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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #20: The Man in Charge (Opening Scene from D.O.A.)

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As Frank Bigelow walks down the long, shadowy corridors of the police station, there is a feeling of aimlessness and absurdity of the bureaucratic system that our lead character is trying to navigate. When Frank says that someone murdered him, we are perplexed and drawn into the plot even more. 

 

I haven't seen this movie, but I'm guessing that this is a case of mistaken identity and/or identity theft in a similar vein as Laura.

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I find that taking this course is giving me an entirely different world view when looking at films. This week, my "new way of seeing" has me considering for the first time how the opening of a film can be used for much more than the obligatory showing of the names of the people who participated in the making of the movie. Prior to this week, I always considered the opening credits to be of little value.

 

As I type this, I am thinking about the differences between showing credits at the opening versus at the end of a film. Definitely, closing credits add nothing to the story-telling. Nevertheless, I find myself always sitting through them, in part because I am interested in knowing the locations where a film was shot and who were the Foley artists. 

 

Anyway, the opening credits in this week's Daily Doses all have the effect of drawing the viewer into the journey of the film. As such they not only are part of the story-telling, they immediately create the mindset that the Director wants the viewer to have.  

 

I am going to have to think about this some more, but I feel somewhat conflicted about the concurrent showing of the credits along with action scenes from the story. I find myself alternating between reading the credits and trying to see past them and focus on the action images. I don't wear glasses, but I suspect this is what people who wear bifocals must experience many times each day.

 

The most disconcerting opening for me was "Kiss Me Deadly," in which the credits were shown almost as if they were painted onto the road. I guess I am impatient, but I didn't like waiting to see the next line of credits, or seeing them in bottom-to-top order. But all four openings provided the same conflict of wanting to focus on just the credits or on just the action, which I could not do (and hence the conflict).  

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All four of the daily doses this week share a few themes. Main character being hidden - whether by a shadowy backseat or just seeing a back walking down a dimmly lit corridor. The background music is foreboding and on the edge of eerie. There is no build up you are dropped into the action and better hold on as it is not going to get any better.

 

All four of these "opening scenes" grab you and make you want to watch what happens next.

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Threat might be a common trait in the four daily doses of this week - except in Frank Bigelow's case, it's already too late. Another detail struck me: the main character's face is hidden for a while in these four sequences and in D.O.A. the camera follows Franck Bigelow for a long time, even after he's inside the Homicide Division. The ideas of loneliness and helplessness seem another common trait. If we consider only The Hitch Hiker and D.O.A., absurd is a similarity (the two fishing buddies of The Hitch Hiker did nothing wrong and here F. Bigelow reports his own murder).

 

In this opening, we see a man alone, whose perceptions are altered by poison (I see a parallel with Murder My Sweet and the sequences with Marlowe knocked unconscious, for example). Loss of bearings (here in the huge police station) is something rather common in film noir. One of the major themes here would be indifference: policemen barely answer to him and those who are sitting around a table in the Homicide Division don't seem to care about him.

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As Frank Bigelow walks down the long, shadowy corridors of the police station, there is a feeling of aimlessness and absurdity of the bureaucratic system that our lead character is trying to navigate. When Frank says that someone murdered him, we are perplexed and drawn into the plot even more. 

 

I haven't seen this movie, but I'm guessing that this is a case of mistaken identity and/or identity theft in a similar vein as Laura.

I think you will be surprised once you see it!

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Totally noir is this opening scene. What hits the viewer the hardest is the purposefulness in Edmond's walk. He steps hard in time to the music...driven. I feel as if I'm walking with him, something urgent message or purpose in his style is revealed.

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I am in agreement with the comments pointing out the similarities in the themes presented in this week's Daily Doses, but there are also contrasts in the way the the faceless characters are presented. In "The Hitch-Hiker" the character is standing still. In "Kiss Me Deadly" the character is running. In "Caged" the character is riding in a vehicle with a limited view. In "D.O.A." the character is walking down dark and depressing corridors.

 

I empathize with the commentator who, not having seen "D.O.A.," did not get the sense of dread in following Frank Bigelow down long, darkened halllways. Since I first saw the movie when it was  shown in theaters, I don't remember what my reaction was to the opening scene those many years ago. But having seen it now countless times and knowing how the plot progresses, I now think that the camera is not only having viewers follow Frank to his doom, it is setting a mood by dragging us along with him. Each step Frank takes pulls us deeper into the hell he is about to tell us about.

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An immediate connection of tracking Frank through the opening credits up to his admission of information is to the opening tracking shot in David Fincher's Zodiac where the camera follows a letter through the process of going from the mail room to the reporters.  The connection is the directorial choice of giving attention to subject or piece of information that the audience is not aware how but will change the world of the characters of the film.  It is not as much of a surprise when Frank wants to report a murder but to confide that it is his own is where the surprise that pulls the audience in creating significance to the tracking shot into the building.  It's a bold choice but completely works here.  In conjunction with the choice of camera, where the homicide division is located within the building presents the motifs of film noir.  We see Frank walking toward the building and dissolve to the hall of the building--well lit, presenting a sense of security.  But Frank is directed down a darkened hallway with the camera following down into the bowels of the building.  The lighting change with the direction of the character gives the impression of descending into the homicide division where hope is not always (if at all) present.  A similarity between the four opening scenes we have watched this week is the motive to immediately pull the audience into the film and present the world the characters live in without settling the audience in to the world.  The moment the film begins, the story takes off with the main titles not being a moment to present the artists who made the production but an opportunity to further the narrative or make the audience into the environment of the film.

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Our first look is at a tall building, impersonal as in Caged, yet also one in which we would all be familiar from movies and television like Dragnet, the L.A. Police station. But here we do not get the feeling of help we get from the T.V. show. This is even more impersonal than “Joe Friday”, dark on the outside, with long dark corridors like a warren that you have to go through.

 

We watch Frank Bigelow moving with directness and purpose through the warren, dark corridors with strange lighting coming from doors arcs, rectangles crazy angles. Going into the brightly lit homicide room and then to the captain, with the fan and it huge shadow, not moving dead like Frank is. Very little reaction or care, no emoting (as Frances in Nocturne would say, even though there has been an APB out on him and he's talking about murder.

 

Existentialism fits well with all the Daily Doses this week, and it is interesting that the art form of the “legitimate” stage also dealt with it in the Theatre of the Absurd with playwrights like Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett, to name two.

 

In it's truest sense philosophy really is a western concept, it means Western Thought, and we misapply the term and some consider we misapply it with Existentialism. From Socrates on essence, that something is already there was central to philosophy, but that changed with Existentialism where existence comes first and it changes all the questions of Philosophy around.

 

There is nothing before us, and nothing after us, what is the purpose of anything? This feeling which hit Europe after the devastation of the First World War only really comes to America after the experiences of the Depression, the growth of dictators (and the irrelevance of what we had done in WWI), the Second World War and the Atomic age.

 

The Atom, both good as in Atomic Submarine Sandwiches, Atomic Sewing Needles, the Atom as part of the symbol for RCA tubes. Yet, also to fear, fall out, duck and cover, death.

 

A world the soldiers came home from and did not get what they expected, the respect, their old jobs, Stalin still in power. Estes Kefauver and the Senate Committee on Interstate Crime, Dr. Frederick Wertham and the attack on comic books, Joseph McCarthy, HUAC. Crime and communists, juvenile delinquency were everywhere. Yet, children went out to play and had little direct observation from parents, but today let them go to the park alone and you can be arrested. Everything was jumbled, like the montage in a noir film.

 

Things began to be important, acquisitions, but why not, Americans had waited a long time, the Depression then the War. Now so much was available. Business and jobs expanded, though shortsighted. RCA saw no use for the transistors Bell Labs created, so Sony buys them. (Now who controls much of the “American” movie industry?) The trunk factories set up in Indonesia by Ford, GM and others to assemble parts sent to Pacific during the war were closed, despite pleadings by government officials to keep them open. America was a vast land, sales were ready to be made there. Indonesia would never be ready to buy our cars.

