The Black Dahlia (film)
The Black Dahlia is a 2006 neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Brian De Palma, written by Josh Friedman, and starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, and Mia Kirshner. It is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by James Ellroy, in turn drawn from the widely sensationalized murder of Elizabeth Short.
|The Black Dahlia|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Brian De Palma|
|Screenplay by||Josh Friedman|
|Based on||The Black Dahlia|
by James Ellroy
|Music by||Mark Isham|
|Edited by||Bill Pankow|
|Box office||$49.3 million|
The film was screened at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival on August 30, 2006, and was released in the United States on September 15, 2006. Despite its failure both critically and financially, effectively ousting De Palma from the Hollywood studio system (his subsequent films have been filmed and financed overseas), it was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 79th Academy Awards, losing to Pan's Labyrinth. Mia Kirshner's performance as Short was also widely praised, as was that of Scarlett Johansson.
LAPD Detectives Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert and Lee Blanchard are paired as partners after engaging in a boxing match to raise funds for the department. Lee introduces Bucky to his girlfriend Kay Lake, and the trio becomes inseparable. Bucky is shocked when Kay tells him she isn't sleeping with Lee, and later tries to seduce him, but he refuses. He also discovers that Kay has been branded with the initials "BD", for Bobby DeWitt, the gangster whose arrest and conviction for a big bank robbery made Lee's career.
Bucky learns that Elizabeth was an aspiring actress who appeared in a pornographic film and hung out with lesbians. He goes to a lesbian nightclub and meets Madeleine Linscott, who looks very much like Elizabeth. Madeleine, who comes from a prominent family, tells Bucky that she was 'very close' with Elizabeth but asks him to keep her name out of the papers in exchange for sexual favors. She introduces him to her wealthy parents almost immediately.
Lee's obsession leads him to become erratic and abusive toward Kay. After Lee and Bucky have a nasty argument about a previous case, Bucky goes to Lee and Kay's to apologize, only to learn from Kay that Lee was responding to a tip about Bobby DeWitt. Bucky finds DeWitt in the atrium of a building before he is gunned down by Lee, then sees a man garrote Lee before a second figure steps out and slits Lee's throat. Lee and the man holding the rope fall over the railing to their deaths several floors below.
The grief of losing Lee propels Bucky and Kay into having sex. The next morning, Bucky finds money hidden in Lee and Kay's bathroom. Kay reveals that she had been DeWitt's girlfriend and that he abused her. Lee rescued Kay, stole DeWitt's money, and put DeWitt behind bars. Bucky realizes Lee was there to kill DeWitt and leaves, furious, to return to Madeleine, where he notices a painting of a leering clown. Kay follows him and she is appalled to see Madeleine's striking resemblance to the Dahlia.
Bucky starts putting the pieces together and remembers props in another movie matched the set in Elizabeth's pornographic film. The end credits thanked Emmett Linscott, Madeleine's father, and Bucky digs deeper into a story Madeleine told about him using old film sets to build cheap firetrap housing. In an empty house below the Hollywoodland sign built by Emmett, Bucky recognizes the set that was used in Elizabeth's film. He finds evidence in a barn on the property that Elizabeth was killed and butchered there, as well as a drawing of a man with a Glasgow smile. The drawing matches the painting in Madeleine's home and the gruesome smile carved into Elizabeth's face.
Bucky confronts Madeleine and her father in their home and Madeleine's mother, Ramona, reveals that she killed Elizabeth. She confesses that Madeleine was not fathered by Emmett but rather by his best friend, Georgie. She says Georgie became infatuated while watching Elizabeth film the pornography. Ramona was disturbed by the idea of George having sex with someone who looked so much like his own daughter, and lured Elizabeth to the house and killed her. Before Bucky can decide what to do, Ramona shoots herself.
A few days later, remembering something Lee said during the investigation, Bucky visits Madeleine's sister Martha with some questions. He learns that Lee knew about Madeleine and Elizabeth, and blackmailed Madeleine's father to keep it secret. Bucky finds Madeleine at a seedy motel, and she admits to being the one who slit Lee's throat. Although she insists that Bucky wants to have sex with her rather than kill her, he tells her she is wrong and shoots her dead. Bucky goes to Kay's house and she invites him in and closes the door.
- Josh Hartnett as Detective Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert
- Scarlett Johansson as Katherine 'Kay' Lake
- Aaron Eckhart as Detective Lee Blanchard
- Hilary Swank as Madeleine Linscott
- Mia Kirshner as Elizabeth Short / Black Dahlia
- Mike Starr as Detective Russ Millard
- Fiona Shaw as Ramona Linscott
- Patrick Fischler as Deputy District Attorney Ellis Loew
- James Otis as Dolph Bleichert
- John Kavanagh as Emmett Linscott
- Rose McGowan as Sheryl Saddon
- Troy Evans as Chief Thad Green
- Pepe Serna as Tomas Dos Santos
- Anthony Russell as Morrie Friedman
- Angus MacInnes as Captain John Tierney
- Rachel Miner as Martha Linscott
- Richard Brake as Bobby DeWitt
- Victor McGuire as Sgt. Bill Koenig
- Gregg Henry as Pete Lukins
- Jemima Rooper as Lorna Mertz
- William Finley as Georgie Tilden
- Ian McNeice as Coroner
- Fatso-Fasano as Dealer
- Claudia Katz Minnick as Frolic Bartender
James B. Harris optioned the film rights to the novel shortly after it was published in 1987. He planned to direct the adaptation and completed a script before abandoning the project to make another film. The project then languished in development hell for several years. In 1997, L.A. Confidential, the third book in Ellroy's L.A. Quartet, was adapted into a critically acclaimed and highly successful film of the same name. Its success meant that several studios became interested in adapting Ellroy's other novels. Universal acquired the rights to The Black Dahlia shortly after the release of L.A. Confidential. Josh Friedman was hired to write the screenplay. Friedman has claimed that he worked on the script from 1997 to 2005. His original script featured a cameo appearance by Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, reprising their roles as Bud White and Edmund Exley respectively.
