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The Black Dahlia
One of Hollywood’s most infamous murder mysteries
The Black Dahlia
A Scene from "The Black Dahlia".
OPENING WEEKEND: $18,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $63,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

March 15th, 2006: Based on the true story of the unsolved and perplexing murder case, The Black Dahlia takes place in a cynical 1940s Hollywood. When the mutilated body of young starlet Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) is discovered in a field, two cops, Officer Dwight Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Sergeant Leland Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) are assigned to the investigation. As Blanchard obsessively immerses himself in the sensational case, he begins a bizarre and rocky relationship with Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), a startling Elizabeth Short look-alike. At the same time, Bleichert is drawn to the shadowy Madeleine Sprague (Hilary Swank), who may have a rather unpleasant connection to the murder victim. The two detectives soon begin to unravel layers of corruption and conspiracy within their own police department.

What to Expect: Elizabeth Short, also known as “The Black Dahlia,” was very much like thousands of other young women, who came to Hollywood with glitzy dreams of fame and fortune. Ironically, she would attain the desired notoriety after being gruesomely murdered, disfigured, and discarded. The crime scene photos were apparently so disturbing that they were never released to the public, but her body was described as having been severed down the middle with her throat cut from ear to ear. Additionally, it appeared that the corpse had been washed and intentionally positioned in plain sight to be easily found later. Media frenzy and police incompetence transformed the story into a national spectacle. Elizabeth Short was labeled (possibly inaccurately) as “The Black Dahlia” for her black clothing, her dark and secretive personality, and for her tendency to “adventurously” wander the streets at night. At the same time, the debauchery of the investigation led to rumors of possible corruption within the police force. The incident haunted the public for many years and the perpetrator has never been found.

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The film will be based on established American author James Elroy’s novel of the same name. The nearly identically themed L.A. Confidential is possibly his most famous work since it was adapted into a marvelous film-noir nine years ago. The central event in The Black Dahlia is based on fact, but Elroy fictionalized the plot and the principal characters. At one point, David Fincher was interested in directing this brooding mystery, but eventually the elegant auteur Brian De Palma took over. Famous for devoting his movies to try and recreate and capture Hitchcock’s essence, De Palma has frequently been accused of having too much style with little substance. While it is true that his films lack the depth of Hitchcock’s most personal work and some have even been astoundingly abysmal blunders (Mission to Mars, Snake Eyes, The Bonfire of the Vanities), De Palma is capable of crafting magnificently entertaining work, like the vastly underrated Femme Fatale, the amply stylish Dressed to Kill, or the classics Carrie, The Untouchables, and Scarface. When he’s at his best, his style becomes the substance.

Visually, The Black Dahlia should resemble the dazzling cinematography and design of The Untouchables. Thematically it will touch upon classic film-noir elements of murder, intrigue, corruption, obsession, and immorality, all familiar to De Palma. There’s incredible potential here that he could fashion a truly gorgeous and spine-chilling thriller. The eerie details of the murder alone are an excellent starting point. The first-rate cast of Hollywood’s rising stars is quite appropriate for the film’s content, but I’m slightly curious if the two male leads are perhaps not a bit too “clean” or “wholesome” for this genre. The lovely Scarlett Johansson and the two-time Oscar winning Hillary Swank, on the other hand, both possess that classical Hollywood beauty that is perfectly suited for their tempting and seductive characters. Johansson also has another period piece in the works, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, which is currently scheduled for release one week after The Black Dahlia opens.

In Conclusion: This could be a great film and I tend to believe that once the dust settles, it will be grouped with De Palma’s better entries rather than his failures. Early word from test screenings is that there are some problems with pacing in the film, but as usual, this is based on the first cut. A lot depends on the editing and inevitably The Black Dahlia will be trimmed down, hopefully to a more efficient and effective tempo, without damaging the content. Of course period thrillers are usually not as appealing to audiences as ones that are set in modern times, or even better, in the future, so The Black Dahlia might not set the box-office ablaze, however, it should be a delicious treat for movie buffs.

Similar Titles: The Untouchables, L.A. Confidential, Chinatown, Mulholland Dr.
September 15th, 2006 (wide)
December 26th, 2006 (DVD)

Universal Pictures

Brian De Palma

Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Mia Kirshner, Hilary Swank, Fiona Shaw, Gregg Henry, Mike Starr

Total: 57 vote(s).

Drama, Suspense

Click here to view site

Rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language.

121 min






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