 

When you get a job it is in a warren everyone like worker ants, being watched from above by those with power (The Big Clock, Third Man) having to do your work everyday constantly as George in The Big Clock, or you will tumble very low and lost like Eleanor Parker in Caged. You are just a cog in the wheel like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which he based on NYC after his first visit to the U.S., according to Nicholas Christopher in Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City.

 

How does one live in this new world of Existentialism where nothing is rooted in essence, in something before you? Where all the acquisitions can not make one happy. You buy your new car and park it and it is scratched, or like the current insurance commercial lose of value. You can follow the “I and Thou” beliefs of Martin Buber and religious Existentialism, or the “I and You” which is the great danger. “Thou” looks at others as having something in them, of being worthy in endows them with existence. “You” views them as things which have no existence. Our concern with Existentialism is that is sets us morally adrift in the world.

 

That is what makes it so appealing in noir. As Porfirio states the protagonist has to come up with his own moral existence that he can use, as in the Maltese Falcon Sam Spade's is that you can't let the killer of your partner get away. It's bad for business and all detectives, even if you didn't like your partner.

 

When the great ideas of Freud and Jung or the Existentialists were popularized and began be commonly talked about, there was not deep knowledge of their ideas. That is what Hollywood uses. We have the terms and basics, but no deep knowledge. As Anne says in High Wall as soon as he remembers he'll be cured. Quick, easy, fast. Need that for a 90 minute Hollywood film.

 

As Christopher says, even in our fantasy films like It's a Wonderful Life what is more noir than Pottersville, what Bedford Falls would have become without George Bailey. And in the noir world nowhere and no one is safe as we see in Hitch Hiker, The Window, Border Incident. It worked in horror and the films of William Castle, that we now look back and can make fun of in Matinee (1993) and the Cuban Missile crisis. But few were laughing in October 1962.

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As Frank Bigelow walks down the long, shadowy corridors of the police station, there is a feeling of aimlessness and absurdity of the bureaucratic system that our lead character is trying to navigate. When Frank says that someone murdered him, we are perplexed and drawn into the plot even more. 

 

I haven't seen this movie, but I'm guessing that this is a case of mistaken identity and/or identity theft in a similar vein as Laura.

I hope you get a chance to see this movie soon. It is a quilty pleasure of mine.

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I have to stop coming to the Daily Dose message board after I've seen the movies. It's hard to talk about the clips without including spoilers. 

 

You can't watch the openings of these movies without wanting to see the whole thing ASAP. I loved Cloris Leachman. And it was great that the cop knew all about Frank when he came in to report his own murder. (My favorite opening credits is the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale. They're a work of art.) 

 

Any story that starts out by jumping in with both feet is hard to resist, although it might turn goofy later. (Kiss Me Deadly goes a little goofy later, and it's a little goofy that mid-century public accountancy training included target shooting and judo classes (D.O.A.)

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i like that too and on a side note, that insurance agents make good detectives, they really do

I have to stop coming to the Daily Dose message board after I've seen the movies. It's hard to talk about the clips without including spoilers. 

 

You can't watch the openings of these movies without wanting to see the whole thing ASAP. I loved Cloris Leachman. And it was great that the cop knew all about Frank when he came in to report his own murder. (My favorite opening credits is the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale. They're a work of art.) 

 

Any story that starts out by jumping in with both feet is hard to resist, although it might turn goofy later. (Kiss Me Deadly goes a little goofy later, and it's a little goofy that mid-century public accountancy training included target shooting and judo classes (D.O.A.)

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I really get the dread and the inevibility on this march to the LA PD.

 

I have to correct one slight thing, in the intro to the clip to DOA, Richard, our curator, mentions that the director is Rudolf Mate, but the credits imply the director is our old friend Dimitri Tiomkin. Just a side note.

 

Can't tell you how much I am learning and am on the edge of my writing desk to learn more and incorporate more into my screenwriting toolkit.

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Los Angeles City Hall, or what looks like it.  A favorite for Dragnet and other detective movies/television shows.  The man walks fairly slowly, but with a purpose, and we aren't privy to that knowledge until the end of the opening credits.  Turns out, he's there to report a homicide, and it's HIS homicide.

