Based on The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy, which is in turn based on the unsolved 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short — one in which her black hair had been bleached and then dyed red before she was surgically sliced in half with a technique called a hemicorporectomy, her skin washed and her body was posed with her hands above her head, elbows bent at right angles and legs spread apart — this 2006 Brian DePalma movie was in development hell until L.A. Confidential was a success and Ellroy’s books got hot.
The director’s cut of the film ran over three hours but was cut down to a little over two hour for the producers. Ellroy was highly critical of the released film and claims that the original cut is a superior version of the film and more faithful to his book.
After a boxing match between them, LAPD detectives Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) become partners and friends, bonding as a trio with Lee’s girlfriend Katherine “Kay” Lake (Scarlett Johansson). Beyond her trying to sleep with Dwight outside of her relationship, she’s also branded with the initials of the mobster whose arrest made Dwight’s career.
On January 15, 1947, their lives change when the Black Dahlia’s body is found.
Dwight soon learns from Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank) that Elizabeth was a lesbian and appeared in smoker films, a fact she doesn’t want to be connected with, so she sleeps with him in exchange for his silence and then introduces him to her rich parents. Meanwhile, the man whose initials are on Kay, Bobby DeWitt (Richard Brake) is out of jail, so Lee attempts to kill him and dies in the process. That grief causes Dwight and Kay to finally make love, but when she follows him later, she sees him with Madeleine, the woman who looks like the Black Dahlia who so obsessed her now dead husband.
The end of this goes beyond noir and pulp to madness, as incestual pornographic films, ruined rich families and femme fatales nearly wipe out most of the main players, which also includes Fiona Shaw as Madeleine’s mother, John Kavanagh as her father and Mia Kirschner as the ghostly Dahlia, seen only in flashbacks and death. Kirschner was originally on set simply to feed lines to other actors in their screen tests. potential actors in screen tests. De Palma and writer Josh Friedman cast her and expanded her role from the novel. As Kirschner resembled the real Dahlia, she knew a good deal about the case and had always been told if there was a movie about the murder, she should be in it.
Plus, the cast also has Rose McGowan, Rachel Miner, Angus MacInnes (Rosey from Strange Brew), Mike Starr (the hired killer from Dumb and Dumber) and DePalma regular — and Phantom of the Paradise — William Finley in his final film.
DePalma kept up his string of being seen as a woman hater by winning the Alliance of Women Film Journalists Hall of Shame for this. Other films inducted in 2006 were A Good Year, Basic Instinct 2, Beerfest, Little Man, My Super-Ex Girlfriend and You, Me and Dupree as well as Mel Gibson inducted for his languge about women when he was arrested for drunk driving.
David Fincher had originally planned to direct this movie as a multi-hour mini-series in black and white. He left the project when he saw that he wouldn’t be able to make it to his standards. While I like this movie, I would absolutely go wild seeing what Fincher would have done.
You can get this from Deep Discount.
Extremely disappointing late-career DePalma film. It looks and sounds great, but narratively, it’s all over the map. Hartnett is low keyed, which makes Eckhart’s overacting even more egregious. Like his other weak film from a famous novel–I’m looking at you, Bonfire of the Vanities–DePalma, who is otherwise so brilliant as director, falls down when he has performers go for operatic, over-the-top performances. I think the only person with the right attitude here is tomboy Hilary Swank–a wonderful actress, but miscast as a femme fatale–having a good time with her part. It seems she knew something that no one else on set knew: The film wasn’t going to work–might as well have fun.
That’s why I wish the Fincher version had been made!