(aka 'Black Dahlia')

Directed by Brian De Palma
USA 2006


  A tale of personal obsession and institutional rot, James Ellroy’s narratively sprawling yet intensely interior novel ‘The Black Dahlia’ was never going to adapt easily to the screen. But it had a solid precedent in ‘LA Confidential’ (also from an Ellroy novel) and its key motifs – doppelgängers, monomania, grotesque violence – seem a good fit for director Brian De Palma. Unfortunately, another of De Palma’s pet fascinations runs away with the show: like many of the characters, he’s unhealthily ‘enamored of the flickers’.

In January 1947, the mutilated body of Hollywood wannabe Betty Short was found, severed at the waist, in an empty LA lot. Around this real-life case is spun a fictional web involving boxing rivals turned LAPD partners Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) – each increasingly obsessed with the case, each comforted by Lee’s girlfriend Kay (Scarlett Johansson) – and the powerful Linscott clan, including femme fatale Madeleine (Hilary Swank) and pill-popping mater Ramona (an eye-rolling, film-stealing Fiona Shaw).

Ellroy’s prose crawls into characters’ secret hearts and under the reader’s skin, but its foetid horrors become kitschy here, the script too streamlined and the lead performances too shallow to dredge the story’s depths. It’s a story in part about the cruel tension between the glamour myth and its ugly construction, but De Palma indulges the former: the burning cars in the opening riot scene are that bit too well-placed, and while there are impressive coups de cinéma – the long crane shot that discovers the corpse, an awkward social encounter shot in the first person, another staircase shoot-out homage (this time to ‘Vertigo’) – it’s hard to see how they serve the story. Only the introduction of screen-test footage of Short (Mia Kirshner) in conversation with a boorish off-screen producer, played by De Palma himself, exposes the needy self-delusion the film otherwise coddles.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE.


Theatrical Release: August 9th, 2006 - Tokyo

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DVD Review: Universal Studios - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution Universal Studios - Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 2:01:01 
Video 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.21 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English (Dolby Digital 5.1), DUBs: Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0), French (Dolby Digital 5.1) 
Subtitles English, French, Spanish, None

Release Information:
Studio: Universal Studios

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1

Edition Details:

• Reality and Fiction: The Story of The Black Dahlia (11:10)
• The Case File (20:28)
• The De Palma Touch Presented by Volkswagen (16:59)

DVD Release Date: December 26th, 2006

Keep Case
Chapters: 20




The Universal DVD is anamorphic (in the correct 2.35:1 ratio), progressive and appears to be faithful to the shadow-filtered intent of the theatrical, moody, atmosphere. It has the appearance of a black-boosted transfer but no untoward edge-enhancement is noticeable. I expect this is a very true rendering of the way the film was presented - kind of a classic noir wannabe look. And to be fair - it works well. Any fault in the presentation of The Black Dhalia wouldn't critique the cinematography. There are optional English, Spanish or French subtitles. The 5.1 audio is quite dynamic although infrequently tested. Mark Isham's soulful trumpet sounded piercingly clear and quite haunting at times. This DVD production seems quite adept.

There are three featurettes supplemental to the DVD package. First a ten minute bio/history/background short entitled Reality and Fiction: The Story of The Black Dahlia. Then a more extensive exploration of the film's creation called The Case File includes input from writer James Elroy, Producer Moshe Diamant, Aaron Eckhart, Mia Kirshner and others. Lastly we have a 16 minute featurette - The De Palma Touch - with heavy input on De Palma's creative style.

I'll admit I was entertained but can see how the typical reaction is so staunchly negative. Being a Noir devotee, we often feel starved for even a hint of the dark cinema style - and although De Palma's effort is far from perfect I think it was a fair attempt. His penchant for exploitive obviousness is in full tow. Like myself, some may get off on the performances and seedy L.A. atmosphere. Those anticipating another L.A. Confidential will, not doubt, be very disappointed. 

Gary W. Tooze



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Distribution Universal Studios - Region 1 - NTSC


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