 

It happened in San Francisco (no big surprise there), but if he is from Banning and has a small business there, what would make him take a day's journey from the high desert to San Francisco, but report the crime in Los Angeles?  We didn't have the 5 back then, so it would've taken him about 12 or more hours to get there.  .

 

I'm just surprised that we end the week with a man's life in peril, and not a female's, as has been for the first three Daily Dose.  However, this movie opening has me intrigued to see why he's reporting his murder, and how it played out.

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The camera pans down the massive building of a police station late a night and we see a black figure walk into the foreground.  D.O.A. hits you right in the face. A man in a dark suit marches down the desolate and never-ending maze-like corridors of the police station with determination and a slight sense of weariness. The speed at which he's walking is in time to the rhythm of the music. We only see him from the back for most of the clip. He finds the door he was looking for -- Homicide Division. He sits down in front of the investigator and tells him he is there to report a murder. When asked who's murder, that's when we see the man's face; full of anguish and despair. The look on his face gives off the impression that he's been to hell and back, and we see his suit is dirty. He answers it's his murder he's reporting -- Frank Bigelow. Here is Frank, dead on arrival in the police station.

 

The clip's we've seen this week deal with characters in anguish and despair; in need of help and feeling like all hope is lost. For some, help may not have come too late, but for others it may never come. For Christina, in Kiss Me Deadly, she found help, but will Mike he really help her to the fullest? With Roy and Gilbert, in The Hitch-Hiker, who knows if help will ever come out on that lonely highway; they may have met their fate. Marie, in Caged, has met here fate and there doesn't seem to be any way to help her.  As for Frank all hope may not be lost; as long as there is a way to rectify the situation. But the investigator in this clip reminded me of Mike in Kiss Me Deadly, where there seemed to be a sense of cynism from the investigator. It felt like they were looking at Frank more like a suspect, rather than a victim.  They all had anxiety filled journeys, that ranged from being frenzied to more calm. Their journeys all had a lonesome feeling to them even if they weren't alone.

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 What a clog in a wheel we all are....................how this movie hits me.  It moves the Existential motifs so powerfully.  

The plot device of a dead man walking is very new at this time, and we see all the randomness of a CPA getting

caught up in a notary function leading to crime syndicates/atomic terrorism/a very very bad man and he's not the 

one who kills anybody in the film/deaths only a few and the main character whole life in review, and without fanfare

you know the ending but don't care.....................you still want to watch it.

 

PS the music in this one is very interesting, does it mean that we should really enjoy life because you never know???

Great movie/great noir/great camp/great music/great location shooting (provided for the realism that was necessary)

Love the method of death as well.....................no happy endings/only individual actions that lead to life and death....

does this mean that we look closer to our actions?  Another class...............

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Just a quick addition to some great comments in the posts thus far:

 

In each case we are observing the dark scene of a journey involving fear and purpose in pursuit of a goal with an uncertain end. The circumstances may be different but in each opening sequence, one or more characters are facing grave situations where they are desperately trying to grasp some tiny thread of control in a world taking them for a ride. In all, we get the sense that we are about to witness people trying to carry water in colander.

 

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In all of this week's clips we not only start off with some sort of voyage or travel but we are traveling down some passageway (whether highway, city streets or a corridor) that is dimly lit or only partially visible with an uncertain destination. In each case we are mostly concentrating on a single individual, whether it be the Leachman character, the hitchhiker, the woman on her way to prison or the man walking down the corridor. There may be other characters in the sequences but these are the ones we are drawn to as things begin and in each case we know nothing about them initially but we certainly want to.

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In the world of existentialism, freedom comes with responsibility. The Existential choice between authentic and inauthentic creates a conflict only when responsibility is bypassed. Existential freedom for Frank Bigelow (D.O.A.) iS making a choice between accepting the consequences of his demise or being proactive in solving the mystery of who killed him. He felt a sense of responsibility to find the culprits.

 

We read in Robert Porfirio's article that the meaninglessness of man’s existence plays a role in film noir sometimes through the act of “blind chance.” No one expects to die as a result of signing some business papers as happened to Bigelow in D.O.A. This sort of randomness exists in the noir world.

