Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) returns home after serving in the South Pacific with his buddies Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont). George is suffering from memory loss and painful headaches, but his pals try to look out for him best they can.
Johnny returns home only to find his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) living a partying life in a hotel bungalow. She doesn’t seem too thrilled to see Johnny coming home, especially when he learns Helen has taken on a boyfriend in the form of Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva) the owner of the popular nightclub the Blue Dahlia.
Taking his leave of Helen, Johnny hitches a ride from Joyce (Veronica Lake) who is coincidentally is Harwood’s estranged wife. The next day Helen is found dead and the most obvious suspect is Johnny. Now he’s on the run from the police and has to find the real killer to prove his innocence.
The Blue Dahlia was the third screen pairing of Ladd and Lake, with one more to come in 1948’s Saigon. It’s Written by Raymond Chandler and is another noir with tough characters spouting out tougher dialogue, betrayals all around and a man on the run for his life.
It’s no wonder Ladd and Lake became such a popular onscreen couple in the 1940’s. There is definitely electricity on the screen when they’re trading barbs back and forth. The other actors offer effective support. There’s the darker seedy characters who each are seemingly even more nasty than the next and Morrison’s veteran pals who appear willing to do anything to help him.
William Benedix as Ladd’s shell-shocked G.I. pal is the most showy character. He’s a bit unstable and appears to be capable of just about anything. His performance is a bit over-the-top and dated, but it still worked for me.
I rather prefer the subtle sinister Da Silva as Lake’s husband who has also been seeing Ladd’s wife. He’s one of those smooth operators who could be saying the most mundane innocent things, but you should know there’s some kind of ulterior motive he’s working at.
Despite the cast and Chandler’s hand in this (which by the way was said he hated the final film, along with Lake) I thought it ended up being a fairly average film noir. There was nothing I really disliked in it, but nothing that really grabbed me either.
The story starts to drift a bit and the focus of finding Helen’s murderer gets sidetracked and the tension dissipates for too long. Also, I know coincidence and fate play a major part in noir, but certain leaps were too much for me to accept. The biggest one was the initial meeting between Lake and Ladd. He’s out hitchhiking on a dark rainy night and Lake happens to stop and picks him up. It was an awfully convenient introduction seeing as how much of a connection the two share in the story.
Still it’s a adequately satisfying mystery that will hold your attention and the cast all give it their all. But as for a Ladd/Lake film though, I much prefer This Gun For Hire.