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|Index||14 reviews in total|
"This is about a murder that really happened. Nobody made it up. As far
as I know, there's never been another one before or since, quite like
it --- ever!" Those ominous words, spoken in VO by Efrem Zimbalist,
Jr., open this 1975 docudrama that chronicles a real life murder
mystery that has never been solved.
Elizabeth Short moved to California in the 1940's, in search of show-biz stardom. The fact that this beautiful young woman wore mostly black clothes to match her black hair led others to nickname her "The Black Dahlia". On January 15, 1947, her mutilated and exsanguinated body was found in a vacant field in Los Angeles. The homicide immediately created national interest. And in the fifty-plus years since her death, this unsolved murder has evolved into a major legend.
The screenplay for "Who Is The Black Dahlia?" is factual, well written, sensitive, and thankfully low-key. The story, told in flashbacks, is riveting. In one chilling scene, a man stands in a telephone booth and, with his back to the camera, conveys to the newsman on the other end of the line crucial details about the murder that only the killer could know. The man's face is never shown.
Playing the role of Elizabeth Short, Lucie Arnaz gives a credible and sympathetic performance. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. convincingly plays Sgt. Harry Hansen, the frustrated, lead detective. The support cast is equally effective. The film's music is appropriately downbeat and depressing.
Some viewers may find the plot to be slow. Certainly, the film's lack of in-your-face violence and gore will disappoint the tabloid crowd. But for thinking people, for viewers who can appreciate a thoughtful and insightful analysis of a horrible crime, I recommend this film most highly.
In the film's final VO, Sgt. Hansen reflects: "We never found anybody who saw Elizabeth Short the last six days of her life ... In Los Angeles police files, The Black Dahlia murder case is still open."
I too was frightened the first time I saw this TV movie. It tells the story of the short life, and gruesome, unsolved 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, whose nickname was the Black Dahlia, a type of flower. There is a certain creepiness that pervades this low-key period story, told in flashbacks of Short's brief Los Angeles existence before her slaughter. Efram Zimbalist, Jr., portrays the detective who becomes obsessed with the young, attractive woman's story. The period details feel right, for I am too young to have any first-hand experience of the time, and Lucie Arnaz's performance as the doomed title character adds emotional weight to what could have been an exploitive picture. This is another example of how superior, in general, '70's made-for-television movies were to future endeavors.
This made for t.v. movie terrified me when I saw it in 1975. One of the
people with whom I was living at the time said, "Watch this and tell me how
it turns out," then left to go out.
By the end, in which the Sgt. Harry Hansen character looks at the camera and speculates about the murderer (I won't say any more than that), I was so scared that I ran around the whole house and turned on the lights and didn't go to bed until my housemates returned at 2:00 a.m.
The plot develops well, in a series of flashbacks. The characters are sympathetic. The period atmosphere seems/seemed right. And most of all, unusual for the time before "docudramas," this film was based on a real case.
I am not the world's largest Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. fan (though I did enjoy 77 Sunset Strip as a child), but his work here is very good.
Literate, well-told, consistently excellent review of the events leading to the disappearance of the Black Dahlia? Marvelous performances, especially by Zimbaliest, Beckman, Mills, and DeHaven. Mystery buffs and crime drama enthusiasts alike should find this one as excellent exercise for the mind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**Warning: Possible spoilers for anyone unfamiliar with the
The grisly murder of Elizabeth Short -- the "Black Dahlia" -- has fascinated crime-buffs (along with ghouls of various stripe) virtually nonstop since that January 1947 morning when her savaged body was discovered in a south-central L.A. vacant lot. Almost immediately, and almost without exception, this focus has been sensationalized and has tended to dehumanize Short to such an extent that it's all too easy to overlook the fact that she was a human being as opposed to merely a gaudily-nicknamed, conveniently placed puzzle.
The great exception to this treatment is 1975's "Who Is The Black Dahlia?"
The film tells two stories in parallel, and it does so very effectively. Alongside the police investigation into her murder, Beth Short's life is also examined in flashback as months and days unfold to lead her to her death. There's a sense of inevitability in the air that surrounds both stories; just as certain initial steps (or missteps) in the investigation seem to foredoom its chances of success, there is likewise an aura of "paths not taken" which seems to render the Black Dahlia's fate inescapable. As portrayed (hauntingly and convincingly) by Luci Arnaz, Short emerges as a vulnerable young woman who, for all her outward cynicism, is far too trusting. In the film's final glimpse of Beth, as you watch her walking away into infamy, you may well experience an urge to run after her, stop her, maybe buy her a cup of coffee, anything to forestall the inevitable . ..
And that final glimpse leads to the "side mystery" I alluded to in the title line. Police reports filed during the initial investigation indicate that Short was last seen walking south from the Hotel Biltmore, and yet in the film -- for which retired LAPD Sgt. Harry Hansen provided copious notes from his days (and official files) on that investigation -- she's depicted as walking west along 7th Street from the Hotel Mayfair. Curious . ..