 

We also read under the “Sanctuary, Ritual and Order” subheading that “The film noir hero tries to deal with the violent and incoherent world in the best way he can, attempting to create some order out of chaos, to make some sense of his world.” Bigelow makes such an attempt but at the end is not successful. He was a victim before he realized and time became his enemy and nothing he did would change the outcome- his death. But he did succeed in finding his killer.

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Ah, "D.O.A."...come with me as we turn back the clock of time...back, way back before computers (of any size), before cable (when cable actually was a type of stitch on a sweater), way, way back to television.  Now come back further before the peacock got his color to when television was black and white and we had SEVEN, yes, 7, count 'em, SEVEN channels.

 

"D.O.A." for whatever reason was constantly and I mean constantly on Channel 9 where I live. 

 

It's also an interesting mix of early television personalities...Mrs. Brown from "My Favorite Martian" and Sam Drucker from "Green Acres".

 

This movie seems a bit silly to be...what's with the sliding whistle sound every time a pretty girl passes in front of Frank?

 

I like the image of his entire life passing in front of him when the little girl drops the ball and the young couple meet and embrace right in front of him...poor Frank, he'll never live to have any of this.

 

A bird in the hand...he was greedy, he had Paula there loving him and wanting him, but, no...he had to be greedy and see what was in someone else's house, silly man!

 

Also, perhaps just because it's on old film in the Public Domain but it seemed as if as soon as he realized he was dying, the picture became blurry on and off, like everything was out of focus, distorted, and unexplainable.

 

I've never seen such a long hallway in my life as the one to the Homicide Division door!

 

Good film, a bit worn, as the copy I'm sure.

 

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In the world of existentialism, freedom comes with responsibility. The Existential choice between authentic and inauthentic creates a conflict only when responsibility is bypassed. Existential freedom for Frank Bigelow (D.O.A.) in making a choice between accepting the consequences of his demise or being proactive in solving the mystery of who killed him. He felt a sense of responsibility to find the culprits.

 

We read in Robert Porfirio's article that the meaninglessness of man’s existence plays a role in film noir sometimes through the act of “blind chance.” No one expects to die as a result of signing some business papers as happened to Bigelow in D.O.A. This sort of randomness exists in the noir world.

 

We also read under the “Sanctuary, Ritual and Order” subheading that “The film noir hero tries to deal with the violent and incoherent world in the best way he can, attempting to create some order out of chaos, to make some sense of his world.” Bigelow makes such an attempt but at the end is not successful. He was a victim before he realized and time became his enemy and nothing he did would change the outcome- his death. But he did succeed in finding his killer.

Thank you for this post. I, too,  read Robert Porfiro's article but came away slightly confused. I tend to be logical and linear in my thinking so existentialism is not typically part of my thought process. I see things in a more black and white context without a lot of inbetweens. You have made excellent points in a clear and concise manner. This is why this course is so beneficial in that it takes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to think on a different level.

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The beginning of DOA is similar to that we have seen this week... even though we don't see routes or cars walk, is a man who moves, and the camera follows this movement which introduces us into the film. It seems that, this movement leads to the protagonists, and ourselves, towards an inexorable fate.  The face of Edmund O’Brian shows with terrifying clarity, when it denounces his own imminent death. DOA is the noir in its purest expression... A man sentenced to imminent death without knowing why, fighting against the time that goes by removing life minute by minute, presented to the police for, in a last-ditch effort, tell his story and his final.

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Here are a few discussion starters (though feel free to come up with your own):

-- Compare the opening of this film with the other three Daily Doses this week? Do you see parallels in the opening scenes of these films?

 

This movie’s opening credit is totally different from the other movies from this week is that you are over 2 minutes into the opening without any dialogue or seeing the character’s face. In addition, the other movies opening scenes took place on desolate locations or vehicles. 

 

-- What are some of the noir themes and motifs that are being explored in this film's opening scene? This is also a good film through which to discuss Robert Porfirio's article on Existential motifs, since he references the film D.O.A. several times in his essay.

