The Black Dahlia was easily one of the worst film adaptations in recent memory as entire scenes were altered and the story was left as an incoherent mess. In this feature we’ll explore the two mediums and why one was inferior to the other.
James Ellroy wrote the book in 1987 and was part of his Hollywood trilogy which included L.A. Confidential. Ellroy wrote a dark, suspenseful tale of obsession and the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. The book centers around the mysterious murder of Elizabeth Short aka The Black Dahlia, which became one of the most notorious unsolved murders in the state’s history. Obsession is a topic that been covered a lot because it can total change a person, derailing his train of thought and eventually control his or her very own mind. In the well-thought out pages we see the effect of this case through the eyes of two detectives. The detectives are two different people from very distant circumstances and this helps to create a duality in viewpoints. Readers are allowed to see the case unfold from both “Bucky” and “Lee”‘s standpoint as each approaches the murder differently. The book is blessed with very witty and revealing dialogue that not only entices but keeps the reader connected to the story. Overall the book succeeds at weaving a web that is alluring and impossible to resist.
On the surface, The Black Dahlia appears to be a great film: snazzy trailer, Brian De Palma directing and a notable cast toplined by two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. However, underneath all the gloss is a mangled screenplay and scattershot direction. The film sinks because it takes far too many creative liberties from its source material. It understandable to change minor details or leave out particular scenes but to change entire scenes and character traits is unforgivable. On top of a poor script are even duller performances as everyone of the cast members suddenly forgot how to convey emotions. Swank, Josh Harnett and Scarlett Johansson deliver some of their respective career low points in this film and the audiences are even hinted that even the actors know this is a monstrous mess. The one exception was a satisfying performance from Aaron Eckhart as Lee. This entire flick is an exercise of style over substance but in extreme excess as all that remains is style with not even a sliver of intelligence. The film fails in every possible way to do its superior source material any justice.