I am back to my favorite film genre for tonight's feature selection for Saturday Night Cinema. Tonight's film noir classic is Raymond Chandler's exciting thriller The Blue Dahlia.
This neat, fast-paced perfectly cast film noir reflects the hard-boiled, grim wit of the author of its screenplay, Raymond Chandler. Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) returns from the war to find his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) having a party and in the arms of another man. Johnny and Helen have a terrible fight, and later Helen is found dead. Johnny must prove his innocence and he enlists the aid of Joyce Haywood (Veronica Lake), the ex-wife of Helen's lover. Pursued by the cops, and never sure if he is being set-up for the murder, Johnny finally solves the murder and clears his name. Alan Ladd is at his hard-boiled, no-nonsense best as Johnny and Veronica Lake is, as always, the perfect noir femme-fatale, mysterious and alluring. Nicely directed by George Marshall, the film moves with great pace to an exciting, satisfying conclusion. The screenplay, the only one written by Chandler directly for the screen, was nominated for an Academy Award. ~ Linda Rasmussen, Rovi
From the NY Times 1946: The Dark Corner (1946)
THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'Blue Dahlia,' of Paramount, With Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in the Leading Roles, Proves an Exciting Picture 'The DarkCorner,' in WhichMark Stevens, Lucille Ball Appear, Seen at Roxy--'Little Giant' in Debut of Loew's Criterion
To the present expanding cycle of hard-boiled and cynical films, Paramount has contributed a honey of a rough-'em-up romance which goes by the name of "The Blue Dahlia" and which came to the Paramount yesterday. And in this floral fracas it has starred its leading tough guy, Alan Ladd, and its equally dangerous and dynamic lady V-bomb, Veronica Lake. What with that combination in this Raymond Chandler tale, it won't be simply blasting that you will hear in Times Square for weeks to come.
For bones are being crushed with cold abandon, teeth are being callously kicked in and shocks are being blandly detonated at close and regular intervals on the Paramount screen. Also an air of deepening mystery overhangs this tempestuous tale which shall render it none the less intriguing to those lovers of the brutal and bizarre.
In the manner of previous Ladd pictures, the rough stuff begins at the start, when our hero returns from the Pacific and finds his wife something less than true. A clip on the jaw for her boy-friend and a passing twist upon her shapely arms are sufficient to register the displeasure of the husband before he walks out. But the facts of his presence and anger make him the suspected one when, a few hours later, the gay wife is found in her bungalow—slain!
And so it is that the hero is launched on a catch-as-catch-can chase, trying to spot the killer before he himself is caught. Enroute, he falls in with a lady of considerable nerve (Miss Lake, of course) who insists upon rendering assistance which she is peculiarly qualified to give. He also has the rooting interest of a couple of ex-Navy pals who do very little to aid him but inject grimly comical twists. Thus confused, the perilous rat-race runs in and out of gaudy Hollywood dives, fáncy hotels and police chambers until the inevitable rat is caught.
Mr. Ladd, through it all, is his usual (as they say) imperturbable self, displaying a frigid economy in his movement of lips and limbs—except, of course, in those moments when it is essential that he protect himself. Then he goes into action like a hawser that has suddenly snapped. One adversary is nothing. Two thugs make a fair and equal match. The low art of knuckle-duster fighting is elaborately displayed in this film.
As for Miss Lake, her contribution is essentially that of playing slightly starved for a good man's honest affection, to which she manifests an eagerness to respond. And it is indeed remarkable how obvious she makes this look without doing very much. Howard da Silva is considerably more dramatic as a high-powered night club proprietor, and William Bendix looks and acts brutely eccentric as Mr. Ladd's slug-nutty pal. Doris Dowling as the faithless wife, Tom Powers as a nerveless detective chief and Will Wright as a crooked gumshoe worker give able performances.
George Marshall has tautly directed from Mr. Chandler's crafty script. The tact of all this may be severely questioned, but it does make a brisk, exciting show.
When a talented director and a resourceful company of players meet up with a solid story, say one such as "The Dark Corner," then movie-going becomes a particular pleasure. The new melodrama which Twentieth Century-Fox presented yesterday at the Roxy is a tough-fibered, exciting entertainment revolving around a private detective who is marked as the fall guy in a cleverly contrived murder plot. Mark Stevens, a comparative newcomer looking and acting very much like Fox's Dana Andrews, is convincingly hard-boiled as the baffled gumshoe, Bradford Galt, who knows he is being framed into a murder rap but has no knowledge of who is pulling the strings or why. His one clew blows up when he is chloroformed by a strong arm "tail" and wakes up beside the battered body of a former partner who once had him railroaded to prison for manslaughter.
The trio of authors credited with "The Dark Corner" have not dealt all their cards above board. Their trump is a trick doublecross, but they have worked in that surprise with cunning and logic, so that the scattered story elements all fall together like so many pieces in a well-ordered jigsaw puzzle. The action, and there is plenty of it, is violent and explosive, starting with a going-over Galt gives a mysterious toughie who has been shadowing him. This character is identifield only as White Suit, obviously because he affects such a suit and he is played with rugged naturalness by William Bendix.
In fact, Director Henry Hathaway has drawn superior performances from most of the cast. Lucille Ball has one of her happier roles as an acid-tongued secretary who shares the private eye's troubles, and Clifton Webb has another chance as an art gallery proprietor to indulge his talent for acerbic characters. But if Mr. Webb doesn't change his style soon, his admirers are likely to grow impatient. A strikingly good-looking girl named Cathy Downs is introduced as a sort of second "Laura" in Mr. Webb's cinematic marital affairs, but she is badly in need of dramatic training.
Mr. Hathaway has made such skillful use of the process screen in simulating a New York background that it looks as though the action was photographed in such locales as Third Avenue, Fifty-second Street and Broadway. And he happily eschewed murky photography for mood effect, using instead a muted and highly evocative musical score. His fine craftsmanship is very evident throughout "The Dark Corner," and it is regrettable that he had to mar the atmospheric realism by resorting to scene-faking in a few sequences. But this is a minor shortcoming in an otherwise sizzling piece of melodrama.
Mark Stevens, who got his first good break in "From This Day Forward," proves in "The Dark Corner" that he has a rare combination of talent and personality which, if properly developed, will place him in the forefront of leading men in short order.
THE BLUE DAHLIA, an original screen play by Raymond Chandler; directed by George Marshall; produced by John Houseman for Paramount Pictures. At the Paramount.
Johnny Morrison . . . . . Alan Ladd
Joyce Harwood . . . . . Veronica Lake
Buzz Wanchek . . . . . William Bendix
Eddie Harwood . . . . . Howard da Silva
Helen Morrison . . . . . Doris Dowling
Captain Hendirckson . . . . . Tom Powers
George Copeland . . . . . Hugh Beaumont
Corelli . . . . . Howard Freeman
Leo . . . . . Don Costello
Dad Newell . . . . . Will Wright
The Man . . . . . Frank Faylen
Heath . . . . . Walter Sande
Mari Cathcart . . . . . Cathy Downs
Frank Reeves . . . . . Reed Hadley
Mrs. Kingsley . . . . . Constance Collier
Lucy Wilding . . . . . Molly Lamont
Mr. Bryson . . . . . Forbes Murray
Mrs. Bryson . . . . . Regina Wallace
Fred Foss . . . . . Charles Wagenheim
Milkman . . . . . Matt McHugh