 

As mentioned in our module this week, this is an example of many types of noir themes and motifs. This movie consists of criminality, dread, trauma, despair and definitely the inability to separate truth from lies. This is the one movie, from this week, that I have seen and luckily I have forgotten the killer. 

 

 

-- How does the style and substance of this film's opening reinforce a feeling of pessimism or hopelessness in the character of Frank Bigelow?

 

It was very ingenious of the director to have Frank walking away from the camera. There was such a sense of urgency on his part walking through the halls of the police station. The music was another indicator of danger or impending danger to come. The speed and tempo made me, as a viewer, especially pay attention as what will happen next. Most importantly, when he announces that there has been a murder and the victim is him creates one of the most amazing openings ever in a movie.

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One parallel between the three films is that a character in each of the films is suddenly presented with another character with a questionable past.  In "Kiss Me, Deadly," the driver of the car picks up a hitchhiker who escaped from a mental institution. Her past and future is mysterious and immediately catches the audience.  In "The Hitch-hiker," the two men in the car pick up a hitch-hiker who turns out to have a gun and a plan that may spell death for the two men.  Again, the audience is hooked on wanting to know the hitch-hiker's past and future, as well as the future of the two men in the car.  In "Caged," a women's prison receives a woman, obviously charged with a crime, whose past and future are enticing to the audience.  Finally, in "D.O.A.," a man walks into the homicide department (after a long walk, compared to the running down the highway of Cloris Leachman,  the journey down the road of the hitch-hiker and the journey down the city streets and into the women's prison of the woman in "Caged") and declares that he was murdered the day before.  He, again, taps into our need for information on his character's past and future.  Simply, the four films begin "in media res."

 

The man walks down darkened hallways seemingly extending forever.  It is if he is in hell and cannot find the door to exit.  He is alone.  No one else walks these same hallways, as he does with quick, firm steps.  It is as if he has made a firm choice to walk these halls.  Finally, he finds a door marked "Homicide."  He enters and encounters police detectives.  He claims that he was murdered the day before, indicating that he has a past with no future.  He seems almost flippant about the declaration, existential in his acceptance of his choice to go to the police.  As John Garfield states in "Body and Soul: "So what are you going to do kill me?  Everybody dies."  The man does not seem emotional or panicked about being dead.  He simply chooses to state the fact to the police.

 

In the opening of "D.O.A.," Frank pessimistically seems to have reconciled himself to the fact that he has been murdered.  He hasn't come there to dispute that fact, but to tell his story to the police.  There is, in his demeanor, hopelessness in his future.  The style of the opening, with long hallways, many doors and dark lighting, evokes death and maybe even the hereafter.

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Ah, "D.O.A."...come with me as we turn back the clock of time...back, way back before computers (of any size), before cable (when cable actually was a type of stitch on a sweater), way, way back to television.  Now come back further before the peacock got his color to when television was black and white and we had SEVEN, yes, 7, count 'em, SEVEN channels.

 

"D.O.A." for whatever reason was constantly and I mean constantly on Channel 9 where I live. 

 

It's also an interesting mix of early television personalities...Mrs. Brown from "My Favorite Martian" and Sam Drucker from "Green Acres".

 

This movie seems a bit silly to be...what's with the sliding whistle sound every time a pretty girl passes in front of Frank?

 

I like the image of his entire life passing in front of him when the little girl drops the ball and the young couple meet and embrace right in front of him...poor Frank, he'll never live to have any of this.

 

A bird in the hand...he was greedy, he had Paula there loving him and wanting him, but, no...he had to be greedy and see what was in someone else's house, silly man!

 

Also, perhaps just because it's on old film in the Public Domain but it seemed as if as soon as he realized he was dying, the picture became blurry on and off, like everything was out of focus, distorted, and unexplainable.

 

I've never seen such a long hallway in my life as the one to the Homicide Division door!

 

Good film, a bit worn, as the copy I'm sure.

 Whenever I hear the mention of DOA I immediately think of Paula (Pamela Britton) who masterfully nailed that role.

 

Absolutely liked your intro. Took me back to WWOR TV Ch. 9 "Million Dollar movies" like you say- before cable.

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