The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Directed by George Marshall, written by Raymond Chandler

“You got the wrong lipstick on, Mister.”

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Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd), a solider dismissed from the war, returns home with two of his buddies to find his harlot of a wife (Doris Dowling) cheating on him with a local club-owner and gangster Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva). He also finds out the death of his son wasn’t what he’d been led to believe. He leaves that night and heads uptown in the rain, where he meets the incredibly attractive Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake). The next morning his wife is found murdered and he’s the prime suspect.

Performances are great all around, from gangsters and cops to peepers and friends, and Ladd and Lake are excellent as the leads. But this picture is stolen by two actors—Doris Dowling and William Bendix. Dowling chews up the screen and leaves a lasting impression with her sexually aggressive, alcohol soaked devil-may-care attitude, throwing wrenches into as many gears as she can find. And Buzz Wanchek, Johnny Morrison’s veteran friend dismissed from the Navy with a head injury (Bendix), eats up the other side of the story as an injured, partially unhinged, ready to explode tough guy with a constrained war-machine personality clawing to get out.

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And there’s the wonderfully snappy, Academy Award nominated script by Raymond Chandler (his only original screenplay), providing the mystery and killer dialogue:

“It all blows up in your face sometimes, doesn’t it?”
“What does?”
“Whatever you’re doing.”

It’s a whodunit, and the leads aren’t quite as dark as we sometimes see, but it’s an undeniably effective, shady detective story. And again, the performance of Doris Dowling sticks.

Like a great drink the movie finishes long, giving you a lot to consider when you’re done, and it belongs in the upper ranks of film noir.

“It’s tough to say goodbye.”
“Why is it? You’ve never seen me before tonight.”
“Every guy’s seen you before, somewhere.”

5- stars

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