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


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Upon researching Ernest Lazlo, I found he was the cinematographer for (besides Kiss Me Deadly): Stalag 17, Inherit the Wind and Impact ...and for many other good films as well. He was also nominated several times for the Academy Award. Never gave him much thought until now. Except I used his line of cosmetics!

 

Grew up in the Banning, Palm Springs area. I now have a connection!  Back in the '50's Banning was a small community, dry and dusty. California noir?

 

Caged and D.O.A. are similar in that the opening credits role over the character's journey to their destination; therefore, not allowing the audience to immediately connect with the scene until they stop.

 

While walking down the corridor, Bigelow's footsteps kept beat with the music, making his movement deliberate and pressing.

 

As Bigelow sat down with the detective, the room began to fill up with more detectives. He was surrounded. No way out now. He had made the commitment to come to terms with his situation.

 

We now know he was reported as a missing person and presumably Bigelow will take us on one heck of a wild ride as he returns to the scene of the crime, so to speak.

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My first impression of Bigelow in this opening sequence of D.O.A. was that this is an important man, confidently marching in step with the bombastic music into a police precinct, asking to speak to "the man in charge." However, his confidence is significantly cut down when he takes a seat and we see his tired and desperate face for the first time, his dirty clothes the tarnished result of a long night and a hapless story. Giving the initial impression of Bigelow's confidence is key, as it immediately paints a picture of this man in the viewer's mind; once we see the character's true self, our elevated view of the man is chopped down to a stump ("the bigger they are, the harder they fall," as it were).

 

The noir style is in full force with stark shadows (the fan on the wall), a recounting/flashback of a story of peril, and a case of murder, the latter of which is only made more twisted by the fact that the victim is alive to talk about it. We're certainly in for an interesting tale...

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It’s a short hop from existentialism to absurdism. As seen in the clips for the week, in the 1950’s noir had been stretched a bit thin and was often material for “B” pictures. That’s not to say they had no merit, but they could be made fast and cheap and with a dose or two of sensationalism, they could be profitable. It seems like 50’s noir has to have a gimmick. They seem to start in a dark, desperate place and then try to get even darker. That’s hard to do and over the years has been a great source for parody. (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) Sam Spade was doing just fine until Brigid O'Shaughnessy walked in the door and it took the entire film to sort everything out. Frank Bigelow starts out as a virtual dead man; the writers don’t have patience for a long build up. They give you desert first and then layer on fluff. Like desert, it’s enjoyable in some ways, but it’s a guilty pleasure because it leaves you with an empty feeling.

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The motifs are lights and shadows coming from doorways that are either open or closed as Bigelow walks along the corridor.  It takes him a long time to enter city hall and get to where he is going:  homicide.  When he sits down, the camera is on him.  He is to the right of the key light.  As he starts to say where he is from, a visual of water quickly draining appears.  As he walked, his body seemed asymmetrical.  The music mirrors his steps sounding louder at each alternative step he takes.  In contrast to the opening of Caged, this scene is open.  You have the width of the corridors, whereas in Caged, there is a small box that the women are contained in as they ride to prison.

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My first impression of Bigelow in this opening sequence of D.O.A. was that this is an important man, confidently marching in step with the bombastic music into a police precinct, asking to speak to "the man in charge." However, his confidence is significantly cut down when he takes a seat and we see his tired and desperate face for the first time, his dirty clothes the tarnished result of a long night and a hapless story. Giving the initial impression of Bigelow's confidence is key, as it immediately paints a picture of this man in the viewer's mind; once we see the character's true self, our elevated view of the man is chopped down to a stump ("the bigger they are, the harder they fall," as it were).

 

The noir style is in full force with stark shadows (the fan on the wall), a recounting/flashback of a story of peril, and a case of murder, the latter of which is only made more twisted by the fact that the victim is alive to talk about it. We're certainly in for an interesting tale...

 

Part of the opening shows the senselessness of what has happened to Bigelow.  Just because he notarized a bill of sale, he is poisoned.  It is a walking nightmare to him.  When he tells the head detective he is reporting a murder and then says he was murdered, you are stunned.  The detective is stunned inwardly by how his eyes look.  But he remains professional as he invites Bigelow to tell his tale anyway he wants.

