Welcome to today’s show, The Blue Gardenia (1953), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is The Blue Gardenia (1953). Eddie Muller of Noir Alley said that viewers are divided into two camps concerning this Fritz Lang directed the film. The first group said it is a hidden masterpiece of his career while the second group thinks it is a throw away done for a paycheck. I am clearly in the second group. I wanted to like this movie very much with stars Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, and Raymond Burr. Not so much. It even had Superman George Reeves as a detective. It should have been great. However, there were truck size holes in the plot and the killer was obvious from the beginning. I am not comparing this movie to modern films, only against other films of the period and it really doesn’t stand up.
We only have one show veteran today. But we have some exciting new people. So, let’s get going.
Richard Conte played reporter Casey Mayo. Conte was covered in Episode 98 – They Came to Cordura (1959).
Anne Baxter played the role of Norah Larkin. She was devoted to her military boyfriend until things went badly wrong. Baxter was born in 1923 in Indiana. Her maternal grandfather was the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. At the age of 11, Baxter and her family moved to New York City. The Big Apple sparked her interest in performing and by 13 she was already working on stage. Based on her performance she was admitted to a prestigious acting school. In 1937, Baxter and her mother traveled to Hollywood but the general opinion was that she was too young. She returned to New York and continued on Broadway.
Baxter returned to Hollywood at 16 and was shortly signed to a 7-year contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. During this time, she was getting bit parts that other actresses had to work for years to obtain. These movies include 20 Mule Team (1940) for MGM, The Great Profile (1940), Charley’s Aunt (1941), and Swamp Water (1941). Some did well and other not so much.
In 1942, she was in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). The next year she received top billing in The North Star (1943). Following this success, she made a dud, Guest in the House (1944), and then hit big again with Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944) with her future first husband John Hodiak.
In 1946, she was amazing as Sophie in The Razor’s Edge (1946). She received a best-supporting actress Oscar for the role. It was 1950 before she received another worthy role with All About Eve (1950). Another great role was as Queen Nefretiri in director Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956). She was beautiful and powerful in this role as she acted alongside Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston.
Her roles slowed and she was in Season of Passion (1959) and Cimarron (1960). After Walk on the Wild Side (1962), she went back to stage and television and did well on both. She was part of the series, “Hotel” 1983-1986. Sadly, she died early at the age of 62 in 1985.
Ann Sothern played Crystal Carpenter, the oldest and most motherly of the three women sharing an apartment. Sothern was born in 1909 in North Dakota. At 18 she had her first small film role in Broadway Nights (1927) and continued doing this work until 1934. In 1934, she signed a contract with Columbia Pictures and was in 11 pictures over the next few years. In 1936, Sothern switched to RKO. The two years she spent at RKO didn’t really produce any movies worth talking about. Finally, Sothern made Trade Winds (1938) and based on the strength of the movie she was hired by MGM. She made Maisie (1939) and it led a total of 10 Maisie films. She also made other films during this period.
Sothern only made four films during the 1950s. She had a television series titled “Private Secretary” 1953-1957. She had “The Ann Sothern Show” 1958-1961. Another series, “My Mother the Car” ran from 1965-1966 and Ann was the voice of “Mother the car.” This series starred Jerry Van Dyke.
Ann worked a little during the 1970s and 1980s. However, she ended her career with an Oscar nomination for The Whales of August (1987). Ann passed away at the age of 92.
Raymond Burr played the stinker, Harry Prebble. Burr was born in British Columbia in 1917. What? He’s Canadian! Who knew? I always knew Burr as a television lawyer but apparently, in the 1950s, he was the go to film noir bad guy.
Burr spent part of his early life living in China. After his parents divorced, he moved with his mother to Vallejo, California. The young Burr worked odd jobs to help support his family. During World War II he served in the Navy. He was wounded in the stomach at Okinawa and shipped back to the states.
