“The Blue Gardenia” (1953) starring Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, & Raymond Burr

In LA, on her birthday, telephone operator Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter), dresses up and makes a nice dinner at home. She sits w/ the picture of her fiance (a soldier in the Korean War) and starts to read his most recent letter. It turns out that he’s in love w/ an Army nurse who helped him recover and plans to marry her! Norah, though very upset/vulnerable, accepts a blind date from a man that calls up her place (wanting to reach one of her roommates). This man is an artist and noted “wolf” w/ women- Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr). He and Norah chat, eat Chinese food, and drink at the Blue Gardenia Club. Norah has some strong cocktails w/ rum (Polynesian Pearl Divers) and gets drunk. Harry takes her to his place and forces himself on her; Norah hits him w/ a poker on the head. The next morning, she wakes up at her own apt, but can’t remember what happened the previous night! In the newspaper, Norah reads that Harry is dead; also the police have her handkerchief, black pumps, and the blue gardenia she wore. Casey Mayo (Richard Conte), a star columnist, takes an interest in the murder case. Norah starts suffering from anxiety, thinking that she killed Harry.

The iconic musician, Nat “King” Cole, is seen at the piano singing the theme song- “The Blue Gardenia”- in the club. The police captain who has a friendly rivalry w/ Casey is played by George Reeves (who gained fame as TV’s Superman). Norah’s divorced/wise roommate, Crystal (Ann Sothern), notices her friend’s change in mood/behavior. Their quirky younger roommate, Sally (Jeff Donnell), prefers bloody thrillers by Mickey Mallet to a night out. This is an obvious spoof on Mickey Spillane, known for his Mike Hammer novels. There is another Hammer connection which noir-istas might notice; the photo of Norah’s fiance is that of actor Ralph Meeker (who played Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly).

This is considered a lesser noir from a master of the genre, director Fritz Lang; it was shot in only 20 days. Lang and cinematographer (Nicholas Musuraca) developed a revolutionary dolly for the camera that allowed for sustained tracking shots and intimate close-ups. Lang liked tracking into a close-up shot of an actor over cutting to a close-up later in editing. I liked the interplay between the roommates, the chemistry between Baxter and Conte, the music, and the mood. The ending is wrapped up too neatly and feels rushed. The story was by Vera Caspary, who also wrote Scandal Sheet, Laura, and A Letter to Three Wives. I saw it (for free) on YouTube.

[1] Fritz Lang made a specialty in harassed and harried protagonists getting themselves into some real jackpots… These are people who in fact were guilty. For the first time however Lang’s harried protagonist is a woman and Anne gives a great performance.

[2] One thing this film has going for itself is atmosphere. Making it all seem relevant is the featured song, more than just a theme, an integral part of the movie, sung by the enchanting man with the melodious voice, Nat “King” Cole, who makes a much too brief appearance…

Besides the hypnotic melody, the interplay among the three room mates, Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter), Crystal Carpenter (Ann Sothern), and Sally Ellis (Jeff Donnell), represents the apex of this enjoyable Fritz Lang outing… If “The Blue Gardenia” is to be classified at all, it would possibly be labeled lighter Noir.

[3] I am surprised that so many people who review it here seem not to grasp it. They complain about lack of suspense… It’s about Anne Baxter, the world through her point of view. Her life is a beautiful dream of hopes of love and happiness for the future, which turns into a horrible nightmare that spirals downward with sickening realism and pathos.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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