I watched THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953) for the first time last night. It's a minor film noir directed by Fritz Lang at Warner Brothers on a very limited budget and in a relatively short period of time. The film had a twenty day shooting schedule but Lang's direction, a good cast, a tight script (by Charles Hoffman from a story by Vera (LAURA) Caspary) and moody cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca all add up to a solid, respectable effort.
Anne Baxter is Norah Larkin, a telephone operator in Los Angeles who shares an apartment with two other operators (Ann Sothern and Jeff Donnell (yes, that's a woman)). On her birthday, Norah opens a "Dear Jane" letter from her G.I. sweetheart. Soon afterwards, the devastated woman receives a phone call from artist Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr), who thinks he's calling for Sothern. She agrees to meet him at The Blue Gardenia nightclub where Nat King Cole sings the title song.
After too many drinks, Prebble takes Norah back to his apartment where he intends to seduce her. The seduction quickly turns to sexual assault and Norah defends herself by striking Prebble with a fireplace poker. She then passes out. When she comes to, she doesn't remember what happened and she leaves the apartment and staggers home. The next morning, Prebble's body is discovered and police homicide detective Sam Haynes (George (ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN) Reeves) is in charge of the investigation. Snooping around for a scoop is newspaper columnist Casey Mayo (Richard (THE GODFATHER) Conte).
Norah cannot recall what happened but the newspapers quickly dub the mysterious murderess The Blue Gardenia, in reference to the scant clues available. Mayo writes a letter to the killer in his paper offering legal counsel if the murderer will come forward and give his paper the exclusive rights to the story. Norah and Casey eventually meet, he falls for her and thinks she's fronting for the real killer. When he finds out otherwise, he goes ahead with the set-up, thinking he has a duty to help catch a killer.
Of course, the real killer is revealed in the third act and things end on a happy note. Lang's depiction of a cynical media exploiting crime and murder for profit fits nicely with two of his other films WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956) and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956). There are a couple of scenes that have a real noir feel to them: Prebble's murder in his apartment while rain is falling outside and Norah's first meeting with Casey in a strangely deserted newspaper city room. I can't believe that a major metropolitan newspaper would ever be dark and completely empty, even in the middle of the night but it does make for an effective sequence.
THE BLUE GARDENIA is a good if unspectacular film noir. Lang definitely made better noirs but it's certainly worth seeing at least once.