RARA-AVIS: The Blue Dahlia

From: DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net
Date: 02 Dec 2005

After going through more boxes that I thought I would have to (it wasn't in the one it was supposed to be, of course), I found my copy of The Black Dahlia screenplay. It was published in 1976 by the Southern Illinois University Press. Along with the screenplay, the book contains a memoir by the film's producer, John Houseman (originally published in the August 1965 issue of Harper's), and an afterword by Matthew J. Bruccoli.

So here are their versions of the story of the movie:

Alan Ladd was going back into the Army in three months and Paramount wanted to shoot a new movie with him before he went. But they had no script. At about that time, Houseman had lunch with Chandler, who complained he was stuck on a book and thinking about converting it into a screenplay. The two went to Chandler's house, Houseman read the 120 completed pages and Paramount bought it for what Houseman called "a substantial sum." In three weeks, Chandler turned what he had completed into 70 pages in script form and the studio started shooting with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. For a while, he stayed barely ahead of them, but the filming threatened to catch up to him at page 93, where he stalled. Finally, Chandler, who had been sober for a while, came up with a plan. He couldn't write at the studio sober, but he could write at home drunk. So he gave Houseman a list of what he'd need -- round the clock secretaries, a doctor on hand (for "vitamin" shots), etc. He didn't eat a thing and stayed drunk for eight days, but completed the script, the last line of which was: Did somebody say something about a drink of bourbon?

Houseman never mentions the required ending change, strongly implies but never explicitly says, that Chandler didn't have an ending, didn't know who did it, and that was why he stalled, first on the book, then on the script. Bruccoli says different. He says Chandler knew who the killer was from the beginning, but the Navy overruled him, since at the the time, all servicemen conduct in movies had to be approved by said services. In a 1946 letter to James Sandoe, Chandler wrote:

Yes, I'm through with The Blue Dahlia, it dates even now. What the Navy Department did to the story was a little thing like making me change the murderer and hence make a routine whodunit out of a fairly oiginal idea. What I wrote was a story of a man who killed (executed would be a better word) his pal's wife under the stress of a great and legitimate anger, then blanked out and forgot all about it; then with perfect honesty did his best to help the pal get out of a jam, then found himself in a set of circumstances which brought about partial recall. The poor guy remembered enough to make it clear who the murderer was to others, but never realized it himself. He just did and said things he couldn't have done and said unless he was the killer; but he never knew he did them or said them and never interpreted them.

Two other script changes were made. An actor playing a thug broke his toe during filming, so they worked that into the film. Also the last scene was changed. Instead of going off with his friends to get that drink of bourbon, Alan Ladd left his friends behind to go off with Veronica Lake.

Chandler's final estimation was:

In less than two weeks, I wrote an original story of 90 pages. All dictated and never looked at until finished. It was an experiment and for one subject from early childhood to plot-constipation, it was rather a revelation. Some of the stuff is good, some very much not.

I also found out today that The Blue Dahlia has not come out on DVD. I'm pretty sure I have it somewhere on tape. Guess I've got to move some more boxes.


ps -- SPOILER: WHO DID IT IN THE MOVIE -- it was the house dick.

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