The Blue Gardenia (1953)

The Blue Gardenia (1953), by Fritz Lang, is a cynical take on how the press handles brutal murder cases. 

Richard Conte is the slick as whistle reporter, determined to prove that the press has more might than the police, and is willing to use his position as the city's ace reporter in order to solve the murder.

Proof, if more were needed, that the mainstream home of any social comment in the 1940s and 1950s could be found in film noir. 

Indeed, the power of the press is as significant as the other beneath-the-surface aspects of the story; and this includes the idea of a woman being drunk equating to some kind of sexual consent.

The Blue Gardenia is the first part of what might be sometimes known as Fritz Lang's 'newspaper noir' trilogy, which also includes While The City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

The drunkenness of the pretty young woman played by Anne Baxter in The Blue Gardenia is almost as a form of drink-spiking. Raymond Burr, the womanising press artist at the centre of the tale, is quick to fling a few of his favourite hard beverages down her throat; the Polynesian Pearl Diver, it's called.

She drinks one, she drinks two, and the guzzling with gusto turns sour and a murder is committed.

Our hero, the telephone operator, remembers little of the evening after this drinking session, but she does end up passed out on the sofa, which is when the predatory male makes his move. That is to say, when she is safely prone. Fortunately for her, the pretty young woman wakes up enough to realise what's going on and reject the rape-like advances, and manages to fight back.

Date with an absent sweetheart. Anne Baxter in
The Blue Gardenia (1953)

This sequence is filmed in the tradition of the best film noir; a subjective montage of confused images, including a broken mirror, all echoing the madness of the moment and uncertainty of the target. Heartbreak and too much alcohol are the triggers which place Anne Baxter's character in danger, and the paranoia that follows is hers alone. As film noir goes, this is an excellent murder mystery. We witness the murder, or think we do, and Fritz Lang confuses us just enough to make the remaining pursuit a thrill ride.

Drunk and descending, sexual assault in The Blue Gardenia (1953)

The scene of the assault is well photographed, almost like it might have been by Alfred Hitchcock. Unlike later film noirs by Fritz Lang, The Blue Gardenia is made up of many of the typical dark and light shades we'd expect from the style. 

In self defence, she is automatically held by the press and the cops to be guilty, and so she begins to live in a crazy world of guilt, terrified of police and her own shadow, unsure if she is a murderer or not.

The Polynesian Pearl Diver. A vulnerable Anne Baxter in
The Blue Gardenia (1953)

There are so many elements in this picture, which despite its slight nature, are all-out full-on classic film noir. There is the uncertainty and paranoia in the mind of the lead, played by Anne Baxter; there is a strong role here for a woman; and there is social criticism, wrapped up in the ruthlessness of both the police and the the press, in hunting down the woman they believe to be responsible for a murder.

Raymond Burr as the predatory male in
The Blue Gardenia (1953)

What elevates a director like Fritz Lang when on form like this is the fact that there is something basic about the movie-making in terms of its budget, especially on what were known as B-pictures; and that means that a large part of the enjoyment becomes finding what these directors manage to create with what they have in terms of resources.

Journalism and Telephony save the day with Richard Conte and Anne Baxter in
The Blue Gardenia (1953)

There remains something curiously waspish about many aspects of The Blue Gardenia, perhaps in the cynical way so much of the power to resolve the story is handed to the press. A mass of shadows at times flow around the characters, especially Norah, the paranoid target of the assault by the predator played by Raymond Burr.

Shadow realm in film noir. Anne Baxter, paranoid in the dark in
The Blue Gardenia (1953)

Newsman as detective in film noir. Richard Conte in
The Blue Gardenia (1953)

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