The Blue Gardenia (Fritz Lang / U.S., 1953):

The tabloid headline ("Letter to an Unknown Murderess") is just the jest to be passed between émigré auteurs in Hollywood. The artist is a sketch-artist and a corpulent wolf (Raymond Burr), his double is a slick columnist (Richard Conte) who wields the bachelor’s little black book like an amulet. Between them is the pavilion of women housing a sensualist (Ann Sothern) who’s settled for drive-in dates with an ex-husband, a pulp-fiction addict (Jeff Donnell) lost in her own world of "passion and violence," and, as befits a fable of identities and connections lost and found, a switchboard operator (Ann Baxter). Dumped by her G.I. beau, Baxter impulsively accepts the smoothie’s dinner invitation and wakes up the following day to a homicide story and no memory. ("That always makes a man so romantic," Donnell sighs at the gruesome news, moments before absent-mindedly fondling a carving knife.) Fritz Lang on a shoestring, photographing Los Angeles with Buñuelian speed and strangeness: The girlie canvases in Burr’s studio accrue shadows as the lothario’s sinister side emerges mid-date, the Polynesian-themed café is an indoors jungle complete with a flower-peddling blind crone and Nat "King" Cole at the piano performing the title number. ("Pretty song. Too bad it was a background for murder.") The Woman in the Window, surely, but also Hitchcock’s atelier in Blackmail, McCarthy and Spillane, Sylvia Plath’s Mirror crack’d. Lang pulls it all together into an astringent celebration of a woman’s passion and vulnerability, bouncing off the predatory sexual grid of the Fifties like Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde flowing from the loudspeakers at a drab airport waiting-room. Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca. With George Reeves, Richard Erdman, Ruth Storey, and Ray Walker. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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