Burr made his film debut with San Quentin (1946). In all, he was in about 90 movies. These include ethnic roles in films like Fort Algiers (1953) and The Magic Carpet (1951), ape movies such as Bride of the Gorilla (1951) and Gorilla at Large (1954), Godzilla movies such as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) the original, Godzilla (1977), and Godzilla 1985 (1984), a comedy Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), some westerns and some dramas but mostly they were film noirs and mostly a bad guy in films such as Desperate (1947), Pitfall (1948), Ruthless (1948), Sleep, My Love (1948), Abandoned (1949), Black Magic (1949), Red Light (1949), Borderline (1950), Key to the City (1950), Unmasked (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), F.B.I. Girl (1951), His Kind of Woman (1951), M (1951), Meet Danny Wilson (1951), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Rear Window (1954), A Cry in the Night (1956), Please Murder Me! (1956), and Crime of Passion (1957).
That would be enough of a career but I haven’t talked about his television yet. Burr played the role of beloved attorney “Perry Mason” 1957-1966. He had another series about a detective in a wheelchair called “Ironside” 1967-1975. There were dozens of made for TV movies, mini-series, and guest appearances on other shows as well. Burr died at the age of 76 in 1993 from cancer.
Jeff Donnell played Sally Ellis. Yes, Jeff is a girl. Jeff was born in Maine in 1921 at a boy’s reform school. This was because her parents worked there. Jess studied music and dance and became infatuated with “Mutt and Jeff” taking her new name from the pair.
Jeff began studying at the Yale School of Drama and it wasn’t long before the 19-year-old married her first husband. They started a theater in New Hampshire and it wasn’t long before a Columbia Studio’s Scout found her and got her signed to a contract.
Her first film was My Sister Eileen (1942) and she quickly fell into the role of seconds in B-movies. One of her few leading roles was In a Lonely Place (1950) where she played the wife to a cop investigating Humphrey Bogart’s character for murder. When she became disenchanted with the B-movies, she moved to RKO but had pretty much the same results.
In the 1950s she worked more on television and had a few light movie roles playing Gidget’s mom in Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963). Final she landed on the soap opera “General Hospital” 1979- 1988. Jeff died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 66.
Richard Erdman played the role of photographer and sidekick Al. Erdman has been in some reviews already but didn’t make it to getting noted. Erdman was born in 1925 in Oklahoma. He made his career in films playing sidekick and did quite well. He is known for play Hoffy in Stalag 17 (1953) and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). On television’s “Community” he played Leonard from 2009-2015. He is 91 and still living.
George Reeves played the role of Police Capt. Sam Haynes. Reeves’ was born in Iowa in 1914. He was raised in Pasadena and went to Jr. College there. He was a fit guy and when he started attending the Pasadena Playhouse, it was not long until he was discovered. He started doing minor bits in movies in 1939 and that same year he was cast as one of Scarlett’s suitors in Gone with the Wind (1939). After this, he bounced from studio to studio. It looked like he would become a big star based on his performance in So Proudly We Hail! (1943). However, military service in World War II stopped his rise and he never made it back to the top. In the Army Air Corp, he made training films.
Finally, he went back to New York to work in television and obtained the role that would make him famous, Clark Kent AKA Superman, sorry if that’s a spoiler, in the “Adventures of Superman” 1952-1958. Follow this he really had trouble getting roles and at one point considered going into wrestling. In 1959, Reeves committed suicide using a handgun. There has been a persistent rumor that he was murdered because of his affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of an MGM exec. However, there has never been any evidence of this. This topic was highlighted in the movie Hollywoodland (2006). And the sign on the hill originally said “HOLLYWOODLAND” when it was put up for a subdivision.
Ruth Storey played Rose Miller and she seemed a little old for the role. The Blue Gardenia (1954) was her film debut and she was 40 at the time. She only made 6 films. So why was she here? She was the wife of Richard Conte.
Storey was born in 1913 in New York City. After starting film work in 1954, she retired after In Cold Blood (1967) and became a psychoanalysis. She had a brief role in Rich and Famous (1981). She passed away at the age of 84 in 1997.
