The Blue Gardenia, Fritz Lang (1953)

One of the great Lang noirs. As in The Woman in the Window, a good egg (in this case Anne Baxter, best known, probably, as the Eve of All About Eve) is accidentally drawn into a murder case. And also as in The Woman in the Window, the female lead is half real, and half imaginary. In the earlier film, the imaginary aspect was the product of a dream; here it’s the result of newspaperman Richard Conte’s desire to sell papers. Conte conjures a sensational story about “the Blue Gardenia Murderer” where none existed, but ironically, his representations begin to reify as the picture goes on. (Tell everyone your kids were abducted by a nonexistent black guy, and pretty soon he’ll exist.)

Lang’s been in Hollywood for nearly twenty years when he makes this, but it’s the first of his films that seems utterly of Los Angeles. Note the background of the title card: freeways. (Then consider the vapid promise of the word “freeway.”) Nearly all the characters are either vain, predatory, needy, self-deceiving, or some combination of these, and all are marked by a tendency to overvalue appearances and despise the real. I know these are all hallmarks of film noir in general, but there is no moralizing in Lang’s noir, as there in in Preminger’s; no relish, either, as there is in Fuller’s and Mann’s; no charm, as there is in Hitchcock’s and Huston’s; no joy, as there is in Wilder’s. Lang’s noir is analytical. He watches and takes note. This is why his two greatest noirs–The Blue Gardenia and The Big Heat–are so dispiriting to watch. There’s no one to love or hate or fear, there are only people being people: mean, grubby, and small. Don’t see it with someone you love.

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