Along with Arnaz (whose mother, Lucille Ball, was reportedly dead-set against her playing the role), the movie offers standout performances by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (as Hansen), Tom Bosley (as longtime, and well-known, police reporter Bevo Means) and a very well-designed sense of time and place to heighten the authenticity in a strong film.
I watched this movie recently, and I had forgotten how good it is.This is a movie about a very famous 1947 murder case set in Los Angeles.I have seen True Confessions that starred Robert Deniro that was loosely based on this case, and I did not think it was that great.I have not seen the film The Medford Girl yet, that was based on this murder case.The cast was very very good. Lucie Arnaz who portrayed the young woman Elizabeth Short, was riveting. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. played the lead detective. His portrayal was excellent. Remember him from the Quinn Martin television series The Fbi? Ronny Cox played his partner, and he was good too. I especially appreciated the narrative that Efrem Zimbalist Jr. did through the movie, talking as the detective.It made the movie more effective.The music was good too. I love the horn being played. It takes you back to the time of big band music for the time period.All in all this is an excellent movie! I highly recommend this to anyone. by the way, this was most tastefully done, so even a teenager can watch this.
I watched the film when it was first broadcast and I remember actually being really frightened by it. It was the eerie, atmospheric setting of the movie and good acting that gave the movie it's frightening aspects not the gore and carnage that movies made today depend on. Also, after watching her for years in "The Lucy Show" it was a very pleasant surprise to see Lucy Arnez playing a sexy young woman. Her acting career was really hampered by being the daughter of the famous woman. I wish that the film would be shown again on a cable telvision channel such as TCM or AMC so I could tape it. The recent big screen movie version of "The Black Dahlia" was a major disappointment especially compared to this well done made-for-television version.
This is by far the best-told, best-acted and best-produced of all the
many movies about Elizabeth Short's story.
Lucie Arnaz's restrained performance succeeds in presenting Short as a woman of thwarted ambition, floating in a vacuum of failure, just hanging on by a thread. She should have received an Emmy for it.
This version of the Black Dahlia story has more in-depth characterization of Elizabeth Short than other versions, which go more for sensationalism.
I don't understand why "Who Is The Black Dahlia?" isn't out on DVD, especially considering its cult following.
Elizabeth Short was a beautiful woman,who desperately wanted to become an actress.She went to Los Angeles and met her terrible destiny there.Her dismembered body was found discarded in two sections like a shattered doll on a vacant lot in LA on 15th January 1947.She had been tortured while being drained for her blood,before the killer hacked her torso in two.A beautiful woman in black killed by unknown slayer."Who Is the Black Dahlia?" is a terrific mystery thriller with excellent acting and some eerie overtones.Lucie Arnaz is perfect as a desperate Liz Short.Her dreams of becoming a film star never materialised.Her fate was more than horrible.The tragic story of Black Dahlia haunts me since my childhood.8 out of 10.
Lucie Arnaz does wonders with the part of murder victim Elizabeth Short
in this TV-movie "Who is the Black Dahlia?" (1975). Her performance, a
very strong cast and a good feeling for the 1940s make this film a
quite watchable 70s neo-noir.
The story opens with Short's mutilated corpse being found in a field, followed up by flashbacks that detail her life and show aspects of the police investigation. Of the two, the parts that show her life, her shattered dreams and her apparent descent into a tawdry life are by far the better done and more engaging. The police parts of the story are more standard and suffer from several flaws that make them less interesting.
Whereas most reviewers here applaud the acting of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. in this film, I think he's the weakest in an outstanding cast. He's quite uncomfortable in the role of a downbeat sergeant, especially early in the movie. By contrast, Ronny Cox and Macdonald Carey seem much more natural and at home. Early on, Zimbalist lacks conviction in his role. He gets more into it as the story moves on. This may be exacerbated due to the relatively closed-in and static nature of the police parts of the story. The TV-movie format imposes limitations on many aspects of a production and director Joseph Pevney cannot overcome all of them. For example, the substitution of verbiage concerning the girl's body is repetitious. The camera has to focus on the faces of Zimbalist and Cox, who register disgust. It doesn't work too well.
These flaws come with the TV-turf, but they're easily outweighed by the more opened-out parts of the film in which we see Lucie Arnaz interact with her relatives and those whom she stayed with, or as we see how various men (sailors and soldiers) crudely came on to her. She combines a mixture of vulnerability, disillusionment, innocence, hope and sharp retorts and does it believably. Among the amazing supporting cast, Donna Mills is a standout as a minor actress, Frank Maxwell is fine as her distant father, and Mercedes McCambridge is her solicitous grandmother. In less filled out parts appear Henry Jones, John Fiedler, Brooke Adams, Linden Chiles and Tom Bosley.
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