Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Noir Watch: D.O.A. (1949)
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
You know how sometimes you hear about the premise of a movie and you write the whole thing in your head in about 5 seconds? I mean, I'm often wrong, and I find that really nice, but other times the movie wraps and you say "that is exactly what I thought it was going to be" And even that isn't all bad. But that's more or less why I never bothered seeing this film, and, here we are, and I am reporting out that D.O.A. (1949) was more or less exactly what I expected it was going to be.
A fun ride, yes, and... no - I didn't guess every twist and turn (who could?), but "sounds like a dude running around trying to figure stuff out as he tries to beat the clock" - done in one, mi amigos. What I wasn't anticipating was the weird tone of the film which, alone, kind of makes it worth a peek.
I first heard of D.O.A. in conjunction with the 1988 release of a remake starring Dennis Quaid - which I didn't see, but a lot of the chatter about it at the time was "wow, they remade D.O.A.!", like that meant anything to me at age 13 And, of course, over the years due to what I'm guessing is a lack of copyright ownership, the movie ends up in almost every cheap noir DVD collection you can get at Best Buy. Honestly - that fact didn't really make me want to run out and watch the film.
But, Eddie Muller showed up with the film here for the first edition of Season 3 of Noir Alley, so now seemed the time to finally give it a go.
Look, Muller more or less forewarned the audience this movie was kind of goofy (he said he wasn't sure it wasn't the creatives having a laugh), and it IS wild watching the tonal shifts from scene to scene. I'm not sure it's exactly camp - it's played too straight in too many places - but then... there's stuff like... Edmond O'Brien taking in an eyeful of classy San Francisco dame getting an accompaniment with a slide whistle. Add in some deeply clumsy romantic banter with a ridiculously clingy girlfriend character, mix with an out-of-control jazz sequence, and it's a wild ride, daddio.
The plot: Edmond O'Brien needs a break from his clingy girlfriend as he tries to decide if they should get married (they should not), and so heads to SF where he is given a hall pass by aforementioned clingy girlfriend. Whilst hitting on a dame in a jazz club, someone slides O'Brien a drink spiked with radioactive poison. After visiting a doctor (who holds up a glowing vial of his blood), O'Brien needs to solve his own murder before it's curtains.
Cue O'Brien running or shouting in every scene. Sometimes both.
Honestly, it moves so fast, and O'Brien is likable enough that I had no problem sticking with it, even as he suffered through endless phone-call scenes with the girlfriend/ secretary back at home. It's a good "yes, I have now seen that film" film, but I'm not sure it' my favorite thing in the world. Mostly I was wowed by the choice to make O'Brien's blood glow.
SPOILERS - I was also giving the movie a slow clap for actually killing off O'Brien and not giving he or the girlfriend a happy ending. Not so much nihilistic as actually paying off on the "who killed me?" question that's the big draw of the movie. Ah, the glory days when sequels weren't the goal. But I also figured from the fact the movie seemed to be one people remembered, the dude must actually die at the end, so... cleverly figured, 13-year-old-me. END SPOILERS
The movie prominently features some SF and LA landmarks, and it's wild to see the Bradbury Building in LA in the 1949. By the point of shooting, the building was more than fifty years old, and it looks amazing in black and white. But you can also see Market Street in SF, as it was, and several other locations.