Raymond Chandler scripted the screenplay. Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake (sporting a slightly shorter version of her trademark peek-a-boo hairstyle), are reunited in this stylish film noir. Johnny Morrison, just returned from military service, comes home to his Los Angeles bungalow to discover his fickle, unscrupulous wife, Helen (the relatively unknown Doris Dowling, best remembered as Ray Milland's drinking buddy in "The Lost Weekend"), hasn't exactly been waiting in the wings for him - she has been having an affair with Eddie Harwood (Howard da Silva) owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub ("You've got the wrong lipstick on, mister!"). She then drunkenly shrieks of how her impaired driving had killed their young son, which leads Johnny to threaten her with a gun, but he promptly leaves before he does something he'll regret later. However, Helen is found dead the next morning, and Johnny, who had made the acquaintance of Joyce (Veronica Lake) is the prime suspect. Joyce offers to help, and Johnny's war buddy (William Benedix) also wants him cleared, but, as with all Chandler noir, there are plenty of red herrings, twists and mazes of clues that don't always make sense. Johnny feels he can't trust Joyce when he discovers that she is the wife of Harwood, although she clearly wants nothing more to do with him. She tries to explain, but, Johnny dismisses her with, "So long, baby!" The truth does come out, but not until after a few fascinating plot twists. Many have said that this is not really noir, since Lake's character is not so much a femme fatale as she is a mystery dame, but hey, if she sparks Ladd's interest, that's more than enough! Benedix, who had teamed with Ladd and Lake in "The Glass Key", four years earlier, gives tremendous support, and his wounded, traumatized war veteran is a compelling character.
Chandler's ungentlemanly treatment of Lake (calling her Moronica Lake and deriding her acting skills couldn't have earned him very many points), may account for the reason why she appears blank in a few scenes, but she pulls the role off and she and Ladd make screen magic, as always. She and Dowling are beautifully costumed by Edith Head. On a rather morbid note, this film's title was the inspiration of giving murder victim Elizabeth Short the moniker, "The Black Dahlia". And the similar turns that both Ladd and Lake's lives would take is very ironic and sad - both would see their careers slide, suffer from depression and die relatively young as a result of alcoholism. If there ever was a screen couple who ran neck and neck, it was these two!
A worthy DVD contender (what the heck is taking so long?) and let's hope when such a day comes, plenty of extras will be included!