Raymond Chandler's only original film script is a 1946 murder mystery starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, considered a classic of the film noir style but with a few problems that could do with some light shedding on them.
As with most film noir tales, the plot of The Blue Dahlia is pretty convoluted. It’s safe to say that, when Alan Ladd returns from the war to find his boozing, partying wife carrying on behind his back, he's less than pleased with his welcome home. And when she drunkenly reveals that their son died in a car wreck as a result of her drinking (not with diphtheria as she had written to him), he pulls a gun on her but walks out instead. When she's found dead with a shot from his gun, Ladd goes on the run trying to uncover who killed her whilst keeping one step ahead of the law who consider him to be the prime suspect. Along the way he falls for Veronica Lake, his navy buds get involved (one of whom has shell shock and might be the killer), and there's lots of plot twists to throw us off the scent.
Despite its Oscar-nominated screenplay, The Blue Dahlia is far from the likes of The Maltese Falcon as an example of the genre which has stood the test of time. Whilst it's an enjoyable enough film, elements of it grate to the extent where you can sense some of the filming issues which surrounded the production. It was made quickly and without a completed screenplay, and the original killer and, hence, ending, was changed at the insistence of the studio who didn't want to upset the military (to tell you why would reveal too much). Chandler hated the compromised ending he was forced to come up with. Still, an Oscar nomination probably didn't hurt...
Ladd and Lake make for an attractive on-screen couple, and both put in spirited performances. It's a good reminder of why Ladd was such a star, an unlikely leading man in some ways, but a fantastic actor who convinces throughout the film. The supporting cast do a fine job too, particularly William Bendix, given the difficult task of making someone who keeps flying off his rocker because of the metal plate in his head come across as likeable and sympathetic.
And yet, somehow it isn't as gripping as it should be. Sometimes you're jarred out of the film. You can't help but notice when it's revealed that Ladd's son was killed in a car crash that, within minutes, he's flirting with Veronica Lake instead of hurtling into the depths of despair. Similarly, there's a scene where Lake is in the room when it's revealed that her husband is dead, and yet she has no reaction at all. None. A minute later and she's fawning over Ladd. It's at these points that you sense the need to get a finished script, and it's a shame because, with a little more attention to realism, The Blue Dahlia could have come out smelling of roses.