Dowling Dahlia Dalliance

THE BLUE DAHLIA is my least favourite of the Ladd/Lake movies, discounting STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM for the moment. I find Doris Dowling’s performance overwrought (and her character conceived along misogynistic lines), the movie spends way too long with the audience (me and Fiona in this case) smugly convinced they know who the killer is, and when this turns out to be a trick the film perks up considerably, but a lot of time has passed in a not very interesting way. And all the stuff actually concerning the titular joint still seems like a drag to me.

Still, on your noir checklist you can put a really big tick next to POST-WAR DISILLUSION.

Delayed appearance by Lake, something she seemed to do a lot: her entry into SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS seems crazily belated, but totally works. Anyway, once she’s here her purpose is clear: to restore Ladd’s faith in women. And Chandler shrewdly has a scene where he doubts her, and that really helps animate his arc.

The violence is good and grim.

The wrapping-up is good — Raymond Chandler is sole screenwriter and he’s had plenty of practice making drama out of what seems, in principle, like exposition. So when Ladd clears everything up, it’s immensely satisfying.

Directed by George Marshall, who seems to be everywhere these days — as a connection to his Laurel & Hardy days, he finds a small role for Mae Busch. Actually, maybe this is part of the problem with Dowling’s character: as a woman who’s lost a child and is now committing slomo suicide with drink and bad company, she ought to get SOME sympathy, but she’s portrayed as a simple monster: as just another Mrs. Hardy.

THE BLUE DAHLIA stars Shane: the Girl; ‘Babe’ Ruth; Louis B. Mayer; Bianca; Mr. Dietrichson; Ward Cleaver; Heinrich Himmler; Reinhardt Heydrich; Rachmaninoff; Mrs. Hardy; and Bim.

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8 Responses to “Dowling Dahlia Dalliance”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    David, Much of the problem was due to post-war censorship. Chandler had to rewrite the script because the Government did not like the fact that the killer belonged to what was later referred to as “the greatest generation” and Dowling’s character was deliberately denigrated to attack those working women who wanted to remain in their occupations but were forced back into the home. The same issues affected Virginia Mayo’s portrayal in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES so those women who did not follow the Veronica Lake/Teresa Wright line in these films were deliberately made out to be “sluttish.”

  2. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Doris Dowling’s sister drove Cesare Pavese to suicide.

  3. Dowling is great in The Lost Weekend (“I’m just crazy about the back of your neck”) but disappointing here. I think there would be ways to apply nuance while still satisfying the censor. I think the rewrite might actually HELP in the sense that Bendix is too obvious a suspect. On the other hand, him being guilty would have made a more emotional ending…

  4. Tony Williams Says:

    “Nuance” would be the last thing on the censor’s mind eager not to tarnish what later became “the greatest generation” and eager to vilify ideologically those independent “working women” now turned into “sluts” if they choose not to return to the home and family.

  5. chris schneider Says:

    I still love that line Alan Ladd has when he discovers Howard Da Silva mid-canoodle with Dowling: “You’ve got the wrong lipstick on, mister!”

  6. There are quite a few good lines. Nobody ever said Chandler couldn’t (a) write snappy dialogue and (b) get the plot into a total fankle.

  7. Charles W. Callahan Says:

    I used to think the Dowling sisters were the same person.
    When I wised up…wow and zowie!
    These kids were too dishy for words, but a tad creepy.
    Doom was tattooed on their foreheads in invisible ink.
    But their taste in boyfriends was good.
    Billy Wilder for Doris and Elia Kazan for Constance.
    Constance was “teriff” in BLACK ANGEL.
    What an Itch-bay.

  8. Wilder eventually decided he needed a partner who wouldn’t have a career and wouldn’t want kids… but who could make him laugh.

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