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Similarities between the opening of D.O.A. and other daily doses this week exist as the lead characters all come out of darkness into light, although the illuminated world they enter is hardly reassuring. Rather, the characters are caught up in a world full of peril. But in D.O.A., although we don't immediately know it, Frank's ordeal is over. Trying to make sense of it all is his last task and thus he goes to the police. In a noirish, chaotic world that has brought Frank to this state, he would have left his story untold, and all of what transpired up to then would have been classically meaningless, which is kind of how the 1988 remake closes. However, Frank flies against such tradition in the Camus and Sartre sense. An accountant, he ties up the loose ends by telling his tale to the homicide detectives, providing a reason for the arrests of the villains and to his fiancee Paula. Thus, his death has a meaning and about the only satisfaction we can take from the Russell Rouse-Clarence Greene screenplay in place of a happy ending. It's also why Frank, whom we first see as the opening credits roll, stop and forlornly gaze at L.A. City Hall, summons his final final show of determination to bring some order to an insane universe. The police do come across as efficient, un emotional civil servants  ("Wire a response to this San Francisco APB") fighting against a crazy postwar atmosphere as they listen to Frank's tale, but not completely: the gruff captain (Roy Engel) advises Frank to tell his story "any way you like" rather than rush through it. And the setting of the homicide bureau reflects a noir world on the brink of another day. D.O.A. plays like a nightmare, even in its daytime scenes, and the half-asleep nature of the opening sets its tone beautifully.

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The motifs are lights and shadows coming from doorways that are either open or closed as Bigelow walks along the corridor.  It takes him a long time to enter city hall and get to where he is going:  homicide.  When he sits down, the camera is on him.  He is to the right of the key light.  As he starts to say where he is from, a visual of water quickly draining appears.  As he walked, his body seemed asymmetrical.  The music mirrors his steps sounding louder at each alternative step he takes.  In contrast to the opening of Caged, this scene is open.  You have the width of the corridors, whereas in Caged, there is a small box that the women are contained in as they ride to prison.

 

I first saw D.O.A. years ago, and I was struck by the story.  Here is this man who is poisoned and is walking around dead, who asks himself "why."  I think of crimes that take place in Los Angeles, and ask the same question.  The violence is senseless.  I do not think there is another film noir where the protagonist is walking around dead.  This film shows things from the victim's perspective.  In other film noir, who cares about the victim.  They seem to be largely forgotten.

 

The character of Paula bothers me.  She has her own agenda--she wants to marry Bigelow.  Her conversation with him is all based on this premise.  She makes small talk and insinuations all the time he is struggling with the knowledge he is dying.  He finally tells her to shut up.  I guess the director decided not to give her character more breath.

 

The end of the picture really hits you.  Bigelow collapses after saying "Paula."  When one detective says "how do we mark it," his chief says "mark it D.O.A."  Then the DOA stamp is put on the missing person's report as the final moment in the picture.  I have not had the same reaction until I saw "All That Jazz" when the music builds to a crescendo, and the main character is zipped up in a body bag.  I was shocked and cried out "he died?!"

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The casting for this movie was great!  Edmund O'Brien could really exude flop sweat when called for.  Neville Brand could go over the top while seeming to be rational.  One of the best supporting role is the Bradbury Building.

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Fear and dread are certainly motifs explored in this clip, but even more so, I think, are the themes of alienation, meaninglessness, and chaos. Bigelow is a seemingly regular guy who has just had something completely crazy happen to him. We don’t know what it is yet – only that he believes he’s facing imminent and certain death. We also don’t know if this circumstance has to do with a choice that he made, or whether he’s the victim of randomness and chance. It seems like it may be the latter. He has come to the police station to make some sense out of his predicament – find some order in the chaos – get something done about it. But here’s the worst part: It seems like going to the police isn’t going to help him at all – in fact, he’s now apparently in an even worse situation, because it’s revealed to him that the police themselves are after him, and have, in fact, been for searching for him. I think the line that speaks most clearly about the themes of meaninglessness and absurdity is when he says, “I’d like to see the man in charge.” He’s still trying to keep a foothold on the “normal” world – the world that has plans, rules, and authorities – the world that doesn’t just turn on you all of a sudden for no reason. But he’s mistaken to think that there really is such a world, and the worst part is that THERE IS NO ONE IN CHARGE. There’s no divine plan, no order, no meaning – and there never has been – and he’s coming face to face with that realization right now. A couple of other things I noticed were the lettering that spells out the title of the film and the swirling effect that we see at the end of the clip, just as he begins to tell his story in flashback. The lettering is very cold and industrial-looking, and the periods after each letter (D.O.A.) are stretched out to look almost like segments of bars – which makes me think of prison bars, of course. And the swirling technique for the flashback transition makes me think of a drain – like his life up to this moment is just vanishing down the drain, perhaps into the bowels of this very building he came into for help.

 

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-- 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?

The opening scene in D.O.A. is similar to the opening scenes on Kiss Me, Deadly, The Hitch Hiker, and Caged in that all of the 4 films have the protagonist(s) moving on a path to the unknown. In the first 3 films, the path is a road with a car/truck going a highway/street. In D.O.A., Frank is walking in the darkened corridors of the police department.

 

-- 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 Frank is walking across the dark street, we see the office building with bright lights in the windows. Once inside, the hallways are dark with various open doors to offices that cast light strikes across the hall floor.Frank is walking to the beat of the music, he is in a hurry and there is a sense that something is about to happen. Frank is narrating his story and then we get the start of a flashback.

