AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Blue Gardenia
Director: Fritz Lang (Dir)
Release Date:   28 Mar 1953
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 27 Mar 1953
Production Date:   late Nov--24 Dec 1952 at the Motion Picture Center
Duration (in mins):   90
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Cast:   Anne Baxter (Norah Larkin)  
    Richard Conte (Casey Mayo)  
    Ann Sothern (Crystal Carpenter)  
    Raymond Burr (Harry Prebble)  
    Jeff Donnell (Sally Ellis)  
    Richard Erdman (Al, photographer)  
    George Reeves (Capt. Sam Haynes)  
    Ruth Storey (Rose)  
    Ray Walker (Homer Carpenter)  
    Nat "King" Cole (Singer at Blue Gardenia)  
    Celia Lovsky (May, blind flower vendor)  

Summary: In Los Angeles, while writing a feature story about telephone operators, columnist Casey Mayo sees calendar girl artist Harry Prebble sketching the operators. In vain, Prebble tries to make a date with one of the women, divorcĂ©e Crystal Carpenter, but she leaves with her two roommates and fellow operators, Norah Larkin and Sally Ellis. Prebble then cuts short a phone call from Rose, a woman he has been dating, who is almost hysterical in her need to talk to him. That night, Norah spends her birthday alone and reads a letter from her fiancĂ©, a soldier fighting in Korea. After she reads that he is breaking their engagement, the telephone rings, and still in shock, she answers and agrees to have dinner at the Blue Gardenia Restaurant with Prebble, who thinks he is talking to Crystal. At the restaurant, as Norah drinks too much, Prebble buys her a gardenia corsage from a blind flower vendor and the restaurant entertainer sings "Blue Gardenia." Later, after taking the drunken Norah to his apartment and putting on a recording of "Blue Gardenia," Prebble tries to force himself on her. As Norah struggles, she hits him with a fireplace poker and breaks a mirror, but then faints. She runs out in haste after she awakens, leaving her shoes behind. Norah suffers a hangover the next day and can recall little of the previous evening, but after reading about Prebble's murder in the newspaper, she fears that she killed him. Police captain Sam Haynes's investigation has been stymied by Prebble's housekeeper, who has wiped off fingerprints and tidied Prebble's apartment. Haynes's only clues to the murder are a pair of women's shoes, a gardenia corsage, a lacy handkerchief and the record on the phonograph turntable, which was still spinning when the housekeeper arrived. While the police proceed with a manhunt, Casey takes an interest and shows up at Prebble's apartment, where Haynes plays the record for him. After tracing the corsage to the restaurant, Casey nicknames the killer, "The Blue Gardenia," and writes her an open letter, promising the newspaper's help in hiring the best legal defense, if she will come to him with her story. Casey is harangued by crank calls and dismisses a call from Rose, because she does not identify the shoes found by the police. Meanwhile, Norah's tension is noticed by Crystal and Sally, who assume she is grieving for her ex-boyfriend. Tormented by memory flashes, Norah tries to piece together events of the terrifying night. During his own investigation, Casey learns from the Blue Gardenia staff that Prebble was with a blonde in black satin on the night of his death. Reading the description in Casey's column, Norah burns her dress, but then, late one night, decides to contact Casey from a pay phone. After claiming to be calling for a friend, she agrees to meet him at an all-night diner, where she explains that her "friend" can only remember swinging the poker in self-defense while "Blue Gardenia" played on the phonograph. Casey finds himself attracted to Norah, but hides his feelings and urges her to have the friend meet him the next day at the diner. When Norah returns home, Crystal is waiting, having connected Norah to the now famous murder case, and the next day, accompanies her to the diner. After surprising Casey with the revelation that she is the "Blue Gardenia," Norah realizes that Casey's offer to help was a trick to get a story. Norah leaves, but is arrested by Haynes and his men, who were tipped off by the diner staff. As Norah, who now believes that Casey set a trap, is booked, Casey proceeds to the airport with his photographer, Al, for an overseas assignment. Waiting for the plane, Casey recognizes music being piped into the lounge as that found on Prebble's phonograph, then remembers Norah saying that Prebble played a different song, "Blue Gardenia," when she was there. He contacts Haynes and together they go to the record shop where Prebble bought the record found by the police. Rose, who works there, thinks they have come for her and attempts suicide. Later, at the hospital, Rose confesses that she showed up at Prebble's to talk that night and seeing Norah's corsage and handkerchief, realized he was seeing someone else. Rose explains that Prebble tried to calm her by playing the song that he bought at the record store when they first met, but she killed him in a jealous rage. Norah is released, but remains distant from Casey, who wants to make amends. However, Crystal advises him not to give up, and he feels sure that he and Norah have a future together. 

