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)

An Oscar-nominated Raymond Chandler screenplay provided the who-dun-it script for this classic hard-boiled Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake noirish crime film. It was the third of four screen pairings between Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Director George Marshall combined various elements to produce a well-made noir, about a hard-nosed GI soldier returning from service who became 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 military - from a soldier returning from service who was suffering from blackouts, 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 from service and in Southern California. His buddies included Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) (with a serious mental health disability) and George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont). Johnny soon discovered that his boozing, unfaithful estranged wife Helen (Doris Dowling) had been promiscuous with LA's The Blue Dahlia nightclub owner Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva) during his absence
  • trampish Helen was surprised by Johnny's unannounced return to her Wilshire Boulevard Cavendish Court Hotel and Bungalow (# 93), in the midst of a wild house party. When he 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!"
Helen Morrison with Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva)
Johnny Confronting Them Kissing at Front Door
Drunken and Angry Helen
  • clad in a slinky trouser suit and drunk, she seemed unapologetic to Johnny, mentioning to the other guests as she dismissed them: "He probably wants to beat me up." Helen asserted her promiscuous independence from him: ("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 after serving in the military when he tried to get her to stop drinking: "Take your paws off me! Maybe you've learned to like hurting people?"
  • she then laughingly admitted to him that their young son Dickie had been killed in a DUI car-crash accident while she was driving - drunk. He 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"). The news caused him to angrily pull out his gun on her (he hinted: "That's what I oughta do, but you're not worth it"), but then he walked out on her while throwing his gun into an armchair before leaving the bungalow
  • in The Blue Dahlia club, Harwood was informed that his wife had just separated from him for a few days, presumably because of his on-going affair with Helen (Harwood: "If you think my wife left me because of another woman, it was something else entirely"), and also because of his criminal ties and past. [Note: Much later, Harwood was revealed to be using a fake name. His real 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 called Harwood and used pressure and blackmail to prevent him from ending their affair: "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."
  • meanwhile, Johnny was hitchhiking with his suitcase and picked up in the rain by Harwood's wife, long blonde-haired wife Joyce (Veronica Lake). He hesitated at first 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 they were both running away from something, the two strangers shared a drive up the coast to Malibu and beyond, and after parting were not aware until the next morning that they both spent the night at the same beachfront motel, the Royal Beach Inn (in separate rooms)
  • the next morning, a maid found Helen murdered on the sofa in her bungalow, with Johnny's gun on the floor. There came news on the radio in the motel lobby that Helen had been murdered (it wasn't ruled a suicide after autopsy tests), and that Johnny was a prime suspect. He returned by bus back to Los Angeles, took an assumed name (Jimmy Moore) and rented a cheap hotel, while trying to clear his name (with some assistance from Joyce)
  • meddlesome bungalow motel house detective "Dad" Newell (Will Wright) was questioned by police and testified that he had heard Johnny fighting with Helen, and that he had witnessed Harwood later in the night enter her bungalow

Johnny was accused of the crime of Helen's murder, along with other suspects:

  • Eddie Harwood - MOTIVE: he had been in an affair with Helen, and when he ended it after Johnny returned, Helen blackmailed him to continue - threatening to expose information regarding Harwood's previous criminal past years earlier; the proof regarding Harwood's past was found by Johnny after Helen's death on the back of Johnny's military photo: "Johnny: If anything happens to me, Eddie Harwood's name used to be Bauer. The New Jersey State Police would like to know. The charge is murder. Helen"
  • Joyce Harwood - MOTIVE: she was suspected of retaliating against Helen for stealing her husband; however, she felt that after meeting Johnny, she should help him clear his name because she felt he was innocent: ("I know you didn't kill your wife, Johnny....Just from knowing you")
  • Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix), Johnny's slightly crazy, medically-discharged war buddy who had amnesia and a steel plate in his head -
    MOTIVE: he might have killed Helen because she had two-timed his pal Johnny, and he confessed: "The things she said. What she was. What she did to Johnny. She didn't even care"; however, he recalled that the night he was invited back to her place from the bar, he decided to leave instead: "Who says I killed her? You can't hand me that stuff....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"
    [Note: Buzz was the screenplay's killer.]

In the conclusion, most of the suspects were assembled in The Blue Dahlia nightclub as the police authorities pressured Buzz to confess. But as it turned out, all of the suspects were eliminated one-by-one.

  • the surprise killer was revealed to be disgruntled house detective 'Dad' Newell. He had attempted to blackmail Helen about her affair with Eddie, but when she refused to comply, he killed her. Captain Hendrickson (Tom Powers) 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."
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

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

Johnny Threatening Helen with a Gun ("You're not worth it!")

Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake) - Picking up Hitchhiker Johnny in Rain

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

Joyce With Estranged Husband Eddie Harwood

Joyce - She Aided Johnny and Believed He Was Innocent - Before Revealing She Was Eddie's Wife

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

Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) - Remembering the Night With Helen When He Ran Off

The Killer: House Detective 'Dad' Newell (Will Wright) - Confessing His Guilt

Johnny and Joyce Finding Each Other


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z