 

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

As Frank sits down in the captains office, he starts to tell his story and gets upset when he feels that the captain won't listen, "do you want to hear me out or not captain, I don't have much time." Frank is reporting a murder, his own, but he is still alive, but for how long. Frank feels that there is no hope for him. It will all end soon.

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This opening scene starts off with the main character walking down long, dark hallways. They all look the same, with dim lights at regular intervals, instilling a sense of dread and almost a lackluster quality to the man's life. Right away, you get the feeling the guy's got problems. The music has a relentless beat that matches the non-stop and equally relentless pace of the man down the halls.

 

When he reaches the "Homicide Division" door, its representation and the words indicate he's in trouble. However, that feeling of doom and paranoia increases greatly when the detective asks him if he's Frank Bigelow. The fact that he already knows his name is creepy to say the least and suggests he may have done something to bring troubles on himself.

 

This sets us up for one of the most depressing of films noir. Being essentially dead and unable to change the outcome, Frank Bigelow (in a sense) represents us all, in a world where nothing lasts forever.

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It’s a short hop from existentialism to absurdism. As seen in the clips for the week, in the 1950’s noir had been stretched a bit thin and was often material for “B” pictures. That’s not to say they had no merit, but they could be made fast and cheap and with a dose or two of sensationalism, they could be profitable. It seems like 50’s noir has to have a gimmick. They seem to start in a dark, desperate place and then try to get even darker. That’s hard to do and over the years has been a great source for parody. (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) Sam Spade was doing just fine until Brigid O'Shaughnessy walked in the door and it took the entire film to sort everything out. Frank Bigelow starts out as a virtual dead man; the writers don’t have patience for a long build up. They give you desert first and then layer on fluff. Like desert, it’s enjoyable in some ways, but it’s a guilty pleasure because it leaves you with an empty feeling.

At the end of the movie, it does leave you feeling that something, maybe, justice was served but to what means.  Bad guys still out there, dead man for notary service, relationships no time to develop, life just short.  Yes, we have an end to a mystery but do we have and end to randomness.  Is it authentic to think so?  

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I wanted to say that our readings for this week came in handy on JEOPARDY! On the July 7 show, the question was to complete Camus' statement that the only philosophical question is (blank). We now know from our reading of the material that the answer is suicide.

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While all four Daily Dose clips share noir stylistic traits and themes, the opening scene of D.O.A. seemed to me to have the most in common with the scene from Caged. Both movies use gritty music, news-like titles, realistic camera work and aspects of the criminal justice system to create a sense of foreboding before any lines are spoken.

 

Taken by itself (I've seen D.O.A. before), the initial impression the clip made on me was that this must be a movie about the dire consequences of criminal behavior, and how messed up it must be to know you're about to kick the bucket and that there is nothing you can do to stop it. I guess if you look at it from a Sisyphean (meets Charlie Sheen) perspective, though, Edmond O'Brien is WINNING, because even though his days are numbered, hes in that police station trying to roll the rock of his impending doom right back up the hill.

 

The way Edmond O'Brien trudges through that endless maze of hallways, only to arrive at a door labeled "Homicide" tells the viewer that the movie they are about to see is pretty grim before we even see his face. But once we get a good look at the guy, the expression of tired doom Frank wears so convincingly lets us know just how **** things really are for him.

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I wanted to say that our readings for this week came in handy on JEOPARDY! On the July 7 show, the question was to complete Camus' statement that the only philosophical question is (blank). We now know from our reading of the material that the answer is suicide.

 

We cover all your bases here at Into the Darkness! Love it! Bring on Double Jeopardy!!

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All these beginnings beget alienation.  Whetehr walking through the police department or the hitchhiking of Leacman and Talman, all point to a dark confiused start to the film.  No one knows what is going to happen but the shadows, the music and the actors  exude  individual malaise that will pervade the film. 

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-- 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?

 

In Kiss Me Deadly we are dropped into the middle of Christina Bailey’s flight from an asylum as she wanders barefoot down a highway trying to get someone to stop and help her flee from something that has left her very afraid.  Even though we learn of the asylum only indirectly through the policeman’s comments to another driver and see nothing of the asylum itself, it represents something that most normal people would fear and want to avoid.  It is a place where other people (doctors and staff) are in complete charge of a patient’s life.  The freedom to make one’s own decisions and control one’s life is taken away.  In the opening scene, it is the self-confident, risk-taking private detective Mike Hammer who picks up Christina and gets her through the first hurdle of the police roadblock.

