fool. They were blond and small. They went well together. In some way no one has been able to define, the camera found a kind of extra dimension with the two. The Blue Dahlia might not quite match their two classic films, This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key, but it still is an effective murder vehicle for two interesting stars. All three films are solid viewing even after 60 years.

Alan Ladd made no bones about being, or wanting to be, an actor. He was an easy-going guy with one ambition, to be a movie star. With This Gun for Hire he made it, and became a major star during the Forties. Even in the Fifties when the good roles were slipping by him he remained an above-the-title star. But why? He was only 5'5", slightly built and he was no actor. He's quoted as saying, "I have the face of an aging choirboy and the build of an undernourished featherweight. If you can figure out my success on the screen you're a better man than I." Here's what that first-rate film critic David Thomson, from his The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, has to say: "Once Ladd had acquired an unsmiling hardness, he was transformed from an extra to a phenomenon. These films are still exciting, and Ladd's calm slender ferocity make it clear that he was the first American actor to show the killer as a cold angel."
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Oct 2010 22:13:01 BDT
J. Kinory says:
Alan Ladd was no actor? ROFL.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jul 2013 17:12:58 BDT
red says:
No, he wasn't. There was a joke in Hollywood that Ladd only had two expressions - hat on and hat off. What he did have, however, was screen presence, which has little or nothing to do with acting but everything to do with being a movie star.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jul 2013 13:40:21 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 Jul 2013 13:40:37 BDT
Quite right, red. I also feel that there was absolutely NO chemistry between Ladd and Lake in any of their films, especially The Glass Key. But that's just my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2014 01:16:16 GMT
J. Kinory - point of information; what is "ROFL"?

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Mar 2015 08:37:19 GMT
peejay says:
Rolling On Floor Laughing!
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Review Details

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Reviewer

C. O. DeRiemer
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: San Antonio, Texas, USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,484