Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Blue Dahlia (1946)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

In director George Marshall's classic hard-boiled, well-made Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake noirish crime film - it featured an Oscar-nominated Raymond Chandler screenplay (his first original script) that provided the who-dun-it plot for the third and final film noir starring both Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake (following This Gun for Hire (1942) and The Glass Key (1942)).

In the plot, with themes of murder, marital infidelity and unfaithfulness, a "wrong man" accused of a crime, multiple identities and mental imbalance, a hard-nosed Navy bomber GI soldier returned from service and found himself entangled with a mysterious blonde when they were both faced with unraveling a murder.

Its tagline was:

"Tamed by a brunette - framed by a blonde - blamed by the cops!"

The film had a different, unsatisfying conclusion than the one offered in the original script regarding the identity of the murderer - the murderer was changed by demands from the Naval Department - from a soldier returning from service who was suffering from blackouts and a serious head injury, to a less politically-sensitive killer.

  • returning 28 year-old WWII veteran and naval flier Lt. Cmdr. Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) was one of three soldiers discharged and decommissioned from service in the South Pacific; his two Navy buddies included a slightly-crazy, medically-discharged and aggressive Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) (literally shell-shocked and with a serious mental health disability, amnesia and lapses in memory, due to shell fragments embedded in his head) and ex-lawyer George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont) with bad eyesight
  • back in Southern California (Hollywood), the threesome briefly shared bourbon drinks together at Gus' Bar after being dropped off by a bus; Buzz complained about the loud "monkey music" playing on the jukebox in the bar and instigated a brief fight with a Marine Corporal (Anthony Caruso) over the noise; soon after, George and Buzz began to share an apartment together, where George used to live, while Johnny wanted to surprise his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) by not announcing his return home
  • Johnny's wife Helen was completely blind-sided by his unannounced return to her Cavendish Court Hotel's Bungalow (# 93) on Wilshire Blvd, in the midst of a wild house party; he had to put up with the forward advances of an overly-friendly, drunken blonde (Vera Marshe); he soon realized that his boozing wife had been promiscuous and unfaithful during his absence with LA's Sunset Strip The Blue Dahlia nightclub owner Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva), a married man
  • when Johnny confronted the couple kissing as Eddie was leaving by the front door, he quipped to Harwood before punching him in the chin: "You've got the wrong lipstick on, Mister!"; Harwood apologized and then departed

Unfaithful Helen Morrison (Doris Dowling) with 'Boyfriend' - Nightclub Owner Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva)

Johnny Confronting Them Kissing at His Front Door
  • clad in a slinky trouser suit and drunk, the trampish party-girl Helen seemed unapologetic to Johnny, mentioning to the other guests as she ended the party and dismissed them: "He probably wants to beat me up"
  • in their back bedroom, Johnny longingly looked at a double-paneled picture frame, of himself (in uniform), and their young son Dickie - an important plot point later
  • afterwards Helen asserted her promiscuous independence from him when he asked her to stop drinking: ("Don't start preaching. I take all the drinks I like, any time, any place. I go where I want to with anybody I want. I just happen to be that kind of a girl"), and then hinted that Johnny might now be violent and physically abusive after serving in the military when he continued to try to get her to stop drinking, and she told him to mind his own business: "Take your paws off me! Maybe you've learned to like hurting people?"
Drunken and Angry Helen
  • the nosy and meddlesome, 57 year-old bungalow motel house detective "Dad" Newell (Will Wright) briefly interrupted, and mentioned he knew they were fighting: "Noisy in here, aren't you?...Maybe you'd better pull the blinds down, too, if you're gonna push your wife around"
  • during the persistent, fierce and intense altercation between them, Johnny shook her, demanding to know more about teasing remarks she had made about their young son Dickie; she then admitted to him that Dickie had been killed in a DUI car-crash accident while she was driving - drunk; Johnny had earlier been led to believe that Dickie had died of diptheria: ("I was drunk. I was in a car smash. Dickey was killed. I wrote you he died of diphtheria because I was afraid to tell you the truth") - and then she laughed wildly
  • the news caused Johnny to angrily pull out his gun on her and threateningly approach (he hinted: "That's what I oughta do, but you're not worth it"), and then he walked out on her as he tossed his gun into an armchair (next to blue dahlia flowers from the nightclub), carrying his suitcase into the rain
  • later that night, Johnny's disoriented wartime-friend Buzz, who had been called by an upset Helen and told that Johnny had walked out on her, impulsively went out to locate Mrs. Morrison and Johnny; while he awaited their return home to their hotel, he entered the crowded hotel bungalow's bar, at the same time as the distraught Helen was there drinking heavily; she met up with Buzz, who was unaware of her identity, and he joined her back in her private bungalow for more drinks

