The Black Dahlia

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Black Dahlia Movie Poster Image
Unsolved Hollywood murder inspires dark '40s noir.
  • R
  • 2006
  • 121 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 17+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Detectives become obsessed with the murder of a young starlet; plot concerns corruption, grisly murder, insanity.


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.


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).


Repeated use of "f--k" (over 15); other language (c-word, "hell," "damn," "ass," etc.).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent smoking by protagonists; some drinking in social situations (dinner); cop takes Benzedrine and becomes unhinged.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bykaseyandjrfans April 9, 2008
Adult Written bymafodda.lorenzo... April 9, 2008
Teen, 17 years old Written byPrincessCharmed797 January 19, 2013

The Black Dahlia

Despite the violence, this movie was very good!
Teen, 14 years old Written byaleppoman April 9, 2008

What's the story?

In THE BLACK DAHLIA, hardboiled detective Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) becomes obsessed with the murder of struggling actress Betty Short (Mia Kirshner). Bucky's troubled partner Lee (Aaron Eckhart), who is mixed up with stolen money and ex-prostitute Kay (Scarlett Johansson), also finds a distraction in the Black Dahlia case. While Lee pores over crime-scene photos, Bucky watches Betty's audition reels in which she panders to an off-screen director. Bucky's interest in Betty's films represents the titillating effects of movies and stardom, as manufactured by the bottom line-driven film industry. Bucky imagines himself as a deep thinker, though Kay suggests that he's not so bright. His dimness is evidenced by his interest in Madeleine (Hilary Swank), an angry rich girl who resembles Betty. Their relationship highlights the differences between the haves and the have-nots; Bucky must figure how those differences affect his case (and they always do affect it). Meanwhile, although he sees himself as a man in control, it's increasingly clear that he's not. And so, viewers begin to suspect his judgments.

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the longstanding fascination with the Black Dahlia murder case. How does it represent a mythic cautionary tale, involving young women and the evils of Hollywood as a dream factory and/or industry town? What messages does the film convey about women? Why is violence toward women so often sexualized (both in the media and in real life)?

Movie details

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