RIP Arlene Dahl (1925-2021)

Arlene Dahl was one of the loveliest stars of her time (a real doll!), who sparkled in Technicolor concoctions like other redheads Rhonda Fleming and Maureen O’Hara. Many of Dahl’s best films, however, were done in black and white and she particularly shined in roles of femme fatales and schemers. Dahl began her acting career by studying drama with a local group. In her spare time, Dahl also modeled. She gained a lot of notice when she was dubbed Miss Rheingold Beer Girl of 1946 for an ad campaign that she modeled for. Dahl’s first role in Hollywood, however, was an uncredited bit in Life with Father (1947), but that would be the last bit role for Dahl as she was immediately cast as a leading lady in her next film. Warner Bros. cast her as Dennis Morgan’s love interest in the Technicolor musical My Wild Irish Rose (1947). What better leading lady for this buoyant blarney than a redhead newcomer?

Even though Dahl had her first major role in a Warner Bros. film, Dahl was later signed by MGM where she made films for the next several years. First, MGM cast Dahl as Van Johnson’s girlfriend in The Bride Goes Wild (1947), but in the end, Johnson went with June Allyson instead, as he often did. MGM put Dahl in a leading role opposite one of their most famous redheads, Red Skelton. The film was the fun A Southern Yankee (1948) and it would be the first of three films they made together. We like their films together and think the two were best paired with each other. They would also make Three Little Words (1950) and Watch the Birdie (1950). Dahl’s next two films, however, took a sharper turn into darker territory. Dahl was loaned out for the lead in Reign of Terror (1949) opposite Robert Cummings, an unusual, most diverting gothic noir. She was also in the more quintessential noir for MGM, Scene of the Crime (1949) where she gets Van Johnson this time, but co-star Gloria DeHaven stole the movie.

Dahl started out the ‘50s being ideally cast opposite Robert Taylor in the good western, Ambush (1950). She also made the western The Outriders (1950) with Joel McCrea the same year. Dahl finally got to play a bad girl with Inside Straight (1951), where she plays the first wife of David Brian who wins his love but would rather have his money. Dahl shined in a type of role that she often did throughout her career. She played a similar role in her next outing, the underrated No Questions Asked (1951) where she treats Barry Sullivan much the same as she did Brian. After those two standouts, Dahl went back to more standard Technicolor fare and escapist films with stuff like Caribbean (1953), Desert Legion (1953), Jamaica Run (1953), Sangaree (1953), and The Diamond Queen (1953) – all in the same year! Two of those films were also opposite her current husband, the very handsome Fernando Lamas.

Dahl went back to more intriguing roles with Here Comes the Girls (1953), where she is a little underused but got to work with Tony Martin and the delightful bauble Woman’s World (1954). In the latter, she played the wife of Van Heflin (lucky girl!) but was a social climber who envisions that she is responsible for her husband’s success, but she’s been a handicap to his career. Dahl also got to work opposite Rock Hudson in Bengal Brigade (1954), a film not above her usual fare, but working with Hudson must have been nice. Dahl ended up leaving her Technicolor yarns behind for a more substantial Technicolor noir with her best role – Slightly Scarlet (1956). Dahl lights up the screen as the conniving ex-con sister of good girl Rhonda Fleming, who won’t accept that her sister is just bad. Dahl plays the role with a naivete that makes it different compared to a lot of other femme fatales of the time.

She also wisely made two films in England, which ended up being two of her finest films: Wicked as They Come (1956) and She Played with Fire (1957) where they gave Dahl more intriguing roles in the vein of her best American parts. In the latter, she worked well opposite Jack Hawkins and looked glamorous and mysterious at the same time. When Dahl came back to America, she made one of her best-known films, the enchanting, eye-popping, and adventurous Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) where she was placed in some of the loveliest sets of the period. Like usual, too, Dahl looked wonderful in Technicolor. While the film ended up being one of Dahl’s finest, she said her best relationship on the set was between her and our favorite character, the duck.

.Journey to the Center of the Earth would be the last big hurrah for Dahl during the classic era. She made several TV appearances up to the ‘90s and continued to work sporadically in films, but nothing compared to her earlier successes. In Dahl’s private life she was married six times, including to actors Lex Barker and Fernando Lamas. She ended up mothering actor Lorenzo Lamas when married to the latter. Dahl also had her own beauty column and became a businesswoman with her company Arlene Dahl Enterprises, which marketed beauty and fashion items. Dahl was often seen beautiful scenery in her films, but when given the opportunity, she was one of the best femme fatales of her time and had a charming sense of humor in her roles. It’s only natural for a beautiful redhead like her to flame when given half a chance.

~Bianca

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