Harwood's The Blue Dahlia Club on the Sunset Strip

Harwood's Shady Gangster-Club Partner Leo (Don Costello)
  • the same evening, in The Blue Dahlia club on the Sunset Strip, Harwood had returned to his office and was informed by his club assistant-manager and gangster-partner Leo (Don Costello) that his wife Joyce had just separated from him for a few days and was going out of town, presumably because of his on-going affair with Helen (Harwood tried to deflect her motive: "If you think my wife left me because of another woman, it was something else entirely"); he was obliquely referring to his criminal ties in the past and present (with Leo)
  • Leo mentioned that an ex-con named Quinlan was back in town and had talked to Harwood in the parking lot a few nights earlier, when he was accompanied by Mrs. Morrison; and now Quinlan had been "bumped off" - implying that Harwood was involved; Leo advised Harwood to be careful: "Just don't get too complicated, Eddie. When a man gets too complicated, he's unhappy. And when he's unhappy, his luck runs out"
    • [Note: Much later, Harwood was revealed to be using a fake name. His actual name was Bauer - and he was a wanted fugitive-murderer in Passaic, New Jersey fifteen years earlier for killing a bank messenger.]
  • feeling miffed and rejected, Helen ("the Morrison dame...poison") - with Buzz in another room - called Harwood in his office, and explained that Morrison had left her; she used pressure and blackmail to prevent him from ending their affair; she threatened to expose information regarding Harwood's previous criminal past years earlier: "Supposing I don't want to call it a day? Two walkouts in one evening would be just a little too much for me, Eddie. Ever think of that? And if I don't want to call it a day, I'm quite sure you won't - for a very good reason"; he agreed to visit her in her bungalow a half an hour later - and upon his arrival (and departure), he was observed by the house detective; Harwood clearly had a motive to eliminate Helen and silence her
Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake) - Picking up Hitchhiker Johnny in the Rain and Driving to a Coastal Inn Beyond Malibu
  • meanwhile, Johnny was hitchhiking with his suitcase and picked up in the pouring rain by long blonde-haired female named Joyce (Veronica Lake); he hesitated at first to be picked up, but was convinced by her good humor: "Well, you could get wetter if you lay down in the gutter"; remaining anonymous to each other but realizing that they were both running away from something (Joyce: "It all blows up in your face sometimes, doesn't it?), the two strangers shared a drive up the coast to Malibu and innocent chit-chat; he claimed his name was Jimmy Moore, and while parting at a motel parking lot beyond Malibu, he told her: "It's the end of the line...It's good-bye. And it's tough to say good-bye"; they were not aware until the next morning that they had both spent the night at the same beachfront motel - the Royal Beach Inn (in separate rooms)
  • the following morning, a maid found Helen dead on the sofa-davenport in her bungalow, dying at the hand of Johnny's gun that was left on the floor
  • the same morning, the two strangers ran into each other at breakfast in the outdoor restaurant of the Malibu-area motel, and Joyce suggested: "Jimmy, why don't you go back and fix it up before it's too late?"; he wasn't interested in mending his relationship with his wife: "There's nothing to fix up. And if there was, I wouldn't want to fix it up anyway"; as Joyce went to change her shoes to go walking on the beach with him, there came news on the radio in the motel lobby that Helen was found dead, and that her husband - returning Lt. Commander Morrison - was a prime suspect; before speaking again to Joyce, Johnny hastily left the motel, and boarded a bus returning to Los Angeles; Johnny was immediately accused of the crime of Helen's murder, although there were other suspects
  • inside the LA Police Department's Detective Bureau, Buzz and George were being detained for questioning by Captain Hendrickson (Tom Powers), as well as motel house detective "Dad" Newell, and Eddie Harwood; a primitive audio-recording device was set up on the Captain's desk before interviews; it had already been determined through autopsy tests that Helen's death wasn't a suicide; Harwood's missing wife Joyce was possibly thought to be involved, seeking retaliation against Helen for stealing her husband; Buzz and George were warned about trying to hide their friend Johnny from the police; during the house-detective's questioning, he testified - contrary to what was seen earlier, that Harwood had arrived at Helen's bungalow door at about 7 pm, but left when she didn't answer the door
  • Johnny was tailed by a suspicious thug (Frank Faylen) from the LA bus station into the city (across from the Blue Dahlia Club), and offered transportation to a cheap and available hotel room 6 blocks away on Santa Monica Blvd; Johnny kept his assumed name (Jimmy Moore) when he signed in with the hotel's manager Corelli (Howard Freeman), and paid $10 bucks in advance for the night; Johnny was saved from being strong-armed by the hood and his thug-partner Heath (Walter Sande) when a policeman arrived to report their "hot car" parked outside, handcuffed the two, and led them away [Note: The two "cheap heist guys" (thugs) were working for Harwood's corrupt manager-partner Leo.]
  • in the next scene in Harwood's Grenada Towers hotel-apartment on Wilshire, "Dad" Newell had entered via the fire escape, and while smoking a cigar and enjoying a drink, he informed Harwood that he had told the detectives "a good straight story" - obviously in cahoots with Harwood, he admitted that he had lied about witnessing Harwood's late-night meeting with Helen, and he was handsomely paid off by Harwood
