Saturday, November 30, 2019

Short Take: D.O.A.

(1949) Directed by Rudolph Maté; Written by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene; Starring: Edmond O'Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland, Lynn Baggett and William Ching; Available on DVD, Kanopy and Amazon Prime 

Rating: **** 
“You knew who I was when I came in here today, but you were surprised to see me alive, weren’t you? But I’m not alive, Mrs. Phillips. Sure, I can stand here and talk to you, I can breathe, and I can move. But I’m not alive, because I did take that poison, and nothing can save me.” – Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien)

D.O.A.* starts off with a dynamite premise, told from the perspective of a man whose hours are numbered. In the opening scene, our protagonist, Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien), arrives at a police station to report a murder – his own. The ensuing story, told in flashback, recounts his strange tale about how he came to be fatally poisoned, and his thirst for vengeance. His frenzied quest, as a man with nothing left to lose, takes him to Los Angeles (where the famous Bradbury Building makes an appearance) to track down a business associate, and back to San Francisco.

* Fun Fact: D.O.A. marks the film debut of Beverly Garland, who appears as Miss Foster, Mr. Phillips’ secretary.

As he’s introduced to us, Frank is a bit of a heel, but as the film progresses, he gradually becomes more sympathetic. He plans a solitary vacation to San Francisco, which doesn’t sit well with his co-dependent girlfriend/secretary Paula (Pamela Britton). Apparently never hearing the aphorism “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” she calls him repeatedly, sends a bouquet to his hotel room, and sensing that he’s in big trouble, travels to San Francisco to meet him. As obnoxious as her behavior seems on the surface, it serves to ground Frank, causing him to re-evaluate his relationship with her, and form a belated appreciation for her efforts.

In the space of a few days, Frank experiences all five stages of grief, as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book Death and Dying (Source: : 1) Denial – After he begins to feel a stomachache, a trip to the doctor confirms all isn’t well. Due to the poison he’s unwillingly ingested, he only has days to live. His incredulous reaction is understandable, given the circumstances (“This is a mistake. This could be a mistake.”); followed by 2) Anger – Unwilling to accept the bad news, Frank storms out of the office (“You’re crazy!”); 3) Bargaining – Frank visits another doctor, which only confirms the first prognosis; 4) Depression –This is best illustrated by the scene when Frank waits by a newsstand, watching happy couples pass by on the street. They’re presumably investing in bright futures – a future he and Paula will never share; and finally, 5) Acceptance – As indicated by the somber opening and closing scenes, Frank is resigned to his fate.

The filmmakers are purposefully coy about the poison, referring to the substance as “luminous toxin.” Judging by its glowing properties, we can deduce it’s something radioactive, but that’s about it. The end credits assert that luminous toxin is a real poison, but we’re left in the dark (pun intended) about what it is, specifically. The acting, along with the music from Dimitri Tiomkin, is turned up several notches, matching the frenetic pace of the film. This tone works well for Neville Brand’s memorable performance as Chester, a sadistic thug who takes pleasure in causing pain (He hits Frank in the stomach just to increase his suffering). D.O.A. packs a lot of entertainment in a scant 83 minutes, with a labyrinthine plot, ambiguous motivations, a host of colorful characters, and a fatalistic streak running throughout. If there’s one lesson the film teaches us, whatever you do, don’t notarize any illicit radium shipments.

One word of caution: Since this film is public domain, poor copies abound. The DVD I rented from Netflix looks like it was copied from VHS. Alas, there’s a better version streaming on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Some Belated Acknowledgements

Time has a nasty habit of getting away before you know it. Way back in January, I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by the hardest working blogger on the web, Gill Jacob of Realweegie MidgetReviews. Fast forward several months to September, and I was nominated for the LiebsterAward by the wise and powerful Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room.  But as ‘80s TV pitchmen hawking their wares would say, “Wait, there’s more!” About a week ago, the dynamic duo of Michael Denney and Andrew Stephen from Maniacs and Monsters nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I’m truly fortunate to have met such wonderful people through Twitter and the movie blogging community.

