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Film / The Black Dahlia

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The Black Dahlia is a 2006 neo-noir crime film directed by Brian De Palma and starring Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank, based on the novel of the same name by James Ellroy. The film tells a fictional story based around the real life murder of actress Elizabeth "Betty" Short (played by Mia Kirshner) who came to be nicknamed The Black Dahlia. Hartnett and Eckhart play two boxers-turned-police detectives who are called on to investigate Short's murder and end up uncovering a (fictional) conspiracy around the whole thing.

The film is largely remembered as one of the most confusing and incoherent stories of all time with the Shocking Swerve popping up big time.note  This is at least partially due to several scenes being cut; Ellroy himself loved the original edit and refuses to say a word about the final version.

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Not to be confused with the 1998 adventure game. Or with The Blue Dahlia film from 1946, for that matter.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alleged Lookalikes: A major plot point is that Madeleine Linscott and the murdered Elizabeth Short looked alike. Kay is even able to spot the resemblance from several feet away on the lawn. Actresses Hilary Swank and Mia Kirschner, however, look nothing alike.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Madeleine hangs out at the lesbian bars and admits to sleeping with a woman but yet clearly enjoys sex with Dwight. Also Lorna Mertz who enjoyed making the video with Elizabeth more than the other did.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Elizabeth Short and her friend Lorna liked to hang out with lesbians in a time where such things were taboo. Elizabeth also slept with Madeleine.
  • Arch-Enemy: The newspapers play this up when Lee and Dwight have a boxing match, billed as "Mr Fire vs Mr Ice".
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  • Armor-Piercing Question:
Bucky when he asks Kay who is Bobby DeWitt and her facial expression and demeanor changes.
Bucky: Kay, who's Bobby DeWitt?
  • When Kay catches Bucky and Madeleine together.
Kay: She looks like that dead girl! How SICK are you?!
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Dwight gets his front teeth knocked out at the start of the film but gets a nice set of false ones that don't alter his smile at all.
  • Berserk Button: Anything to do with The Dahlia triggers this for Lee Blanchard. He throws a fit and trashes the place when he sees Elizabeth Short being sodomized in her pornographic film. Then he gets violently mad, lashing out at his girlfriend Kay if she insists he stops to eat something and smashes a plate when she places one on the table, the same table covered in The Dahlia's autopsy photos.
  • Betty and Veronica: Kay and Madeleine are the Betty and Veronica to Dwight respectively.
  • Big "NO!": Dwight, when he fails to get to Lee in time and is forced to watch his friend fall to his death.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lee is murdered, Dwight has now killed Madeleine and appears to still be haunted by Elizabeth's murder but him and Kay have a chance at a new life now.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Elizabeth Short. She went to Hollywood hoping to become a movie star. She actually got auditions but she was such a bad actress she never got a part and the only film she ever made was porn. Oh and then she gets brutally murdered.
  • Butch Lesbian: Elizabeth and Lorna were seen chatting with one, which points Dwight in the direction of lesbian bars.
  • Carved Mark: As Kaye prepares for her bath, Dwight notices that she has visible scaring on her back with the initials of her attacker "B.D" (Bobby Dewitt) carved into her skin. It's because of this that he wishes death on Bobby Dewitt.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Ramona is revealed to be this after her confessions of killing Elizabeth Short to her family and Dwight. This was also one of the reasons why she killed The Dahlia in the first place, as she had been disturbed by the revelation of her lover Georgie Tilden being fixed up on a date with the Dahlia and becoming more unhinged from it. Her solution was to interrupt their date, bludgeon her with a bat and murder her, effectively winning over her lover Georgie.
  • Comforting the Widow: Bucky and Kay.
  • Costume Porn: Of the 1940s outfits variety.
  • Country Matters: When Dwight interrogates one of the prime suspects (and Kay's abusers), the man he catches makes a lewd comment using this word about his time first spent with Kay sexually which is enough to make Dwight want to pummel the man.
  • Daddy's Girl: Madeleine is this with her father Emmett. A little bit too close, as revealed later by Dwight.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: First Lee, then Madeleine.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: A non slasher film example. Despite being a movie about Elizabeth Short's murder, that part of the plot doesn't kick off until 20 minutes into the film.
  • Film Noir: Packed with elements of the classical style.
  • Femme Fatale: Madeleine Linscott.
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Subverted utterly completely. The police have to watch a stag film which featured Elizabeth. She is in tears as she performs the various sex acts and Lee throws something across the room in disgust at it.
  • Guy-on-Guy Is Hot: Kay says of the boxing match, "I hope both of you look good with your shirts off".
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Dwight and Lee.
  • Informed Attribute: A plot point is the resemblance between Madeleine and Elizabeth Short. Hilary Swank and Mia Kirschner look nothing alike.
  • Incest Subtext: A disturbing example, in which reveals that Ramona Linscott's lover Georgie Tilden was so obsessed with Elizabeth Short that he desired to have sex with her despite the object of his affection resembling his own daughter. This being the reason why Ramona was disturbed by it so greatly that she sought to prevent it from happening...
  • Impaled Palm: Elizabeth Short sustains this during the filming of a pornographic film. Lampshaded by the doctor doing her autopsy.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Madeleine and her father are shown getting close to intimate on the stairs before they are intterupted by Dwight.
  • Ironic Echo: A sad point, in which Dwight makes a comment about his and Lee's boxing match with their respective titles of "Mr. Fire vs. Mr. Ice". The next time he uses this comment again, Lee is dead and about to be cremated while Dwight stands over his friend's dead body in grief quoting "Fire & Ice".
  • I Was Young and Needed the Money: Lorna admits to the police officers Blanchard and Bleichert that she accepted a deal of acting in a lesbian pornographic movie in exchange for an offer of $200, only because she thought she might be pregnant.
  • Jail Bait: One of the suspects Lorna Mertz, who was associated with Elizabeth Short before her death, is revealed to be just 15 years old. Yet she's an emancipated minor who looks and acts older than her real age and wasn't afraid to act promiscuous towards men.
  • Lady Drunk: Madeleine's mother.
  • Large Ham: Madeleine's mother (again) in the scene where she confesses to killing Elizabeth and commits suicide immediately afterwards.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Kay is the light, Madeleine is the dark. Also Elizabeth was dark while Lorna was light.
  • Love Triangle:
    • Bucky/Kay/Lee
    • Kay/Bucky/Madeleine
    • Emmett/Ramona/Georgie
    • Bucky/Madeleine/Emmett
    • Ramona/Georgie/Elizabeth Short
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Wholesome and sweet Kay is contrasted with vampy and dangerous Madeleine. Guess which one lives and gets the hero.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: During her confessional, Ramona reveals to Dwight that Madeleine was born out of her affair with Georgie, not from her marriage with Emmett. And it's because of this (along with Madeleine's resemblance to her true father) that Emmett snapped and ruined Georgie's face for it.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Duh, it is the 1940s.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Many examples of this throughout the film. Such as Lee to Bobby Dewitt, for what he did to Kay, Ramona to Elizabeth Short, in an attempt to keep her lover Georgie, Madeleine to Lee, for beating and blackmailing her father Emmett, and eventually Dwight to Madeleine, over her villainous actions such as murdering his partner and her and her family's corrupt involvement with The Dahlia. Lampshaded by Madeleine before her own death.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Dwight is at a lesbian bar during an erotic stage performance but ignores that as he is investigating his case.
  • Parental Incest:
    • Emmett Linscott with his daughter Madeleine Linscott.
    • Implied with Georgie Tilden with his own daughter, who is revealed to be truly Madeleine.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Dwight and Kay initially but they get closer after Lee's death.
  • Posthumous Character: C'mon, guess.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Dwight and Lee.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Kay accuses Dwight of this, sleeping with Madeleine because she looks like Elizabeth Short. A partial example since Dwight was never involved with her.
  • Rescue Romance: Lee and Kay was this, Lee having saved Kay from Bobby De Witt.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Lee was murdered by Madeleine dressed as a man.
  • Sassy Black Woman: A One-Scene Wonder character as a prostitute accompanying a suspect in the case.
  • Screw Yourself: Madeleine admits to Bucky this being one of the reasons why she slept with Elizabeth Short once.
    Madeleine: Elizabeth and I made love once. I just did it to see what it would be like with someone who looked like me.
  • Staggered Zoom: As Madeleine kisses Dwight, he sees something outside and the camera dramatically cuts to reveal it is Kaye who is standing outside catching Dwight and Madeleine in their embrace; both cuts with a three-shot frame complete with a Stinger.
  • Stuffed in the Fridge: Elizabeth Short. For a movie named for her famous moniker and allegedly revolving around solving her murder, she's very much in the background (even taking into consideration that for most of the movie, she's dead), serving only as a way to link the main cast.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Bucky and Kay throughout the first and second half of the film. Until Lee dies, then it's quickly resolved between them.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Elizabeth's real life murder was never solved and is still a mystery to this day. The film offers a conclusion.
  • Villainous Incest: Emmett and Madeleine Linscott who are discovered one night to be almost kissing on the stairs and having a private intimate conversation on the stairs before they are caught in the act by Dwight who interrogates them about the murder of Elizabeth Short.

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