The Blue Dahlia [1946]

I last saw this more than a few years ago; I think while I was still at high school. It didn’t make the same kind of impression on me that other classic films at the time did. I still remember vividly my first viewing of The Maltese Falcon obviously, but also Casablanca, The Trouble With Harry, Chinatown, The Thin Man, The Third Man, Once Upon A Time In The West and others. In my charitable moods, I like to think that’s because there was something tangible about the characters and situations. It may not be hardboiled, but the Thin Man has plenty of charm. It may be a little stilted, but the wonderfully macabre The Trouble With Harry is constantly intriguing. It may not ultimately make sense but The Big Sleep has unbeatable chemistry and every single scene sparkles.

For whatever reason, The Blue Dahlia (and probably others that do not occur to me now) did not make much of an impression. And this time around too, I was barely able to keep the thread and characters in my mind while the film unfolded. It’s not that I disliked it – I recently disliked Kiss Me Deadly, but I still had no problem paying attention to it. I wasn’t as impressed by Criss, Cross as I was led to think I should have been – but I didn’t find myself wandering off to think about something else while it was going on.

Is it wrong to describe a hard-boiled classic as fatally innocuous? I think that if I could make just one suggestion it’s that the film needed more hysterics. It’s plot is fundamentally driven by hysterical actions – the loss of control in the face of emotion – and all of the actors are so self-consciously self-possessed that none of that comes off. Really, the only actor who can hold his head high is Howard da Silva, for the single genuine-looking emotional reaction in the whole film.

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