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Rainy Nights and Bright Lights in L.A.
on 2 April 2017
This complex noir thriller brings back the partnership of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in a story which may have been even more relevant post-war, with returning servicemen hoping they can return to their lives pre-war. Unfortunately, this was a pipe dream as far as some were concerned. The return home for Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd), Buzz (William Bendix) and George was not quite so good for Johnny when he finds that his wife,Helen, has hit the booze-and-party circuit at the posh end of Los Angeles which included her boyfriend Eddie. The first meeting between Johnny and Eddie was not very polite and ends up with Eddie being socked in the mouth. This is followed by Helen telling him that she's going to do what she likes with her life,including boozing ; maybe that is what many returning servicemen were to experience.
As the thriller develops, the fact that Johnny pulled a gun on Helen but did not use it becomes a factor in who killed her. The very seedy hotel detective who is called to the crime by Helen's cleaner brings the police into it. Johnny has long gone to find a hotel to live in temporarily; he is alone,disillusioned and stuck in a rainstorm with no taxis available. The rainstorm became another clue to the solving of Helen's murder. The characters involved are examined and one is never sure how they all fit in and if they are whom they say they are. Picked out as a possibility is Buzz who has a plate in his head and suffers from headaches and whose demeanour can be aggressive. The sound of loud swing/jazz brings him out in a rage and everybody seems to be playing it. Eddie Harwood,Helen's boyfriend, owns a night club called 'The Blue Dahlia' which he runs with a partner. Characters with ferret faces and moustaches signalled villainy and night clubs in thrillers are always places where nefarious deeds are done.
Into Johnny's life comes another woman who turns out to be Eddie's estranged wife. He is on the run after hearing over the radio that his wife had been killed, whilst previously he had just left his faithless wife. In the course of the action he is waylaid by thugs whose boss seems to be Eddie's partner. Whilst he does not know it,a clue to his innocence has been in his suitcase all the time, a photograph of Johnny,Helen and their dead son. He did not die of diptheria but was killed in a road crash in a car driven by a drunken Helen. It was what Helen had written on the back of the photo which was of some interest to the police but was not a revelation as to who shot her. As is usual with noir, there were all the narrative trails which led to dead ends and there were quite a few actual dead ends in the film. Attention is focused on Buzz who has all the headaches - was it him?
Unfortunately, when the villain is revealed at the police office,it is rather an anti-climax as by then the list of suspects had come down to one. However, the film was an interesting journey whose narrative twisted and turned and kept the audience interested. The screenplay by Raymond Chandler did not, unfortunately, carry the great one-liners which feature in his hard-boiled novels and films like 'The Big Sleep' and 'Farewell my Lovely' but it is a very good,well-constructed thriller which is workmanlike in its direction by George Marshall. It does tell the story with the action moving between the scenes with clipped dialogue. In other words, this was a worthy member of the noir club.