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PCR # 338  (Vol. 7, No. 37)  This edition is for the week of September 11--17, 2006.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Black Dahlia"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Great Company....Set Phasers on Numb....Speaking of Star Trek....Musical History....Speaking of Music....My Favorite Films, Part 37: "Hoosiers" by Mike Smith
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Starring: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank and Mia Kishner
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute

In June, 1987, director Brian De Palma sat in my theatre lobby for almost five hours. At least I think it was him. It was opening weekend for "The Untouchables" and the man in the lobby watched the crowds go in and occasionally talked to people when the film was over. I called every one I could think of and told them, "You won't believe this, but Brian De Palma is in the lobby." They didn't.

In 1947, Elizabeth Short left her home in Boston and headed to Hollywood in search of fame. She achieved that fame when her body was found in the weeds. She had been cut in half, disemboweled and disfigured. The press, as eager to sensationalize 60 years ago as they are today, had a field day. Playing on the title of a current Alan Ladd film, "The Blue Dahlia," they labeled her The Black Dahlia since in most of her photographs she wore black. Though the case has never been officially solved, "The Black Dahlia" is a look at what might have been.

Police officers Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard are two of L.A.'s finest. They also have some fame as former boxers who fought, respectively, as Mr. Ice and Mr. Fire. They are partners who do everything together, including sharing a female friend, Kay Lake (Johansson). And by friend, I mean friend. They are like the Three Musketeers, doing everything together. As Bucky says, "Kay is in the middle, not in between." When a mutilated body is discovered, Bucky and Lee are assigned the case. Each works it his own way and what they discover is that many things are not as they seem.

Filled with atmosphere and attitude to spare, "The Black Dahlia" is film noir at it's finest. Director De Palma has stopped at nothing in recreating the California of the past. The men all wear hats and talk tough while the woman seem to float by on their own beauty. But the beauty is only skin deep as secrets are revealed and deals made to protect them. The film is perfectly cast, with Hartnett and Eckhart doing career work. Both actors show the effects the case has on them, both professionally and personally. Eckhart, who refers to the dead woman as "our girl," burns with a rage not seen since Russell Crowe snapped a chair in "L.A. Confidential," coincidentally also written by James Elroy. As the femme fatales, Johansson brings a quiet coolness to Kay while Swank is pitch perfect as a young socialite that may hold the key to the puzzle. De Palma has also cast two of my favorite character actors, Mike Starr and Kevin Dunn, in supporting roles and neither one disappoints. Cheers also to Kishner, who portrays Elizabeth Short. Seen only on film during various "screen tests," she shows with her eyes the underlying sadness Short felt while chasing her dreams. And long time De Palma fans (guilty) will be happy to see "Phantom of the Paradise" star William Finney back on screen in a small role. The production values are outstanding, with much credit being due cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and production designer Dante Ferretti. The musical score by Mark Isham is smooth and soulful. But none of the above would matter if not for Brian De Palma. He has combined the great work of the others with his knowledge of the camera and made, in my opinion, a film as great as "Chinatown" or "L. A. Confidential."

I should end this by saying that six years after my "sighting," I did meet Brian De Palma. We talked for many minutes about his work and, as we finished, I asked him if he had been in Baltimore when "The Untouchables" opened. He laughed and said "no," but the way he hesitated before he said it has always made me wonder.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "The Black Dahlia"  Four stars

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    This week's movie review of "The Black Dahlia" is ©2006 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2006, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.