Saturday, May 22, 2010
THE BLUE DAHLIA
A week ago I caught TCM's "Essentials" with hosts Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin. At first Alec (full disclosure, he's an old friend) seemed a little reluctant to join in Osborne's enthusiasm for this 1946 classic flim noir starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Baldwin even referred to Lake at one point as not a very good actress, saying something like: She's always Veronica Lake.
Now, Baldwin has a right to state his case for actors who are always themselves in movies, since Baldwin is a master at character acting, even as a leading man. And I think I know what he means about Lake. She did seem at times a little light in her roles, but I attribute that partly to not taking herself or the whole business that seriously, and also because that was part of her technique, a kind of ironic distancing of herself from her almost immediate iconic stature after her first big leading role in I WANTED WINGS five years before she did this (and kicked out the acting jams in SO PROUDLY WE HAIL three years before).
But whatever objections Alec might have to this movie, it's high on my all time favorite list and always has been since I was a boy and fell in love with Ladd and Lake in the series of movies they made together, and with Lake in everything she did. Hers was the first and only movie star's image I ever tacked to my wall as a boy. And this film I've missed having access to for many years because for whatever reasons it didn't come out on video when that medium came along.
For that reason whenever I see it's scheduled to show on TCM I'm there if at all possible. I've never tired of it. And this showing had even more resonance for me because the William Bendix role (whose storyline changed when the military objected to the darker original ending because they thought it threw a bad light on returning veterans) highlights his character's brain injury from combat. When he leans over and points to a bald patch on his head about where the titanium plate is in mine and says something like "There's a plate in there as big as your brain" it hit me in a way it naturally hadn't before I had my own brain tampered with.
In fact for the first time the relation between post traumatic effect disorder—if that's the correct term, that so many veterans suffer from but we've only been addressing in any realistic way in recent years—and Bendix's character just jumped out at me, making the movie even more engaging then it's always been for me.
It also has one of my favorite lines from maybe my favorite character in the film, even though it's played by an actor whose name I never remember and can't remember seeing in much else if anything—Don Costello—who ups the ante on the underplaying of pretty much all the actors in this flick, which may be the influence of the director, George Marshall, or Raymond Chandler's writing, but seems to my mind to be more the result of Alan Ladd's tendency to way underplay and use that incredible voice of his and that movie star face. The movie was obviously built around him, as he had been a huge star since his first pairing with Lake in THIS GUN FOR HIRE made him one (a film usually more critically appreciated than THE BLUE DAHLIA).
Here's "Leo's" lines that have always rung true to me, even if in this context they're meant as a not so subtle threat:
"Just don't get too complicated, Eddie. When a guy gets too complicated, he's unhappy. And when he's unhappy—his luck runs out..."