The Blue Gardenia

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer from 1953. I was expecting something a bit grim (IMDB genres: "Crime, Drama, Film Noir", directed by Fritz Lang) but it starts out almost as a screwball comedy: three young ladies sharing an LA apartment in 1953. Norah (Anne Baxter) is a phone operator awaiting her boyfriend's return from dodging Commie bullets in Korea. Her roomies are Sally (Jeff Donnell), a ditz who loves reading lurid crime novels by "Mickey Mallet"; and Crystal (Ann Sothern), kind of a slut, who gives out their phone number indiscriminately. For example, to Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr!) a painter who's kind of a cad and a Lothario. Wisecracks are exchanged.

One fateful night, Norah celebrates her birthday by getting dolled up and setting her candlelit dining table for two. A picture of her absent boyfriend props up his latest correspondence, and she eagerly opens it… to find a Dear Jane letter! ("Dear Baby, Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: You.")

Despondent, she's easy pickings for Harry, who calls for Crystal. They meet at (finally!) The Blue Gardenia a swanky Polynesian club. (How swanky? Nat King Cole is the piano player/singer.) Norah consumes way too many Polynesian Pearl Divers with Harry's encouragement. Then it's off to his swinging bachelor pad, where he… well, you can guess. Norah resists, everything gets hazy, and the next morning, Harry's dead on the floor.

I think I've just described about half the movie. It takes its sweet time getting there. It falls to newspaper reporter Casey Mayo (Richard Conte) to track down Norah and get to the bottom of what really happened.

So eventually there's some seamy behavior and tricky cinematography. And George Reeves shows up as a detective with a pencil-thin mustache. Nearly worth the price of admission right there.