Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter) is a telephone operator. She lives with two other operators, Crystal Carpenter (Ann Sothern) and Sally Ellis (Jeff Donnell). Norah’s boyfriend is away in Korea and it is her birthday. To celebrate she cooks a nice meal, lights some candles, opens a bottle of champagne and pretends that he is home. A letter she received from him remains unopened until she opens the champagne.
When she finally opens the letter she finds out that her boyfriend has fallen in love with a nurse he met. Norah is crushed. At the moment the phone rings. On the other end is Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr). Harry is an artist, a woman chaser and all around louse. Harry has been trying to get a date with Crystal. Thinking he is talking to Crystal he invites her to have drinks and dinner at a place called The Blue Gardenia. Pissed off about her now ex-boyfriend Norah accepts the date and rushes out to meet him.
Harry is surprised when Norah shows up instead of Crystal but he is not disappointed. Harry gets Norah drunk and takes her home to his apartment. When Harry tries to rape her Norah pushes him away and picks up a fireplace poker. She swings it back and breaks a mirror. She hits Harry and passes out. When she wakes up she races from the apartment into the rain without her shoes.
The next day while Norah is nursing a hangover Police Captain Sam Haynes (George Reeves) and his team are going over Harry’s apartment trying to figure out who killed him. It’s not an easy job since Harry’s cleaning lady (Almira Sessions) has already cleaned everything up and wiped everything down.
Local reporter Casey Mayo (Richard Conte) arrives with his photographer Al (Richard Erdman). Casey writes a column and doesn’t normally work the police beat but Al wanted to take some pictures before anyone else got there. When Casey finds out that the dead man is Harry Prebble it peaks Casey’s interest. He decides to investigate and see if he can solve the mystery.
Norah manages to make it to work. Most of the night before is a fog. She is unaware of Harry’s death until the police show up at the telephone company. They want to interview all the girls that ever posed for Harry. Little slices of the night before are coming back to Norah. She sees the story in the afternoon paper about Harry. Through the haze of the night before Norah is beginning to wonder if she is in fact the Blue Gardenia Girl.
“The Blue Gardenia” was released in 1953 and was directed by Fritz Lang. It is a crime drama and a film noir. It is based on a novella by Vera Caspary called “The Gardenia”. Lang did three movies based on what is called “newspaper noir”. The other two films in the series were “While the City Sleeps” 1956 and “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” 1956. The films were a cynical take on the press and how it sensationalized murder stories.
Lang has been often credited with helping to establishing film noir beginning with his film “M” 1931. In “The Blue Gardenia” the character portrayed by Casey in his stories about the murderess are far from the actual woman when he finally meets her. His attraction to Norah is pure while his demeaning of the murderer is extremely sexist. Even his little black book shows that he is not that much different than Harry. He uses women but he draws the line at raping them. Harry has no such compunction. What Casey gains in scruples he loses in his writing for the paper.
Noir is basically sexist as it is. For the most part women are either Madonnas or murderers. Casey is a player but still the hero. Women can’t do that in noir. They must stick to their lot in life and in the story. Even Norah’s wise cracking roommate must not stray from her role. She is divorced but lives with two women and dates her ex-husband. She may be a little brassy but she’s a true friend. Without some misogyny noir wouldn’t be as thrilling as it is. Misogyny may be colloquially defined as a hatred of women but in reality it seems to be more of a fear of women. Harry is a misogynist. Casey is a plain old sexist.
The story itself is very engaging. With a nice little cavalcade of stars the acting is great. It’s suspenseful. It may be standard as far as film noir is concerned but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining and enjoyable to watch.
Nat King Cole fans get to hear him croon the song “Blue Gardenia” during the film. The song was written by Bob Russell and Lester Lee and arranged by Nelson Riddle.