The Black Dahlia murder in Los Angeles in 1947 is one of those things that, for one reason or another, will never be allowed to go dark. It’s like Jack the Ripper, or Lizzie Borden. I don’t doubt that in a hundred years there will still be fiction and non-fiction about these crimes, and several others. Lord, it was gruesome enough—Elizabeth Short was found cut in half, exsanguinated, and posed in an empty lot. The killer was never caught, but there has been endless speculation, dozens of theories, scores of names proposed for the dastardly deed.
This is one of the better fictions. John Gregory Dunne wrote the screenplay with his wife, Joan Didion, from his own novel. It stars two of the best actors of their generation, at the peak of their powers. Robert De Niro is Des, a priest of the type much more at home on the links or in fancy restaurants or banquets dealing with the movers and shakers than wearing robes and chanting gobble-de-gook at the altar. Robert Duvall is his older brother, Tom, a hard-case homicide dick in a deeply corrupt city. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, it is Tom who has the most secure sense of right and wrong.
Tom lands the gruesome case, and to no one’s surprise it begins to lead to some of the power brokers Des hangs out with. That’s enough plot. The writing and the acting are all first-rate, as is the re-creation of post-War Los Angeles, which is almost as good as it was in Chinatown, which was the best ever.