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Black Dahlia, The (2006)

Release Date:
Friday, September 15, 2006

MPAA Rating:


Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Mia Kirshner, Hilary Swank

Written By:
Josh Friedman

Brian De Palma

Master storyteller Brian De Palma, known for such classic crime dramas as "The Untouchables," "Scarface" and "Carlito's Way," as well as his suspense thrillers "Carrie," "Dressed to Kill" and "Blow Out," directs this adaptation of James Ellroy's ("L.A. Confidential," "American Tabloid") best-selling crime novel.

"The Black Dahlia" weaves a fictionalized tale of obsession, love, corruption, greed and depravity around the true story of the brutal murder of a fledgling Hollywood starlet that shocked and fascinated the nation in 1947 and remains unsolved today. Two ex-pugilist cops, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), are called to investigate the homicide of ambitious silver-screen B-lister Betty Ann Short (Mia Kirshner) A.K.A. "The Black Dahlia"-an attack so grisly that images of the killing were kept from the public.

While Blanchard's growing preoccupation with the sensational murder threatens his marriage to Kay (Scarlett Johansson), his partner Bleichert finds himself attracted to the enigmatic Madeleine Linscott (two-time Oscar® winner Hilary Swank), the daughter of one of the city's most prominent families-who just happens to have an unsavory connection to the murder victim.

True crime meets urban legend when De Palma brings Ellroy's "The Black Dahlia" to the big screen.

Black Dahlia, The (2006) | Preview

Background information

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Born in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, Short was raised in Medford by her mother, Phoebe Mae. Her father, Cleo, abandoned her and her four sisters in October, 1930.

Troubled by asthma, she spent summers in Medford and winters in Florida. At the age of 19, she went to Vallejo, California to live with her father, and they moved to Los Angeles in early 1943. She left almost immediately because of an argument with her father and got a job in one of the post exchanges at Camp Cooke, which is now Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc. She moved to Santa Barbara, where she was arrested September 23, 1943, for underage drinking and was sent back to Medford by juvenile authorities.

For the next few years she resided in various cities in Florida, with occasional trips back to Massachusetts, earning money mostly as a waitress.

In Florida she met Maj. Matthew M. Gordon Jr., who was part of the 2nd Air Commandos and training for deployment in the China Burma India theater of operations. Short told friends that Gordon -- who according to his obituary in the Pueblo, Colo., newspaper, was awarded a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, the Air Medal with 15 oak leaf clusters, and Purple Heart -- wrote a letter from India proposing marriage while recovering from an airplane crash he suffered while trying to rescue a downed flier. She accepted his proposal, but he died in a crash on August 10, 1945, before he could return to the U.S. to marry her. Short later embellished this story to say that they were married and had a child that had died. Although Gordon's friends in the air commandos confirm Gordon and Short were engaged, his family subsequently denied any connection once Short was murdered.

She returned to Southern California in July 1946, to see an old boyfriend she met in Florida during the war, Lt. Gordon Fickling, who was stationed in Long Beach. For the six months that remained of her life, she stayed in Southern California, mainly in the Los Angeles area. During this time, she lived in at least a dozen hotels, apartment buildings, rooming houses, and private homes, never staying anywhere for more than a few weeks.

Short was last seen on the evening of January 9, 1947, in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel at 5th Street and Olive in downtown Los Angeles. She was 22 years old.

On January 15, 1947, her body was discovered in a vacant lot of the 3800 block of South Norton Avenue in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, cut in half at the waist and mutilated. She was interred in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland rather than Medford because her oldest sister lived in Berkeley and because she loved California.

The murder was never solved, but has remained the subject of intense speculation.

A number of people, none of whom knew Short in life, contacted police and the newspapers, claiming to have seen her during her so-called "missing week," between the time of her disappearance January 9 and the time her body as found on January 15. Police and district attorney investigators ruled out each of these alleged sightings, sometimes identifying other women that witnesses had mistaken for Short. [1]

According to newspaper reports shortly after the murder, Short received the nickname Black Dahlia at a Long Beach drugstore in the summer of 1946, as a play on the then-current movie The Blue Dahlia, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Los Angeles County district attorney investigators' reports state the nickname was invented by newspaper reporters covering the murder. In either case, Short was not generally known as "the Black Dahlia" in life.

Many crime books and other allegedly factual accounts of the case, including a few newspaper stories appearing shortly after the murder, claim that Short lived in or visited Los Angeles at various times in the mid-1940s; but these claims have never been substantiated, and are refuted by the findings of the law enforcement officers who investigated the case. A document in the Los Angeles County district attorney's files titled "Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1, 1946" states that Short was in Florida and Massachusetts from September 1943 through the early months of 1946, and gives a detailed account of her living and working arrangements during this period.

Although popular myth as well as many "true crime" books portray Short as a call girl, a report by the district attorney's office for the Los Angeles County Grand Jury states that she was not a prostitute.

This unsolved murder has been viewed as emblematic of the perception of Los Angeles as a dystopia.

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