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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Detectives become obsessed with the murder of a young starlet; plot concerns corruption, grisly murder, insanity.
Violence & Scariness
Severed-in-half corpse is visible several times (including references to her face cut ear-to-ear); bloody boxing scenes; opening riot scene (punching and fighting); shootings (blood visible and violent imagery); throat cut; fall from balcony; at a crime scene, a dead child with bullet hole in head; description of shooting a pet dog (now stuffed); bloody bat (reference to beating); suicide by shot to the head (explicit); blood spreads under head of murdered man.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Partial nudity in a "stag film," in which two women use a dildo and wrist restraints; women in underwear; lesbian nightclub scene shows women kissing and writhing in a dance number; lyrics refer to "Love for Sale" sex scenes and post-coital scenes (rip off blouse, passionate kissing, movement under covers, naked chests visible).
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Repeated use of "f--k" (over 15); other language (c-word, "hell," "damn," "ass," etc.).
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Frequent smoking by protagonists; some drinking in social situations (dinner); cop takes Benzedrine and becomes unhinged.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this film is premised on a grisly, real-life 1947 murder that remains unsolved and is still the subject of both Internet discussion and TV investigation/forensics shows. The film features frequent images of bloody, shot, and sliced-up bodies. A presumably insane character rants in a disturbing way before committing suicide violently. The film also includes other explicit scenes of violence (a riot, shootings, a throat being sliced, a face being cut while held in a vise). Characters (especially women) appear in various states of undress; the detectives watch a porn film made by the murder victim that features lesbian activity. A nightclub scene features showgirls dancing provocatively and kissing each other on stage. A couple of sex scenes suggest "passion" by having characters rip each other's clothes off. Characters use foul language (especially "f--k"), smoke a lot of cigarettes, and drink. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
The Black Dahlia takes up obsession as a concept, abstracted and insistently masculine. While director Brian De Palma's work is famously misogynist and self-referential (not to say self-obsessed), it's hardly unique. The film is invested in the usual subjects -- the lurid murder, the business of Hollywood, the pain of sex, the objectification of (dead) women, the resolve of the dumb detective -- that make movies both disappointing and mesmerizing.
While the film opens on the racially driven "Zoot Suit" riots, it soon leaves behind this broader social context in order to focus on individual pathologies. The story draws comparisons between Betty and Bucky; both seeking celebrity in Hollywood -- he as a boxer (who ends up as a detective), she as a starlet -- they share a combined sense of hope and dread. These feelings are reflected repeatedly in their environment.
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Our Editors Recommend
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate