Blue Gardenia, The (1953)

“Sudden death sells papers, son.”

Synopsis:
A woman (Anne Baxter) despondent after being dumped by her long-distance soldier-boyfriend accepts the offer of a womanizing painter (Raymond Burr) to go on a date, not realizing he will ply her with drinks and try to rape her. When Burr is found dead in his apartment the next morning with a blue gardenia lying on the floor, an ambitious reporter (Richard Conte) tries to crack the case by promising to help out the “Blue Gardenia” killer if she calls him.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this “mediocre Fritz Lang film takes too long to get started, forcing the final, more interesting scenes to be rushed.” He notes that “typically, Lang has Baxter [the protagonist] ignore her moral senses for a slight indiscretion, fall into fate’s trap, become involved in a crime that she might be convicted of whether innocent or guilty, and become increasingly paranoid that she is alone and everyone is pointing accusing fingers” — though he adds that “significantly, this is the only time Lang lets this happen to a woman.” Indeed, in Ben Sachs’ review of the film for the Chicago Reader, he notes this is “the only Fritz Lang film that could be categorized as a women’s picture”, given that “the central characters are three single women” — Baxter lives with two blonde roommates, divorced Crystal (Ann Sothern) and crime-fiction-obsessed Sally (Jeff Donnell) — “navigating hazards of working life and the dating scene as they try to get by in Los Angeles.” The scenes between the three supportive roommates are among the most memorable in the film, adding a humorous and humane touch to the proceedings. Burr, meanwhile, is effectively menacing, voicing his lines with a thorough degree of veiled creepiness: “Women always surprise me when they take off their… shoes.” While I agree that this Lang flick is nowhere near his best, even one of his “mediocre” outings is worth a one-time look by his fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nicholas Musuraca’s atmospheric cinematogrophy
  • Raymond Burr as Harry Prebble
  • Ann Sothern and Jeff Donnell as Norah’s roommates

Must See?
No, though it’s definitely worth a one-time look.

Links:

3 Responses to “Blue Gardenia, The (1953)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see. I wouldn’t refer to it as “mediocre” but I found it rather standard as a murder flick.

    To me, it’s more along the lines of a popcorn movie – it’s not wildly memorable but it’s interesting-enough to pass the time with. The last 15 minutes seemed the most engaging.

    I found the performances to be mixed. Standouts are Burr, Conte and (esp.) Sothern – who is particularly natural and believable. I love her attitude about the man she continues to date after divorcing him: “Homer always had a husband’s faults. But now he has a boyfriend’s virtues.”

    George Reeves does well in his small bit as a police detective, and it’s nostalgic seeing Nat ‘King’ Cole singing the movie’s theme song in a club.

    I’m much less taken with Donnell as the third roommate. It’s an oddly written role and Donnell contributes by playing it oddly. The larger problem is Baxter.

    This is one of Baxter’s roles that I don’t really buy her in. I checked her filmography at IMDb. Throughout her career, she didn’t really make that many top-tier films – but it *seems* as though she did because some of the films she made were indeed biggies (i.e., ‘All About Eve’, ‘The Ten Commandments’, ‘The Razor’s Edge’ – for which she won the Oscar).

    Overall, I think Baxter tends to give affected performances: she reminds us that she’s acting when she should, instead, just act. Occasionally the affected quality works in her favor (i.e., in ‘All About Eve’ – where she is *supposed* to be a phony, so her style is appropriate – and in ‘The Ten Commandments’, where DeMille directed her to be over-the-top, which she reportedly said she enjoyed). But she’s not among my favorite performers.

  2. I’m glad you brought up Baxter. I wasn’t happy with her performance (as perhaps shown by not calling her out at all) but couldn’t quite put my finger on why; I think you nailed it. She’s “overly acting”.

    Donnell’s character, to me, is a bit of a caricature, but I didn’t mind the comic relief. Yes, Sothern’s character is much more interesting; I do love her attitude towards dating her ex-husband. 😉 That came as a bit of a surprise given this wasn’t Pre-Code.

  3. Baxter’s look here kept reminding me of Marilyn Monroe… Not sure if that was intentional or not.

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