Blue Gardenia. The (1953): Fritz Lang’s Film Noir, Starring Anne Baxter and Richard Conte (Press, Journalism)

Though not one of German director Fritz Lang’s best American films (those starring Glenn Ford, such as The Big Heat and Human Desire, are more interesting), The Blue Gardenia still features some of his characteristic themes and dazzling visual devices.

Grade: B+ (***1/2* out of *****)

The Blue Gardenia
Blue gardenia lobby card.jpg

Theatrical release lobby card

Some historians see it as the first of Lang’s “newspaper noir” movie trilogy–While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (both in 1956)—are the other two panels. The Blue Gardenia criticizes a sleazy newspaper coverage of a sensational murder case.

Anne Baxter stars as Norah Larkion, a single woman who works as a switchboard operator, sharing residence with her roommates, Crystal Carpenter (Anne Southern) and Sally Ellis (Jeff Donnell). 

Her heart is broken after receiving a “Dear John” letter from her boyfriend, a G.I. in Korea, who informs her that he plans to marry a Japanese nurse.

On an impulse, Norah agrees to meet the womanizer Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr) for dinner, and later allows herself to get drunk with six strong Polynesian Pearl Diver cocktails.

She accept Prebble’s invitation to his apartment, and when he tries to force himself on her, she hits him with a fire poker, causing a shattered mirror.

Unfortunately, Prebble is found dead the next morning by his maid (Almira Sessions), who cleaned the poker, thus removing the fingerprints.

Meanwhile, Norah, suffers a blackout as to the previous night’s events; she doesn’t even remember how she got home.  She is led to believe that she is the one who had killed him.  While fleeing the crime scene, she leaves one piece of evidence, her gray suede pumps.

Enter newspaperman Casey Mayo (Richard Conte) who, looking for an angle, invites the “Blue Gardenia Murderess” to turn herself in to him.  Wishing to catch the killer before the police, Casey writes a column, “Letter to an Unknown Murderess,” the numerous bogus phone calls he gets from local women, there’s also one from Norah.

Things get worse for Norah. When Sally reads the newspaper report that the suspect wore a black dress, Norah, frightened, wraps her own black dress in a newspaper and burns it in an outdoor incinerator. A patrolman lets her off with a warning after she apologizes.

Casey and Police Captain Sam Haynes (played by George Reeves) question a music shop clerk about the record found on Krebble’s phonograph. Harry’s ex-girlfriend Rose Miller (Ruth Storey), who had sold Harry the record, attempts suicide.

Violating the conventions of film noir, the tale, which is set in L.A., ends on a happy note, when Norah is freed after the confession of the real murderess, Rose.  It is Rose who had killed Krebble out of jealousy, and then framed Norah, who was just an innocent and intoxicated witness to the crime.

In the last scene, Norah confides to her roommates that she has forgiven Casey and has fallen in love with him.

The source novella for The Blue Gardenia was written by Vera Caspary, entitled The Gardenia. The eventual amendment of the film’s title to The Blue Gardenia was for commercial reasons, trying to attract filmgoers by making a reference to the highly-publicized unsolved Black Dahlia murder of 1947. The Gardenia first appeared in the February–March issue of Today’s Woman magazine.

Nat King Cole sings the title song and appears in the movie as the pianist at the nightclub “The Blue Gardenia,” crooning in his velvet voice. The theme song was written by Bob Russell (songwriter) and Lester Lee and arranged by Nelson Riddle.

Critic-director Peter Bogdanovich called this film a “particularly venomous picture of American life.”

The distinguished cinematography is by RKO regular, Nicholas Musuraca, who shot some of the best film noir of the era.

 

Cast

Norah Larkion (Anne Baxter)

Casey Mayo (Richard Conte)

Crystal Carpenter (Ann Sothern)

Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr)

Sally Ellis (Jeff Donnell)

Al (Richard Erdman)

Police Captain Haynes (George Reeves)

Rose Miller (Ruth Storey)

Homer (Ray Walker)

Nat “King” Cole as himself

 

Credits

Running time: 88 Minutes

Produced by Alex Gottlieb

Directed by Fritz Lang

Screenplay: Charles Hoffman, from the short story “Gardenia,” by Vera Caspary

Camera: Nicholas Musuraca

Art direction: Daniel Hall

Music: Raoul Kraushaar

Sound: Ben Winkler

Editor: Edward Mann

Song: “The Blue Gardenia,” by Bob Russell and Lester Lee, sung by Nat “King” Cole

 

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay by Charles Hoffman, based on the novella “The Gardenia” by Vera Caspary
Music by Raoul Kraushaar
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca (black & white)
Edited by Edward Mann

Production: Blue Gardenia Productions

Distributed by Warner

Release date: March 27, 1953 (L.A.); March 28, 1953 (U.S.); April 27, 1953 (N.Y.)

Running time: 88 minutes