Who Is The Black Dahlia? (1975, directed by Joseph Pevney)


In 1947 Los Angeles, the body of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short is discovered in an empty lot.  Short, who was nicknamed The Black Dahlia because she always wore black, was an aspiring actress who was violently tortured before being chopped in half.  Her murder remains one of Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved crimes.

In this made-for-television movie, Ronny Cox and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. play the two detectives who are assigned to investigate Short’s murder.  Though they struggle to find any clues identifying who could have killed Short, they do learn about her life and how she went from being a naïve innocent who came to Hollywood with stars in her eyes to being a hardened and cynical woman who may have been supporting herself through sex work when she was murdered.  The film makes use of frequent flashbacks, in which Elizabeth Short is played by Lucie Arnaz.  Her friends and acquaintances are played by familiar television faces like Henry Jones, Mercedes McCambridge, June Lockhart, Brooke Adams, Donna Mills, and Tom Bosley.  Also be sure to keep an eye out for Sid Haig, playing a tattoo artist.

What Elizabeth Short went through over the course of her short time in Hollywood was probably too graphic to be put on television in the 70s but this movie still does a good job of recounting the basic facts of her life and murder.  Because the film is based on fact, no one is ever arrested for Short’s murder.  The only suspect is a doctor who turns out to have an alibi.  The movie instead focuses on Short trying make it in Hollywood and discovering that it’s a cruel town.  Lucie Arnaz was far better than I was expecting in the role of Elizabeth and brought a lot of vulnerability to the role.  The film ended with a title card, asking anyone who had information about the murder of Elizabeth Short to call the LAPD.  The case remains open to this day.

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