 Rules? Where we’re going, we don’t need rules.  

Since this is a joint Versatile Blogger/Liebster/Sunshine post, I’m throwing out the rules, and simply acknowledging a few bloggers you ought to know. If you’re listed below, there’s no need to do anything – just give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done! If I’ve left anyone out, I sincerely apologize, and hope to get to you on the rebound.

Just to show that I haven’t gone completely off the rails I’ve listed seven facts about myself (per Gill’s challenge), and answered 11 questions apiece from Rebecca and the Maniacs and Monsters team.

But first, a tip of the hat to:

Ernie Fink of Until the Lights Go Up
Hanley Peterson of Patron Devil Book Reviews
Terence Towles Canote: A Shroud of Thoughts

…And a hearty “back at ‘ya” to: Realweegie Midget Reviews, Taking Up Room, and Maniacs and Monsters.

Seven Facts About Myself (Note: My apologies if some of these are recycled from earlier posts)

  1. I’ve lived in four states: California (my birthplace), Washington State, Texas and Pennsylvania.
  2. I've flown in a glider (what a view!).
  3. My wife and I met while working at a mom & pop video store – We will be celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary in February.
  4. My most prized convention trinket is a Hellraiser puzzle box signed by Clive Barker.
  5. I have an M.A. in Counseling, and two bachelor’s degrees, in English and Psychology.
  6. I’m an incurable roller coaster junkie. Many, many moons ago, I worked at Six Flags Magic Mountain (No, I wasn’t a ride operator).
  7.  I love the ocean and all things nautical. I don’t think I could ever live in a landlocked state.

My answers to Rebecca’s questions:

  1. If you were a plant, what kind would you be and why?
My knee-jerk reaction would be some sort of carnivorous plant, like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. I’m not necessarily enamored by the diet, but world domination is a nice perk.
  1. What’s a talent you wish you had?
I wish I had some graphic arts training, so my blog was more aesthetically pleasing.
  1. Would you rather have coffee or tea?
Coffee is the fuel that got me through grad school a decade ago, and it keeps me blogging.
  1. You can own costumes and props from one film. Any era, any genre. Which film would you pick?
I’d go with Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (1956), although I understand he was recently purchased by a private collector for a princely sum.
  1. If you could have anyone follow your blog or your social media accounts, who would it be?
Guillermo del Toro. I think he’d be…mildly interested.
  1. Do you think vampires should sparkle?
Nope. Never, unless it’s for comic effect.
  1. Who’s your favorite film critic or historian?
Roger Ebert – His love of movies was contagious. He had such a lively writing style and an encyclopedic knowledge of film, yet somehow never sounded pedantic or pretentious. His writing continues to provide inspiration for me to do what I do.
  1. What are your top three must-play songs for a road trip?
Oh, it’s too hard to narrow down to three songs, but three artists I often feature on road trips are: David Bowie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and T-Rex.
  1. Which film or films should not be remade under any circumstances?
Any of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies. They’re absolutely perfect as they are.
  1. Do you ever think you’d like to work in films instead of just writing about them?
At one time, I wanted to be a screenwriter, but that ship has sailed. I’d still love to appear in films in small but memorable roles. Hey if Sydney Greenstreet could do it, why can’t I?
  1. What’s your favorite thing about blogging?
Without question, my favorite thing is hearing readers comment that they learned about a movie they never knew about through my blog, and were prompted to watch it, based on my recommendation. It’s times like that that remind me why I blog about movies.   

And last but certainly not least, here are my responses to 11 more questions from Maniacs and Monsters:

  1. Do you consider yourself a fan of horror, averse to horror, or a patron of any genre including horror if it is entertaining?
I’m a lifelong fan of horror in its many forms, although slashers are generally not my thing.

