If there’s one thing California has in abundance, it’s fields. They’re everywhere in the state. So why would a motion picture company go all the way to Bulgaria just to make “The Black Dahlia”? I don’t know. But the four production companies who made the film do. So does the director, Brian De Palma. What they don’t know how to do is make a convincing film noir about Los Angeles in 1947.
I heard the rumble of audience giggles at the outset. They increased as the 130 m. movie wore on. I heard someone whisper “It’s so silly.” No argument here.
Once someone was arguing with me about De Palma. I said “He steals from Alfred Hitchcock! He steals from Eisenstein. He steals from everybody!” “ But don’t you think he steals great?” I don’t. Brian De Palma fans do. But not too many of them showed up. Maybe they were home renting his old movies. I rather liked James Ellroy’s novel: It was gutsy and passionate and vivid. But screenwriter Josh Friedman ain’t Ellroy.
The Black Dahlia is filled with actors who are good in other movies, but not in this one. Josh Hartnett’s voiceover is monotonous, Scarlet Johansson looks like young Lana Turner, but she lacks the bite and Aaron Eckhardt’s character makes no sense at all. What does he know about The Black Dahlia? What does he know about his partner? What does he know about his girlfriend? Why is he always throwing them together? He doesn’t say.
Then there are the Linscotts. Emmet (John Kavanagh) who sounds Scottish, Ramona (Fiona Shaw) who can’t navigate a dinner plate, but can chew up the scenery, Madeleine (Hilary Swank), a bisexual society gal with an affected voice and Martha (Rachel Miner) as her catty little sister. How do these guys fit in with the Black Dahlia? Well, you have to go to a lesbian night club and sit through KD Laing (who looks like Wayne Newton) singing “Love For Sale.” And you haven’t lived until you met William Finley as George Tilden, Mr. Linscott’s business partner.
Along the way, you’ll see Rose McGowan as a day player. You’ll see Gregg Henry reduced to a wordless extra role in a part that must have been larger. You’ll see screen tests of Mia Kirchner as the young woman who was born Elizabeth Short, but found fame as the corpse of the Black Dahlia.
Nearly sixty years after her death, we know what the LAPD knew at the outset: That Elizabeth Short is dead. Why? How? When? Where? Brian De Palma speculates. You’ll fidget. Elizabeth Short was a real human being, a person of worth. But the movie is silly. So you may giggle, too.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 9/20/06
USA - 2006