Monday, November 25, 2013

The Black Dahlia



A recent television series, American Horror Story, raised the specter of the Black Dahlia, literally, and wove the gruesome 1947 murder into its narrative.  Mena Suvari reprised the role of Elizabeth Short.  The series is no great shakes but has some fun with the idea of an Eternal Darkness Tour in Los Angeles, and the "Murder House" in particular, a 1920-era Victorian inspired mansion that becomes the epicenter of all things heinous in LA.  For my taste, they could have had a lot more fun with the series, picking up on the many unsolved murders in Tinseltown, but instead it reads more like a Southern Gothic thriller set in LA.  Nevertheless, the reference to the Black Dahlia was interesting.

Brian de Palma made a movie in 2006 based on James McElroy's earlier novel, which explored the infamous murder.  McElroy kind of became the king of a resurgent LA noir with other books like LA Confidential, which was also made into a movie.  1940s Hollywood is a great backdrop for such murder mysteries.  Alan Ladd starred in The Blue Dahlia back in 1946, which actually prefigured this grisly murder.  It was based on a Raymond Chandler novel.

Library of America has put together a collection of Crime Novels, which includes stories by James Cain and Edward Anderson among others.  LoA also has separate collections of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  It seems like it is a genre that never dies.

But, what makes the Black Dahlia so intriguing is that it still haunts us all these years later?  Even Joyce Carol Oates has taken a turn at the case in her collection Black Dahlia & White Rose, as well as explores the strange fate of Norma Jean Baker.  It seems that after all these years, Tinseltown has turned in on itself and become a great source of macabre tales.  Who needs the sleepy South with its wistful wisteria and creepy Spanish moss.

BTW, the image above is probably a prop.  Here is what Elizabeth Short looked like before she was brutally disfigured.

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