Monday, August 29, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Blue Dahlia (1946) - A Character With Honor

[Quick Summary: A Navy lieutenant returns home, only to become a suspect in the death of his estranged wife.]

This is a good, but not great, script.

However, I think it's worth a read because:
1) Chandler wrote this script under unique strained circumstances and timeline;*
2) The protagonist has a code of honor, a frequent theme of Chandler heroes.

Johnny is our honorable hero and prime suspect here.

Since he's a suspect, wouldn't we expect him to pursue the murderer? Yes, but clearing his name is not the sole reason.

His honorable streak is seen in a variety of situations:

- When a friend is about to take the rap for Johnny, he flies into action.
- He does not spill secrets on Mrs. Harwood, even though it could've benefited him.
- In the scene below, he takes the responsibility of confronting his wife's lover.


As Harwood comes up to the bureau, Johnny following. Johnny leans in the doorway. Harwood goes to work on his tie again.

HARWOOD: If you had good sense, you'd be five hundred miles away. Half the cops in L.A. are looking for you.

JOHNNY: Only half?

HARWOOD: All I have to do is pick up the telephone - and you'd go out of here in handcuffs.

JOHNNY: Why don't you?

Harwood finishes tying his tie and turns.

HARWOOD: I guess I'm not that kind of rat.

JOHNNY: What kind of rat are you?

HARWOOD: Not a police informer anyway.

JOHNNY: Neither am I - so far.

HARWOOD: Whatever that means.

Harwood doesn't answer.

HARWOOD: You rate yourself a pretty tough boy, don't you?

JOHNNY: Tough enough to find out who killed my wife.

Harwood picks up his dinner jacket, starts to put it on.

HARWOOD: Everybody seems to think you killed her.

JOHNNY: Not quite everybody. I think you killed her.

HARWOOD: Don't be a dope. Just because I took Helen out a few times - and you put on that injured husband act...

JOHNNY: What would be a dope in your book?

HARWOOD (impatiently): A guy without sense enough to get out while he can - and hole up in some quiet place where they don't know you -

JOHNNY (cutting in on him): They don't know me here.

HARWOOD: They soon will.

JOHNNY: Go ahead. It's only a nickel call.

Harwood looks at him, puzzled. The doorbell rings in the living room. Neither man pays any attention to it."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: An honorable man isn't a goody-two shoes, but one who abides by his unwritten code. (Note to self: Define the code first.)

Also, I know morally ambiguous characters are popular these days, but an honorable character in a morally ambiguous situation is quite refreshing.

The Blue Dahlia (1946)
by Raymond Chandler

*Do not miss producer John Houseman's fascinating account (a star leaving for the war; a half done script; Chandler's heroic intoxication): Lost Fortnight, A Memoir

**For more: Afterword: Raymond Chandler and Hollywood, by Matthew J. Buccoli

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