Michael Douglas, Johnny Depp, Gabriel Byrne, and Billy Crudup were considered to play Lee Blanchard. Paul Walker, Stephen Dorff, and Chris O'Donnell were considered for Bucky Bleichert. Fairuza Balk and Tiffani Thiessen were considered for Elizabeth Short. Sherilyn Fenn, who had been the front runner for the part in the late eighties, was also a contender.
The film was originally in pre-production with David Fincher attached as director, Josh Hartnett attached to play Bucky Bleichert and Mark Wahlberg attached to play Lee Blanchard. Wahlberg was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with the planned filming of The Italian Job. Fincher originally envisioned "a five-hour, $80-million mini-series with movie stars." Fincher apparently wanted Julianna Margulies for Madeleine and Jennifer Connelly for Elizabeth. Fincher eventually left the project as he felt he wasn't going to be able to make the film exactly as he had envisioned.
When De Palma became director, he replaced Wahlberg with Aaron Eckhart shortly before shooting began in April 2005. Hartnett had remained attached to the project all this time. Gwen Stefani was considered for the part of Kay Lake. Eva Green was offered the role of the evil Madeleine Linscott, but declined as she feared being typecast as a femme fatale. Kate Beckinsale, Fairuza Balk (who had previously been considered for the Dahlia) and Rachel Bilson were also considered for the part. De Palma originally wanted Maggie Gyllenhaal for Elizabeth Short, but she declined as she disliked how the murder was used as a plot device and felt that the story disrespected Short's memory. Rose McGowan auditioned for the part but was eventually cast in a minor role as Short's roommate. Mia Kirshner was originally hired to read lines with potential actors in the auditions. However, De Palma and Friedman were so impressed with her that she was cast in the title role. Kirshner said she felt a tremendous responsibility to do justice to the real Elizabeth Short and to honour her memory. She made a decision not to look at the original autopsy photos and to focus on Short as she had been in life. Kirshner would receive critical acclaim for her performance.
The film was shot in Los Angeles and in Pernik, Bulgaria, at an estimated cost of $50 million. Only a handful of exterior scenes were filmed in Los Angeles: MacArthur Park, Pantages Theatre (and adjoining bar The Frolic Room) at Hollywood and Vine, and the Alto-Nido Apartments are perhaps the most recognizable landmarks. A standing set on the backlot of Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia, Bulgaria, was used to represent Leimert Park.
Scenes from the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs also appear in the film.
De Palma's initial cut of the film ran over three hours long, but was cut down to a little over two hours at the insistence of the producers. Author Ellroy, who was highly critical of the released version, claims this rough cut is a superior version of the film and a more faithful adaptation of his novel.
The film opened on September 15, 2006 in 2,226 theaters and came in second place over its opening weekend (behind fellow newcomer Gridiron Gang), with $10 million. It ended its theatrical run after domestically grossing $22.5 million in North America and $27.8 million in foreign countries for a global total of $49.3 million, against a budget of $50 million.
Highly anticipated by many after the success of L.A. Confidential, the film received mixed reviews from critics. At Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 32%, based on 185 reviews, with an average rating of 4.8/10. The site's consensus states, "Though this ambitious noir crime-drama captures the atmosphere of its era, it suffers from subpar performances, a convoluted story, and the inevitable comparisons to other, more successful films of its genre." On Metacritic, the film has a score 49 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale.
David Denby of The New Yorker described it as
a kind of fattened goose that’s been stuffed with goose-liver pâté. It’s overrich and fundamentally unsatisfying... There are scenes that display De Palma’s customary visual brilliance... (b)ut the movie is so complicated, the narrative so awkward, that when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place we get no tingle of satisfaction.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine commented that "De Palma throws everything at the screen, but almost nothing sticks." J. Hoberman of The Village Voice stated that the film "rarely achieves the rhapsodic (let alone the delirious)."
However, Kirshner's performance as Elizabeth was praised by many critics. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com, in a largely negative review, notes that the eponymous character was "played wonderfully by Mia Kirshner". Mick LaSalle wrote that Kirshner "makes a real impression of the Dahlia as a sad, lonely dreamer, a pathetic figure." J. R. Jones described her performance as "haunting" and that the film's fictional screen tests "deliver the emotional darkness so lacking in the rest of the movie."
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