T he title sounds like something you’d hear in a Hollywood throwback movie, like Hail Caesar. No Orchids For Miss Blandish comes from a line spoken earlier on in the movie. Our eponymous and pampered heroine lays on a divan and rejects the flowers. An unseen voice, presumably an employee of her estate, delivers the film’s namesake in response. That’s where we get our long title, evidently so important that the whole thing needed to be kept from the James Hadley Chase novel which it’s based on. There’s a lot that could have been scrapped in order to make a more engaging film, but to ditch any of the material from one of England’s most controversial novels at the time would be throwing away their meal ticket. While critics denounced the use of violence and sexuality, as well as poor writing, the box office returns skyrocketed. We can observe a very similar phenomenon going on today with the 50 Shades series. Making people rich, but soon to be forgotten.
To its credit, No Orchids starts off strong. The desperate lowlife is introduced, then the lowly gangster and his psychopathic crony. The name of a mysterious and formidable crime boss passes everyone’s lips. Slim Grisson (Jack La Rue). One of the sexiest names ever written for a villainous mobster. The three hoods plot to kidnap Miss Blandish (Linden Travers) and her fiance and hold them for ransom after reading about their wedding in the newspaper. A series of proto-Tarantino mishaps and murders occur which leave Miss Blandish and one gangster alive. They proceed to a hideout where he intends to assault her. But his scheme gets intercepted by the Grissom gang, and at last Miss Blandish ends up in the arms of Slim, our chain smoking, sad eyed noir protagonist.The two begin to fall in love, turning the rest of the crime family, worried about what this turn of events will do to their payout, against him.
The combination of romance and the crime plots, the whole reason for the film’s existence, is what kills it. The cruelest movie irony. The thing intended to bring the movie to life and make it stand out from the muck of irredeemably corrupt ruffians wallowing in moral filth. The very thing that people came to see. So labored yet constantly floundering, the amount of effort put into scenes that ultimately only rise to the level of mediocrity is just pathetic. They would have been better off sticking to one conceit, as the lack of concise and focused narrative that both genres require leads to them fighting for screen time and doing a disservice to each other in the process.
The most damning of all would be that, while No Orchids surpasses Highway Dragnet in terms of production value and coherence, it’s less entertaining. That’s inexcusable. | Nic Champion