My Review of ‘The Blue Gardenia’ (1953)

This movie is based on a novella, and I aways find myself wanting to read the book when the movie is an adaptation. The novella was written by Vera Caspery, an author I’ve never read. And now, of course, I want to look up all her books and read them.

But, to get back to the movie, it’s one of those stories where someone gets blind drunk, has a violent confrontation with someone, gets knocked out, then can’t remember anything after they wake up. And, of course, the other person involved is … resting in peace.

This happens to switchboard operator Norah Larkin (played by Anne Baxter). First, she gets really bad news from her fiancé, who’s serving in the military in the Korean War. I’d say it’s a spoiler, except it isn’t exactly a huge surprise. Norah gets a “Dear Jane” letter from the man, who (to add salt to the wound) is marrying a woman who nursed him to health. I guess. She’s a nurse, and he’s ditched Norah for her.

Image via Make Mine Film Noir.

Okay, so it’s her birthday. She gets the bad news. Her roommates are out. (And they’re awesome. One of them is Ann Sothorn.) This guy calls, looking for Ann Sothorn. (Random thought: “Looking for Ann Sothorn” sounds like a great title for something. Just saying.) The guy in question is an artist named Harry (played by Raymond Burr). He’s also an unapologetic Lothario. They meet based on miscommunication (i.e., totally by chance), he gets her roaring drunk, and she’s well in the mood for that, but not for the advances he makes on her in his apartment later. And to call them advances is an understatement.

Anyway, she defends herself with one of those handy pokers people seemed to own back then. She breaks a mirror, Harry cries out, and Norah passes out. After a few cheap special effects time passes, she wakes up and totters off home.

Now, you know the rest, right? Harry’s dead and, ever so slowly as clues come to light, Norah starts putting two and two together and coming up with murder.

I’ll be honest. This is pretty standard stuff. But it is made very enjoyable by the actors. Plus, a few clever lines here and there, well-delivered.

Image via Listal.

I loved that the protagonist is a woman — who lives with two other women, who clearly like one another. Anne Baxter and Ann Sothorn both shine in these parts. In the beginning, Baxter’s smile seems ever-so-slightly fixed, but after the killing, she telegraphs genuine desperation and fear. As she walked the streets, though, I was reminded of Eve Harrington in All About Eve. Which felt slightly odd. And Ann Sothorn is, well, sassy (for lack of a better word).

Image via Cinema Paradiso.

Richard Conte (in the role of Casey Mayo, newspaper columnist) is also a welcome addition to the cast. He and Richard Erdman, who plays his sidekick/photographer Al, have good chemistry. Conte also gets to trade a few smart remarks with a detective played by George Reeves, the future Superman.

Image via Pinterest.

The movie is genuinely suspenseful and stays that way right up to the end. When the resolution I predicted by the end of the proverbial first reel occurs. That’s how good the acting is.

I think I may have seen one too many “presumed a murderer due to inconvenient blackout” movies. 🙂

The movie also features Nat King Cole, singing the title tune in the Blue Gardenia nightclub.

Image via Dwrayger Dungeon.

One more thing: I kept thinking, What’s with the use of the term “murder” in the headlines? Could be manslaughter, you know. And, next time, insert the word “alleged” somewhere in there.

Apparently, this film is one of Fritz Lang’s three “newspaper noir” movies, along with While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. It’s supposed to be a cynical take on news coverage about the Black Dahlia murder case. I can only imagine those headlines.

Or maybe I don’t have to.

Image via Spectrum News 1.

The movie’s available to watch free online. At least, at the time I write this it is. 🙂

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay by Charles Hoffman (based on the novella “The Gardenia” by Vera Caspary)

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Debbi Mack

Debbi Mack

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.