Sunday, August 1, 2010

D.O.A. (1950)

D.O.A. (1950), a film noir drama film directed by Rudolph Maté, is considered a classic of the genre. The frantically-paced plot revolves around a doomed man's quest to find out who has poisoned him – and why – before he dies. Leo C. Popkin produced the film for his short-lived Cardinal Pictures, but failed to renew the copyright in 1977, so that it has fallen into the public domain.

The film begins with what a BBC reviewer called "perhaps one of cinema's most innovative opening sequences." The scene is a long, behind-the-back tracking sequence featuring Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) walking through the hallway of a police station to report his own murder. Oddly, the police almost seem to have been expecting him and already know who he is. A flashback begins with Bigelow in his hometown of Banning, California where he is an accountant and notary public. He decides to take a one-week vacation in San Francisco, but this does not sit well with Paula (Britton), his confidential secretary and girlfriend, since he is not taking her along. Bigelow accompanies a group from a sales convention on a night on the town. He ends up at a jazz club where, unnoticed by him, a stranger swaps his drink for another. (The nightclub scene includes one of the earliest depictions of the Beat subculture). The next morning, Bigelow feels ill. He visits a doctor, where tests reveal he has swallowed a "luminous toxin" for which there is no antidote. A second opinion confirms the grim diagnosis, and the other doctor implies that the poisoning must have been deliberate. With at most a few days to live, Bigelow sets out to untangle the events behind his impending death, interrupted occasionally by phone calls from Paula. She provides the first clue: a Eugene Philips had tried to contact him, but died the previous day. Bigelow travels to Philips' import-export company in Los Angeles, first meeting Miss Foster (Beverly Garland), the secretary, then Mr Halliday (William Ching), the comptroller, who tells him Eugene committed suicide. From there the trail leads to the widow, Mrs Philips (Lynn Baggett) and Eugene's brother Stanley (Henry Hart). The key to the mystery is a bill of sale for what turns out to be stolen iridium. Bigelow had notarized the document for Eugene Philips six months earlier. He connects Eugene's mistress Marla Rakubian (Laurette Luez) to gangsters led by Majak (Luther Adler). They capture Bigelow and since he has learned too much about the theft, Majak orders his psychotic henchman Chester (Neville Brand) to kill him. However, Bigelow manages to escape.

Bigelow thinks Stanley and Miss Foster are his killers but when he confronts them, he finds Stanley has been poisoned too. In Stanley's case, prompt treatment may save his life. Bigelow then realizes that Halliday engineered the theft and had also been carrying on an affair with Mrs Philips. When Eugene found out, he struggled with Halliday and was pushed over a balcony to his death. Halliday murdered Bigelow to tie up the loose ends. Bigelow tracks Halliday down and shoots him to death in an exchange of gunfire. The flashback comes to an end. Bigelow finishes telling his story at the police station and dies, his last word being "Paula." The police detective taking down the report instructs that his file be marked "D.O.A." (dead on arrival).

The shot of Edmond O'Brien running down Market Street (between 4th and 6th Streets) in San Francisco was a "stolen shot," taken without city permits, with some pedestrians visibly confused as O'Brien bumps into them. D.O.A. producer Harry Popkin owned the Million Dollar Theater at the southwest corner of Broadway and Third Street in downtown Los Angeles, directly across the street from the Bradbury Building, where O'Brien's character confronted his murderer. Director Rudolph Maté liberally used Broadway and the Bradbury Building during location shooting and included the Million Dollar Theater's blazing marquee in the background. The theater would later serve the same function when Ridley Scott filmed Blade Runner at the Bradbury Building. The Bradbury Building still exists at 304 South Broadway. After "The End" and before the listing of the cast, a credit states the medical aspects of this film are based on scientific fact, and that "luminous toxin is a descriptive term for an actual poison." The rhythm and blues/jazz band playing at the Fisherman's Club while O'Brien's glass is being spiked was filmed on a Los Angeles soundstage after principal photography was completed. According to Jim Dawson in his 1995 book Nervous Man Nervous: Big Jay McNeely and the Rise of the Honking Tenor Sax (Big Nickel Publishing), the sweating tenor saxophone player was James Streeter, also known as James Von Streeter. Other bandmembers were Shifty Henry on bass, Al "Cake" Wichard on drums, Ray LaRue on piano, and Teddy Buckner on trumpet. However, rather than use the live performance, the music director went back and rerecorded the soundtrack with a band led by saxophonist Maxwell Davis. - from Wikipedia

83 MIN

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