7 January 2002 | bmacv
Third Ladd/Lake pairing not all it's cracked up to be
The Blue Dahlia is among the dozen or so titles that movie buffs would identify instantly as film noir. Certainly, it boasts all the proper credentials: Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake reunited for their third outing together (after This Gun For Hire and The Glass Key); a sinister supporting cast including William Bendix, Howard Da Silva and Hugh Beaumont; and an original screenplay by none other than Raymond Chandler.
It almost lives up to its reputation. Returning Navy hero Ladd finds that the wife he left behind has turned into (or always was) a faithless party girl, who killed their young son in a drunken accident. He walks out on her, later to learn she's been murdered. Hunted by the police, he's befriended by Lake, who turns out to be rather intimately involved in much of what happened....
Many noirs suffered from studio-imposed "happy" endings but generally kept their integrity until the closing few frames. The changes wrought on The Blue Dahlia, however, severely compromise it. Chandler's original killer was to be Ladd's war-buddy Bendix, the loose cannon with a steel plate in his head, erupting in pounding headaches and blackout rages whenever he hears "jungle music" -- the sexually liberating beat of postwar prosperity. Rejecting this ending as an insult to the gallant men who had won the war, Paramount, pressured by the Navy, forced Chandler to resort to a lame "the-butler-did-it" conclusion. Unfortunately, that compromise splashes back through the length of the movie, making little sense of Bendix' performance -- even of his presence, except as the rankest of red herrings -- and turning what might have been a topical and disturbing film noir into just another glossy '40s murder mystery.