The Blue Gardenia (1953) – A Review

Anne Baxter in The Blue Gardenia
Anne Baxter in The Blue Gardenia

Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter) is a lonely telephone operator who inadvertently goes on a date with ladies man Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr). Getting intoxicated Norah is left at the mercy to Prebble’s aggressive behavior. After a struggle Norah blacks out and the next day learns Prebble was found murdered and she isn’t sure whether she was the woman who did it or not. But as clues such as a blue gardenia is found at the crime scene it begins to point more and more to her guilt.

Newspaper reporter Casey Mayo (Richard Conte) knows a big scoop when he sees one and makes a plea to the mysterious ‘Blue Gardenia Murderess’ to contact him. Can Norah trust Mayo? Will the police dragnet close in on her? Will the guilt she feels make her give herself up or try to cover her tracks?

The Blue Gardenia is sort of an odd film. At its core it’s a whodunit, but the mystery is put in the backseat with Norah’s paranoia being pushed to the front. Actually the mystery around Prebble’s death is wrapped up so quickly towards the end of the movie it’s almost like an afterthought. The film is mainly about Norah not knowing whether she’s guilty of murder or not and her contacting Mayo.

The Blue Gardenia 1953 noir Fritz LangOnce that happens she struggles to decide whether she can trust him to help her or will he turn her over to the police. That’s the big dilemma the story really deals with. There’s really no piecing together the events of her date with Prebble and the two of them trying to figure out what exactly happened. It’s left simply as Norah can’t remember – and that’s it. So the mystery of the murder is quickly solved in the last ten minutes of the movie and not in the most satisfying way.

I’m not saying that makes this a bad film. Leaving the murder asides it’s actually pretty compelling watching Baxter react throughout much of the story to the news of the murder and the growing interest of the police and newspapers. It’s through her point of view we witness the impact of Prebble’s murder and everyone wondering who the murderess could be. It’s a direction I hadn’t expected the story to take.

Blue Gardenia Nat King Cole Richard Conte Anne Baxter 1953 film noir

The supporting cast are all very good. Anne Southern as Baxter’s tough gal roommate, George Reeves as the relentless police captain, Raymond Burr as the womanizer artist. And Nat King Cole shows up in a brief appearance to sing the title song.

It’s Conte who I thought was the weak link in all this. As the newspaper man he gives a very humdrum performance. He’s not terrible, but he’s quite forgettable in the role. Baxter’s strong effective performance eclipses his so easily their scenes together make him the least memorable character in the entire movie.

It’s not a bad little noir. You can really see the stylish touches of director Fritz Lang in the shadowy murder scene, some scene transitions and the moody lighting in several scenes. The murder mystery is so quickly and conveniently solved that it’s difficult not to feel a bit cheated by it. But the unique execution of putting Baxter at the forefront of the story and watching it unfold from her perspective works and her performance more than anything else makes the movie worth watching.

 

I couldn’t find the trailer for the film, but here’s the seduction/murder scene with Baxter and Burr.


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