Nat ‘King’ Cole played Nat ‘King’ Cole. Like Elvis, he was such a great singer they just let him sing in movies. Cole’s first movie was Citizen Kane (1941) as a lounge singer. His final movie was Cat Ballou (1965) where he played the dual role of Shouter / Sunrise Kid
Casey Mayo (Richard Conte), a top newspaper report and his photographer Al (Richard Erdman) arrive at the telephone company right at lunch time. Mayo goes in to try and pick-up the women that work there. He is a cool cat and has a little black book with a rating system. Once inside, he gets the number of Crystal (Ann Southern). Another playboy, Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr) is already there working the angles. Prebble is an artist and gets to know the woman by drawing pictures of them. Mayo gives the number away to Prebble and he writes it down on his drawing. Crystal’s two roommates, Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter), Sally (Jeff Donnell) who also work at the phone company, come over and Prebble tries to put the moves on Norah. He is told by Crystal that Norah has a boyfriend that is stationed in Korea.
Prebble goes into his office where he gets a call from a woman. He rebuffs her for calling. Her name is Rose (Ruth Storey). Prebble refuses to see her and has even changed his home number. Rose says that he has to help her and he gives her the brush off.
Back at the apartment where the three females live together, Norah, who is celebrating her birthday, has a new black taffeta dress, and she is preparing for a candlelight dinner with a picture of her boyfriend and the most recent letter he has sent. Sally gets a call and rushes out to get a mystery book. Crystal is picked up for a date by her ex-husband. When the other women leave, Norah sits down to read the letter.
When Norah reads the letter, she is crushed to find out that it is a Dear Jane letter and her boyfriend is marrying someone else. As she is in a daze, Prebble calls looking for Crystal but gets Norah, who out of desperation decides to meet Prebble. Jeff reads the letter after Norah leaves.
Mayo is at the bar drinking and he and Prebble are friendly. Norah goes to the Blue Gardenia tiki bar where Prebble has a dinner table all set. He is very happy with the mix-up. They sit-down and the Polynesian Pearl Diver drinks are brought to the table. Listen to this recipe!
1 1⁄2 oz Puerto Rican Rum
1⁄2 oz Demerara Rum
1⁄2 oz Jamaican Rum
1 bsp Falernum, Velvet Falernum
1 oz Orange juice
3⁄4 oz Lime juice
1 ds Butter (sweet)
1 ds Honey
1 ds Vanilla syrup
1 ds Allspice Dram
1 ds Cinnamon syrup
Man, that’s 2 ½ ounces of rum and a bunch of sweet stuff. Sweet butter really. I feel the hangover already. A blind lady sells Prebble a Blue Gardenia for Norah. Nat King Cole sings Blue Gardenia as Norah puts away about six of the pile drivers, I mean Pearl Divers. Norah is drunk and slurring her word as Prebble orders more drinks.
Prebble takes Norah back to his studio apartment where he has many paintings in progress. He tells her he has invited some friends over. Prebble opens a bottle of champagne and cuts his finger on the wire. Norah drunkenly hands over her handkerchief. She takes the drink but spills more than she drinks. Prebble puts on Blue Gardenia by Nat King Cole. Norah asks for coffee and to lay down. Prebble gets the coffee and it’s steaming. Then they show him putting a bottle away. He gives Norah the drink and she swigs it down as it is not hot and is mostly booze. Norah tries to dance but is too drunk. When she passes out, he pounces upon her in a typical case of date rape. Norah tries to push him away but he is too strong. Prebble is trying to force Norah to stay and she grabs a fire poker and clunks him on the head.
Norah wakes later and is still at Prebble’s studio. She sees the broken mirror and runs out into the storm. Somehow, she makes it to her bed and is woken in the morning by Crystal. She doesn’t remember anything after having a couple of drinks. Jeff quizzes her about the letter.
In the morning, Prebble is found dead, murdered with a poker. The head detective is Police Capt. Sam Haynes (George Reeves). The maid has destroyed most of the evidence before she found the body. They have Norah’s shoes, handkerchief, a Blue Gardenia, but no prints. Mayo and Al come in cover the murder. The record on the player is not Nat King Cole. Mayo is shocked when he finds out it is Prebble that has been killed.
Capt. Haynes goes to the telephone company and starts interviewing women that Prebble has painted. When another woman drops a hand mirror, Norah starts remembering the smashed mirror at Prebble’s apartment.
Mayo interviews the blind flower seller and finds that the lady with Prebble from the night before was wearing a taffeta dress. Norah becomes more concerned as she finds out more detailed. Norah calls her supervisor over to take her board and I can’t help but think how it so similar to supervising air traffic controllers taking over on the screen in movies.
Norah goes outside and sees in the paper that Prebble has been killed with a poker. She starts to leave the building but police are outside so she finishes her shift. Mayo begins writing his news article. He gets the idea from the copy boy to call the killer the Blue Gardenia Murderess.
When Jeff reads the story, Norah jumps when the taffeta dress is mentioned. She tries to defend the murder to her roommates. After the others go to sleep Norah sneaks outside to burn her black taffeta dress. In the middle of the process, a patrol car stops and questions her about burning trash outside of the prescribed hours. After some tension, they let her off with a warning.
Mayo and Al get tickets to cover the next H-bomb blast. When the editor recommends writing the murderer a letter, Mayo starts printing stories asking the killer to turn herself in. He says he wants to help her.
Norah is getting ready to take up the offer. When the phone rings, the caller asks if it is the Blue Gardenia killer. She hangs up but it is only Crystal’s ex, making a joke. Norah freaks and runs outside and there is a cop at the door. He is only looking for the manager.
Mayo screens the calls and uses shoe size, 5 ½, like the prince in Cinderella to determine the real killer. Capt. Haynes calls in to see what Mayo is up to. Norah finally calls in but she has a handkerchief over the receiver to muffle the voice. She describes the shoes and they start tracking the call. About this time, a police car pulls into the station she is calling from and Norah runs away leaving behind another handkerchief.
Mayo gets a call from Capt. Haynes saying the handkerchiefs match. Norah calls back and says she is the friend of the killer and wants to meet. Mayo tells her she lost her handkerchief. He convinces her to come to the newspaper and she stops and buys something at the drug store.
Mayo startles her in the dark room but invites her in. They exchange life stories. Norah believes Mayo can be trusted. He wants an exclusive story in exchange for a good defense lawyer. Norah tells the true story including the part about not remembering. Mayo spills an ashtray on Norah to see if she has a handkerchief.
They go to a diner and continue talking and she mentions The Blue Gardenia record. He puts it on the jukebox. He tells her they have her shoes, two handkerchiefs, and maybe prints off the phone. He tells her to bring her “friend” at 3:45 the next day. Norah gets away when some drunks come in the door.
Mayo is sweet on Norah and tells Al she is not the type to go in the little black book. Norah makes it home and Crystal is waiting up for her. Crystal noticed that the dress and shoes are gone and she figured out that Norah was the killer. Crystal takes it pretty well.
The next day Mayo goes to the diner and Crystal is waiting in a booth. She tells him the real girl is ready to give herself up. Norah is waiting in the next booth. Mayo is in shock because Norah appears to be so nice. Norah guilts Mayo saying she knew she could trust him and he doesn’t know what to do. He is not sure what to do because he is falling for her. About this time, Capt. Haynes comes in arrests Norah having been tipped off by the waiter. Norah thinks it was just a trap set by Mayo.
Norah is fingerprinted, photographed, and booked. Mayo and Al go to the airport to fly to the H-bomb blast. Mayo thinks he has missed love. Suddenly he hears the music that was on the record player at Prebble’s apartment. Mayo gets Capt. Haynes and explains the theory to him. They trace the album back to the record store. That is something from a bygone era. The manager knows Prebble and the sales person was Ms. Miller. When she turns, it is Rose, who called Prebble at the beginning of the story. Rose goes into the restroom and cuts her wrists.
In the hospital, she confesses going to Prebble’s apartment and finally getting inside. She is pregnant and can’t go through it alone. He won’t commit to marrying her and he puts on their song. When Rose sees the handkerchief on the floor she killed him with the poker. Norah is brought in in prison garb to hear the confession. She feels sorry for Rose. At the Hall of Justice, Norah is released. When Mayo tries to talk to him, Norah storms away. Crystal says for him to call Norah. As the females walk away it is their plan to trap Mayo. Mayo gives his little black book to Al.
World-Famous Short Summary – Taffeta, darling.
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Beware the moors