Production Company: Gottlieb Productions  
  Blue Gardenia Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Fritz Lang (Dir)
  Emmett Emerson (Asst dir)
Producer: Alex Gottlieb (Prod)
Writer: Charles Hoffman (Scr)
  Vera Caspary (Story)
Photography: Nicholas Musuraca (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Daniel Hall (Art dir)
Film Editor: Edward Mann (Film ed)
Costumes: Maria Donovan (Ladies' ward)
  Izzy Berne (Men's ward)
Music: Raoul Kraushaar (Mus score)
Sound: Ben Winkler (Sd)
Special Effects: Willis Cook (Spec eff)
Make Up: Gene Hibbs (Makeup)
  James Barker (Makeup)
Production Misc: Maurie Suess (Prod supv)
  Don McDougall (Scr supv)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Blue Gardenia," music and lyrics by Bob Russell and Lester Lee, arranged by Nelson Riddle.
Composer: Lester Lee
  Nelson Riddle
  Bob Russell
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Blue Gardenia Productions, Inc. 26/3/1953 dd/mm/yyyy LP2441

PCA NO: 16317
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Mystery
Subjects (Major): Investigations
  Los Angeles (CA)
  Telephone operators
Subjects (Minor): Apartments
  Attempted rape
  Attempted suicide
  Confession (Law)
  Diners (Restaurants)
  False arrests
  Korean War, 1950-1953

Note: According to a Sep 1952 HR news item, Alex Gottlieb, who produced The Blue Gardenia , bought the property from producer Howard Welsch and planned to release it independently. Although their appearances in the completed picture have not been confirmed, Dec 1952 HR news items add Victor Sen Yung, Charles Victor and Ron Kennedy to the cast, and a Dec 1952 HR news item adds Bo Ling, Esther Lee and Shirley Lew as telephone operators. According to a Dec 1952 HR news item, actress Anne Baxter, who played "Norah Larkin," suffered a torn ligament while filming the fight scene with Raymond Burr. Ruth Storey, who played "Rose," was the real-life wife of Richard Conte.
       The Blue Gardenia marked Sothern's return to films after a two-year absence. The LADN review noted that the film's title was reminiscent of a 1947 Los Angeles murder case, in which the victim was dubbed "The Black Dahlia" by the press. However, the still officially unsolved case and the film's plot bear little similarity to each other. A Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film was aired on 30 Nov 1954, starred Dana Andrews and Ruth Roman. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   14 Mar 1953.   
Daily Variety   16 Oct 1952.   
Daily Variety   12 Mar 53   p. 3.
Film Daily   23 Mar 53   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Sep 1952.   
Hollywood Reporter   28 Nov 52   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Dec 1952   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Dec 52   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Dec 52   p. 5, 11
Hollywood Reporter   23 Dec 52   p. 2, 8
Hollywood Reporter   26 Dec 52   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Mar 53   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Mar 53   p. 6.
Los Angeles Daily News   29 Mar 1953.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   14 Mar 53   p. 1758.
New York Times   28 Apr 53   p. 31.
Variety   18 Mar 53   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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