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The Blue Dahlia

The Blue Dahlia, 1946

Johnny (Alan Ladd) returns home from war service to the horrible double-whammy that his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) is two-timing him with club owner Eddie (Howard Da Silva) AND his young son was killed in an accident when Helen drove home drunk from a party. Reeling, Johnny leaves, striking up a mutual attraction with a woman named Joyce (Veronica Lake) who gives him a ride in the rain. But when Helen is found dead, Johnny falls under suspicion. Johnny, his friends Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont), and a determined police detective (Tom Powers) all try to get to the bottom of the crime.

This was an incredibly enjoyable, twisty-turny thriller with lots of pulpy sideplots and an everyone's-a-suspect cast of characters that keep you guessing until the end.

While I wrote about The Glass Key that Ladd didn't quite seem like a right fit for his role, here he seems much more suited to the role of the slightly reserved Johnny, who gets pushed just about to his limit by his wife's cruelties. In fact, the cast of The Glass Key all seem to have shown up for this one, with Lake as the woman who turns Johnny's head and Bendix this time playing Johnny's friend and not a man determined to beat him to a pulp.

The plot itself, as mentioned, is a lot of fun. Are there some coincidences that really strain belief? Oh yes. What are the odds that a man would happen to catch a ride from the wife of the man who is sleeping with his wife? But much like stories like The Big Sleep where subplots are not completed or what have you, this isn't something that causes a problem with enjoying the film.

While the film mainly keeps you occupied with the central mystery, there is a strong recurring theme about the toll taken on the men who went off to serve in the war. Johnny's situation is terrible, of course. He comes home to an alcoholic, unfaithful wife who killed their child through her negligence. But Buzz has also come home with a plate in his head and serious memory and mood issues courtesy of a shell injury. The men get a little respect here and there for their service, but there are some grim prospects for them.

The only element I think could have been a little better was the portrayal of Helen. She is so evil that it begins to veer into over-the-top territory. She crows about having killed their son and how she's glad about it because now she can be free to party. It certainly does the job of making her more killable, but it also has the effect of totally minimizing and vilifying the only character who represents someone who was left behind. It would be hard for someone to be left alone with a young child, not knowing if their partner was coming back. I'm not saying that it's okay that Helen went wild and cheated and all that, but it would have been nice to have a bit more nuance to the character OR have another character in a similar situation.

This one kept me right up to the end and was a very enjoyable thriller.