Millions of young men were demobilized after WWII – the scale of it is hard to imagine in this era of small wars and a volunteer army [a related post]. The Blue Dahlia, picks up where the war left off, with three buddies out of uniform at last, and back home in Los Angeles. One of them has a large plate in his skull, and suffers from neurological problems, as well as what we would call post traumatic stress disorder. In those days, it was just shell shock. My encyclopedia of noir says that the amnesia theme in many of these films is directly related to this.
The film stars Alan Ladd, in the center of the frame below, and Veronica Lake, famous for her peekaboo hair style, which has not been in evidence in the roles of hers I know so far. Both of them have very low-key acting styles, almost minimalist. Both of them hit hard times and died as confirmed alcoholics.
The plot hinges on what must be the biggest fear of every enlisted man far from home, apart from being blown to bits, that he will return home to find his wife or lover has cheated on or dumped him. Johnny’s has. Then she ends up dead.
The cops are pretty dull in this caper, in fact, they seem to work at it. But in the end, it turns out that they are pretty sharp after all, unlike some noirs. They question the owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub who was having an affair with the dead woman, an obvious prime suspect. While leaving, he asks, “I’m not under investigation, am I?” The captain replies, “Oh, I dunno. How do you feel about it?”
There’s not a terrible amount of suspense, and the plot is pretty creaky, I think, but the coolness of Ladd and Lake is fine. Lake picks him up when she sees him walking alone in the rain. He says goodbye and remarks, “Every guy has seen someone like you. The trick is finding her.” He finds her in the end, of course. The only femme fatale around is Johnny’s wife, and she’s killed early on. Lake plays a different kind of attactor, the blonde goddess.
It’s nice how blue dahlias turn up everywhere. The club’s name, in the wife’s apartment, as part of the police investigation, but through it all, I hear the rumble of the guns of the war, the ones that Johnny’s buddy hears every time someone insists on playing that big band music – monkey music, he calls it.
At one point, to jog his memory, Johnny and his buddy, whom he led through 124 missions in the war, play a little game with guns, the sort of thing old war pals do. He holds a match while his friend lights it with a pistol shot from across the room.