  • as "Dad" left, Joyce entered; after he apologized for cheating on her with Helen, she responded: "It's too late, Eddie"; he tried to excuse his adulterous behavior: "Helen Morrison didn't mean anything to me alive....And she doesn't mean anything to me dead"; she remained cold to him, but she was curious about the identity of the killer: "Who did kill her, Eddie?"
  • as Joyce was leaving Harwood's hotel-building, she spotted Johnny arriving, and as he spoke to the front desk clerk about seeing Harwood, she phoned him (out of sight) from the mezzanine, to warn him to get out: "Please don't ask any questions. Get out of the hotel right away"; he promptly complied when he overheard Captain Hendrickson arriving at the desk to also see Harwood; outside, Joyce ran after Johnny and saw him sitting in her car; she jumped in, knowing he was on the run from the police, and she wanted to help him; he told her to use his real name, but she had already deduced he was fugitive Johnny Morrison
  • as they drove and then parked to view the city lights, she said she was unafraid of him; she wished to help him clear his name because she felt he was innocent: ("I know you didn't kill your wife, Johnny... Just from knowing you"); he told her he was on the hunt for the killer: "And the man who killed her isn't gonna get away with it"; she wasn't ready yet to divulge her name: "Johnny, you'll have to trust me. I have something to settle, too"
  • snooping house-detective "Dad" spoke briefly to Buzz and George in their apartment, hoping to "put the bite" on them to pay him for inside information; they were told Harwood could be found at his nightclub most nights; "Dad" also mentioned how he had seen Buzz before at the bungalow: ("Haven't I seen you before?...Seems to me last night in the rain")
  • in Johnny's cheap hotel room, he was blackmailed by Corelli after he saw the double-paneled photo frame of Johnny with his son Dickie, and threatened to report him to the police; Johnny confronted Corelli, grabbed his gun and knocked him out with the pistol - and then discovered that Helen had written an incriminating clue about Harwood's criminal past on the back of Dickie's photo: ("Johnny: If anything happens to you, Eddie Harwood's name used to be Bauer. The New Jersey State Police would like to know the charge is murder")
  • soon after, Corelli - for a price - informed Harwood's club partner-gangster Leo by phone about Johnny's identity; Johnny visited Harwood in his hotel-apartment and directly accused him of murdering his wife Helen: ("I think you killed her"); Johnny began to bring up Harwood's dark past in New Jersey, but was interrupted by Joyce's arrival; when she revealed that she was Eddie's estranged wife; Johnny acted upset and said goodbye to her: "So long, baby"; (off-screen, Harwood probably contacted Leo to send two men to apprehend Johnny)
  • after briefly visiting with his two military pals, Johnny was 'arrested' on the street by two "plainsclothesmen" (cop impersonators, one of whom was Leo) and driven to Leo's remote two-story ranch-house; although he realized he had been kidnapped by Leo and his men (ordered by Harwood), and he valiantly fought to free himself, he was knocked out; however, shortly later, he semi-asphyxiated Leo (the other thug had been knocked out), and freed himself, just as Harwood arrived; Johnny was able to finish his earlier confrontation with Harwood about committing murder 15 years earlier in New Jersey under his real name - Mr. Bauer
  • Harwood regretfully described his criminal past: "I'm not much of a hotshot after all. Such a nice clean start I had, too. Helping another wild kid shoot a bank messenger back in Passaic. And for free. Didn't have a dime on him. And I spent the next 15 years trying to kid myself it never happened. I get to own a war plant, a night club. I even marry a girl. A girl who oughtn't to have given me the time of the day. This is how I end up"; then Harwood told Johnny that both of them were no longer suspects - Buzz had confessed to the crime
  • gunfire from a revived Leo on the floor intended for Johnny hit Harwood and probably killed him, and Johnny shot back and injured Leo with two blasts
  • in the conclusion, Johnny fled back to The Blue Dahlia nightclub where most of the suspects were assembled in Harwood's office; the police authorities had already pressured a confused Buzz to confess to the crime as the "fall guy"; it was confirmed that he had been seen by "Dad" entering and leaving Helen's bungalow; Buzz appeared to have killed Helen because she had two-timed his pal Johnny: ("The things she said. What she was. What she did to Johnny. She didn't even care. All she did was pick at that flower"); [Note: Buzz was the screenplay's killer.] Johnny had already been cleared because he was in Joyce's car driving toward Malibu at the time of Helen's death
  • Buzz finally was able to clearly recall the night he was invited back to Helen's place from the bar; he decided to leave because of the loud "monkey music" - which aggravated his condition and compelled him to leave: ("Who says I killed her? You can't hand me that stuff....I wouldn't dirty my hands on her...I just had to get out of there. I couldn't take it anymore. She called me back, but I just kept right on going. And I don't know where. I guess I must have gone home")
The Killer: House Detective 'Dad' Newell (Will Wright) - Confessing His Guilt
  • the surprise killer was revealed to be disgruntled house detective 'Dad' Newell, who had attempted to blackmail Helen about her affair with Eddie, but when she refused to comply, he killed her; Captain Hendrickson questioned him to the breaking point:

    Hendrickson: "How much did you up the ante on her when her husband came home? What did she threaten to do, get you fired? Or was she going to have Harwood's friends give you the treatment? Maybe she was going to blow a hole in you herself, only she wouldn't know how to handle that kind of a gun. All you had to do was grab it out of her hand. I guess even a very cheap blackmailer could do that."
    "Dad" Newell: "Cheap, huh? Sure, a cigar and a drink and a couple of dirty bucks. That's all it costs to buy me. That's what she thought. Found out a little different, didn't she? Maybe I could get tired of being pushed around by cops and hotel managers and ritzy dames in bungalows. Maybe I could cause a little something just for once. And if I do end up in the slab..." (gunfire)

  • when Newell pulled out a gun after incriminating himself, he was startled when a door opened behind him, and he was shot dead by Hendrickson. The film concluded as Johnny suggested continuing his relationship with Joyce, even though he neglected to tell her that her husband was earlier critically-wounded or possibly dead:

    Johnny: "Last night when I made myself walk out on you, remember? I said every guy had seen you before. Somewhere."
    Joyce: "I remember."
    Johnny: "But the trick was to find you."
    Joyce: "I remember that, too. Do you think I'd ever forget it?"

Returning Veterans (l to r): Buzz, George, Johnny Sharing a Goodbye Drink Together

Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) - Johnny's Disturbed, War-time Pal - Suffering From Headaches

Johnny's Arrival in His Home to Greet His Surprised Wife Helen (Doris Dowling)

Double-Paneled Picture of Johnny (In Uniform) and Son Dickie

Johnny Asking About Dickie: "Talk, tell me, will ya?"

Johnny Roughing Up and Then Angrily Approaching and Threatening Helen with a Gun, But Then Deciding: ("You're not worth it!")

Johnny's Unused Gun Tossed onto Sofa Armchair Before Leaving

Buzz in the Crowded Hotel's Bar with Helen Drinking Scotch Before Joining Her in Her Bungalow

Helen - Found Murdered in Her Bungalow, with Johnny's Gun on the Floor

Captain Hendrickson (Tom Powers) Questioning Suspects in the LA Police Dept.

Johnny Was Tailed by a Suspicious Individual (Frank Faylen) Upon His Return to LA

Cheap Hotel Clerk Corelli (Howard Freeman)

Joyce With Husband Eddie Harwood in His Grenada Towers Apt.

Joyce Warning Johnny, By Phone from the Hotel-Apartment's Mezzanine, To Get Away

Joyce - She Aided Johnny and Believed He Was Innocent

"Dad's" Visit to Buzz and George

Incriminating Clue About Harwood's Criminal Past, Written by Helen

Johnny Visiting Harwood To Accuse Him of Murdering Helen

Joyce's Revelation That She Was Eddie's Estranged Wife

Harwood - Confronted by Johnny as Mr. Bauer - a NJ Criminal

Harwood and Leo Both Shot During Johnny's Struggle for Gun

Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) - Remembering the Night With Helen In Her Bungalow

Johnny and Joyce Finding Each Other


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