The Blue Gardenia (1953)

Blue Gardenia (1953)

Toronto Film Society presented The Blue Gardenia (1953) on Monday, January 13, 1986 in a double bill with Kiss Me Deadly as part of the Season 38 Monday Evening Film Buffs Series “B”, Programme 6.

Director: Fritz Lang.  Producer: Alex Gottlieb.  Screenplay: Charles Hoffman, from a story by Vera Caspary.  Photography: Nicholas Musuraca.

Cast:  Anne Baxter (Norah Larkin), Richard Conte (Casey Mayo), Ann Sothern (Crystal Carpenter), Raymond Burr (Harry Prebble), Jeff Donnell (Sally Ellis), Richard Erdman (Al), George Reeves (Officer Haynes), Ruth Storey (Rose), Ray Walker (Homer), Nat “King” Cole (himself), Celia Lovsky (Blind Woman), Frank Ferguson (Drunkard).

The Blue Gardenia is a bouquet of many rather standard situations of the motion picture screen.  Three girls share an apartment…Crystal (Ann Southern), is the girl who has “been around”; Sally (Jeff Donnell), the wide-eyed innocent, who lives for the call telling her the latest mystery novel has arrived at the store; and Norah (Anne Baxter), the “good girl” who shares a birthday “in absentia”, with the boy-friend who is in Korea.  On the male side of the ledger, there is Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr), lacking only a black hat to positively identify him as the “heavy” (in more ways than one) of the piece.  An artist by trade, and man who does not hesitate to invite any young lady to “come up and see his etchings”.  Many would have been the shocked judge just a few years later when Burr assumed the Perry Mason character, to have heard the man utter such phrases as–“Women surprise me when they take off…..their shoes!!”

Enter the crusading crime reporter, Casey Mayo (Richard Conte), waging his friendly war with Police Officer Haynes (George Reeves).  (NOTE: Reeves was to put down his badge and gun, in favour of his Superman cape, and the type-casting which led to his unemployment, and eventually his suicide).

The combination of the “Dear Norah” letter, one (or more) too many Polynesian Pear Divers in the “Blue Gardenia” Club, and the none-too-artistic designs of Prebble all add up to murder…or do they?

Blue Gardenia (1953)

This is the question posed, seemingly answered, then itself questioned by Director Lang.

The Blue Gardenia is by no means vintage Lang (1890-1976), but there are traces of some of his best works…M, Clash by Night, in the film.

It was a “return” for Lang.  After Clash by Night (1951) he was placed on the infamous Hollywood black-list, not as a Communist, but as a potential communist, because of his liberal leanings.  After The Blue Gardenia, Lang was signed by Harry Cohn of Columbia, and was back to work regularly.  The film was shot in only 20 days, which according to Lang, is about the only thing he remembers of it.  However, the Lang “touch” is evident throughout, especially in the apartment scene where Prebble attempts the attack on the rum-soaked, and confused Norah.  The whirl-pool effects set the stage for the somewhat telegraphed climax.

The Blue Gardenia offers a look at a “major” director on a “minor” project, and also gives a look at a quartet of players (Burr, Sothern, Donnell and Reeves) in the days just prior to their move to the “small screen”.

And, for music lovers, a chance to see a young Nat ‘King’ Cole, in a performance of a song which became a best seller of 1953.

Notes by Bill Sturrup

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