  1. What is the first horror film you remember watching and what was your reaction?
The first I recall was Frankenstein (1931), watching it through my fingers (when the monster appeared) on my parents’ small RCA TV in their bedroom. Shameless plug: For more musings about the stuff that kept me awake at night, see my piece, “Scared Sh*tless in the ‘70s.” 

  1. What is your opinion of real-world paranormal activities such as ghosts, spiritualism, UFOs, cryptozoology, or extrasensory perception?
To quote Winston Zeddmore, “If there’s a steady paycheck, I’ll believe anything you say.” But seriously, I consider myself an empiricist – if it can’t be recorded or measured in some way, it’s not a real phenomenon. However, I remain open to the possibility of any of these things. As the late great Arthur C. Clarke was fond of saying, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m afraid of them.”

  1. Have you ever had what you believe to be a paranormal experience or at least an experience you could not explain?

Not exactly, but I’ve visited places that had a strange “aura” about them, for lack of a better term. Nothing’s convinced me there were supernatural forces at work…yet.

  1. If you were cast in a horror movie, which of the following roles would you want and why:
    • last girl/guy
    • killer/monster
    • fodder for the slaughter
    • evil genius/mad scientist/cult leader
    • tortured soul
    • kick-ass hero/military leader
    • creepy caretaker/gas station attendant/neighbor/sea captain
    • member of the faceless zombie/demon/alien horde
    • wise stranger that warned those reckless kids

I’d probably be the “wise stranger,” although no one ever believes him//her. Just look at Crazy Ralph from the first two Friday the 13th movies, and see what happened to him. Hmm… On second thought, is it too late to opt for the “last guy?”

  1. Horror films, much like comedies, have been historically ignored by the Oscars. What horror film or horror performance do you feel deserved, but did not receive, recognition by the Academy?
I don’t hold a lot of stock in the Academy Awards – It seems the rule rather than exception that something I’d care to see wins. A couple of glaring omissions that spring to mind: Let the Right One In (2008) at least deserved a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film; Zelda Rubinstein should have received a Best Supporting Actress nod for Poltergeist (1982)

  1. Which subgenre of horror is most appealing to you (noting that these subgenres often overlap):
    • action horror
    • ‘B’ movies/camp
    • body horror
    • comedy horror
    • disaster/natural horror
    • giallo
    • gothic horror
    • horror thriller
    • kaiju
    • psychological horror
    • science fiction horror
    • slasher
    • splatter
    • supernatural horror
Psychological Horror (e.g., The Haunting) is my “go to” sub-genre. I love films that respect the intelligence of the audience, allowing us the freedom to fill in the blanks. On the other hand, there are times when only a good gothic horror from Hammer or Amicus will do.

  1. Assuming you observe Halloween, describe a favorite costume (scary or otherwise) that you have worn.
Nothing beats my old Megathor mask kit (see video below). I got a lot of mileage out of that mask over the years, adding LEDs to the eyes. To complete my costume, I wore a sweatshirt with a homemade glittery insignia and a bath towel cape. I miss my Megathor mask.  

  1. What is your greatest fear/phobia?
Crowds and social gatherings freak me out. I’m not a very social creature by design.
  1. You die only to awaken as a ghost, vampire, or zombie. What do you do?
After the initial shock has worn off, I accept my new reality. Sure, there’s the existential dread that goes along with being an ex-human, but I’ll try to make the best of things (Hey, this is me at my most optimistic).

  1. Darkness falls across the land. The alien invasion has begun. Civilization is collapsing.  The dead are returning from the grave. Cthulhu is rising from his eternal slumber. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse are on the ride. It’s the end of the world. You are among a small group boarding an experimental starship to escape to another galaxy. You are allowed to bring any three items of your choosing. What do you bring (and no fair bringing something ‘useful’)?
Does my Blu-ray/DVD collection count as one thing? If not, I’d have to flip a coin or choose a random number. I’d probably bring my camera (so I can document my journey) and new TV (I just bought it this year – I’m not parting with it).