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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Black Dahlia

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Judy Thorburn

"The Black Dahlia" - Dark Murder Mystery Warrants Better Treatment

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"THE BLACK DAHLIA" DARK MURDER MYSTERY WARRANTS BETTER TREATMENT

Flick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil


On a sunny day back in 1947, a 22-year-old aspiring actress named Elizabeth “Betty” Short was found brutally murdered in a vacant lot in South Central L.A. The crime scene was gruesome as the mutilated body was discovered sliced in half, drained of blood, disemboweled, sodomized, and with ear-to-ear facial lacerations. To this day the murder of the beautiful young woman, who was labeled “The Black Dahlia”, is considered to be the most infamous unresolved murder mystery in L.A.’s history. Numerous books have been written about the murder pointing towards possible suspects, but no one has ever been found guilty of the crime. Most recently the case was revisited on TV’s 48 Hours Mystery, where a man named Steve Hodel was interviewed saying he was convinced, and had compelling evidence, that his late cruel, and sinful father Dr. Steve Hodel, who died in 1999 was the Black Dahlia’s killer. So much pointed to his Dad, yet when the show came to a close, it was up to the audience to make up our own mind. Back to the present, director Brian DePalma is hoping audiences will check out his newly released film noir, “The Black Dahlia”, based on James Ellroy’s book, which is a fictional account of the Black Dahlia crime investigation. Maybe I should have read Ellroy’s novel first, because what I thought would be an intriguing and fascinating film to hold my interest left me with my head spinning.

Screen writer Josh Friedman’s adaptation of Ellroy’s novel weaves a complex, confusing story from the perspective of two fictitious detectives played by Aaron Eckhardt and Josh Hartnett on the hunt for the elusive killer. The first fifteen minutes or so focuses around establishing the connection between cops, Leeland “Lee” Blanchard (Eckhardt) and Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Hartnett) former boxers known as Fire and Ice. After a much-ballyhooed fight in the ring set up by county officials (that has something to do with getting a bond issue passed) the boys are then matched outside of the ring as partners and friends on and off the job. Enter Lee’s live in platonic girlfriend, blonde bombshell, Kay (Scarlett Johansson) to create a strange love triangle. When Elizabeth Short’s body is found, Bucky and Lee find themselves at the forefront of the murder investigation. Lee becomes obsessed with the murder, is fixated on Short’s photos and police reports, while Bucky goes in another direction, tracking down people and information that were connected to the victim in some way. And that’s where it gets complicated. Bucky’s investigation leads to findings of lesbian trysts, police corruption, pornography, ruthless businessmen, hints of incest, and other hidden secrets including one involving a bank robbery that are eventually revealed. I am still scratching my head trying to figure it all out. In the end, the result is a disjointed puzzle with pieces that don’t quite fit as nicely as the filmmaker would want you to believe.

What I could tell you is this. Bucky winds up at a gay nightclub as a result of a tip from Short’s former roommate who said she was drawn to that scene. That’s where he encounters sultry, rich socialite Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank), who takes him home to meet her very dysfunctional family. In a most off the wall scene at the dinner table we are introduced to her father Emmett (John Kavanaugh), a real estate mogul and fan of Hitler with connections to the seedy side of the movie business. Mom, Ramona (an over the top Fiona Shaw) who dad married for her money, is boozed out and outraged that her daughter would stoop so low as to bring home someone from a lower class. And Madeleine’s younger sister Martha (Rachel Miner) is, well, eager to “draw” her own conclusions in a pencil sketch that is sexually explicit. In any case, Bucky and Madeleine engage in motel sex, where she admits she was fascinated by Short and had a one-time fling with the woman because they looked so much alike. Right there, you can deduct a few points. Really now, you will have to suspend belief to think wide eyed and pretty Mia Kirshner (from TV’s The “L” Word) who portrays Elizabeth Short, as we get to see her only in screen tests (interviewed by unseen director DePalma, whose voice we hear) and a stag film, looks anything like Hilary Swank.

What emerges are interconnected subplots and characters that have little to do with exploring who Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia, really was, and what made her tick. Eckhardt is up to speed, but Josh Hartnett, who was fabulous in this year’s Lucky Number Slevin is miscast. He looks way too young for this role and is over his head. Both Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank vamp it up to the nth degree, forever puffing away at a cigarette, a staple in all those 40’s movies. Yet, their acting leaves much to be desired. I can’t quite figure out if they were purposely trying to capture the bad acting style from many crime movies of that era. Best cast is KD Lang as the singer in the lesbian nightclub. What a perfect fit. Although the great period clothes show off Johansson’s voluptuous curves, she shows little emotion and Swank doesn’t quite evoke enough steamy appeal to be a femme fatale, as hard as she tries. You either have it or you don’t.

On the plus side is the flawless cinematography, set design and costumes. Leave it to Brian DePalma to lend some sexual perversity into the mix. His films usually have an erotic tone, but the sex scenes here are somewhat laughable, if not silly. Insight into the actual crime and the fact that whoever did it must have had some medical background to perform the grisly mutilations is never explored.

The Black Dahlia is in theatres just a week after Hollywoodland, about another unresolved death in tinseltown, hit the screen. While both have been the basis for continual speculation as to who did it, Hollywoodland’s treatment of the circumstances surrounding the death of TV’s Superman, George Reeves offers interesting, well delivered scenarios worth thinking about. Once again Elizabeth Short is a victim of Hollywood. Her real life murder, a true crime, takes a backseat to a storyline that goes all over the place and comes to a ridiculous conclusion. At the end of this take on “The Black Dahlia” mystery we are still left in the dark.