 

In The Hitch-Hiker we meet two regular guys driving off on a fishing trip and traveling down a dark, deserted highway.  When Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen stop to help a stranded motorist who has run out of gas, their lives take an unforeseeable turn when he turns out to be the escaped convict Emmett Meyers, who uses his gun to hijack Roy and Gil and their car to flee into Mexico.  Emmett has come from a prison, where his life was also ruled by others, but now he is the man in charge, depriving Roy and Gil of their freedom and dictating in great detail everything they must do.

                                                                                         

In the opening scene of Caged we meet a group of women being transported in a dark police van with only a minimal view of the outside world to a women’s prison to begin their sentences.  The visuals of their arrival at the prison contrast the harsh, restricted world they are about to enter with a last view of the sunny world of freedom beyond the prison gate.  Their lives will be ruled by the prison staff for the duration of their sentences.

 

In the opening scene of D.O.A. a desperate Frank Bigelow enters the Lost Angeles Police Department at night seeking help.  The images of the LAPD are not encouraging: the halls are long, dimly lit, and almost empty of people.  All the doors are closed.  It does not seem a hospitable place.  When Frank does encounter a clutch of people standing near what appears to be a file room, his request for directions is met with a quick thumb gesture to point him toward the Homicide Division.  Then come more long, empty halls.  Dimitri Tiomkin’s score accompanying Frank’s march down the corridors conveys grim urgency.  When Frank tells “the man in charge” that he (Frank) is a murder victim, it seems that the police already know his name and that the San Francisco police have issued an APB for him.  Aside from Frank’s unusual claim to have been murdered, the information about his being sought by the San Francisco police raises the question as to whether “the man in charge” is actually going to help Frank or pose a further threat.

 

If “the man in charge” can be thought to stand for a person or institution that controls the lives of others and takes away their freedom, we can see that Christina Bailey is out on the highway fleeing desperately from the asylum that controlled her, Roy and Gil are out on the highway when Emmett Meyers becomes literally “the man in charge” and turns their Plymouth Cranbrook into a rolling prison, the new female inmates are on the road in a sort of temporary mobile prison when they come to “the end of the line” and are about to enter a prison where their lives will be controlled by “the man in charge.”  And finally, Frank Bigelow walks off the street and into the forbidding, bureaucratic institution of the LAPD, wanting to speak to “the man in charge.”  Will the LAPD actually help Frank, or will he be enveloped in bureaucratic delays or even criminal charges as his last hours run out?

 

-- 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.

 

The information we have to go on in this opening scene of D.O.A. is considerably less than Robert Profirio brings to bear from the whole film in explicating motifs of existential choice, the narration of a character facing death, and the absurd randomness of life-altering events that come out of nowhere.  We can, however, find the seeds of these motifs in two things Frank Bigelow tells the police.  Through two-and-a-half minutes of this opening sequence we have seen Frank only from behind.  When he finally meets “the man in charge,” Frank tells him he wants to report a murder.  Only after the policeman asks “Who was murdered?” do we finally see Frank’s face.  There is a pregnant pause as Frank considers how his answer will be received.  We see his suit is dirty and his shirt and tie disheveled.  He looks troubled and bewildered.  After a couple of breaths, Frank replies, “I was.”  Tiomkin’s score underlines this startling response with a couple of mysterious chords as the reaction shot moves to Frank’s police interlocutor.  As the policeman shuffles through some papers on his desk, Frank adds, “Well, do you want to hear me out or don’t you, Captain?  I don’t have very much time.”  Since Frank is clearly not a dead man when he makes these two statements, we may assume that he must be a dying man, and this is underlined by “I don’t have very much time.”  This clearly places Frank’s forthcoming narrative under the existentialist situation of a man facing his own death.

 

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

 

The look on Frank’s face before he tells the police he is the murder victim and his question about whether the police want to hear him out show his pessimism about being taken seriously.  If he is dying and running out of time, the situation could well turn out hopeless.  The march that accompanies Frank as we walks down the corridors of the LAPD certainly sounds anything but optimistic to me; fatalistic and pessimistic seem to describe the music better.

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All of the film clips begin in darkness, creating a sense of dread. Faces are hidden.  Shadows create a sense of brooding forboding.

 

Leachman and Talman, in their fllm clips, are desparate but still grasping at the hope of escaping their fates.  Parker and O'Brien are struggling to accept the fact that there is no escape.  There is no hope; they've reached the end of the line.

 

The normal world that used to exist is fading fast.  It's no longer safe to drive on a dark, lonely road, no longer safe to help a stranger.  No longer safe to conduct business as usual.  The police can't help as in O'Brien's case or may contribute to brutality as in Parker's case.  Who is it safe to trust? Is it safe to trust anybody?  The world now seems so unsafe....

 

The faces of the actors convey their feelings:  Leachman's expression of desparate, hopeful  pleading as the roadblock comes in view,  O'Brien's and Lovejoy's stunned expressions  as they realize that out of the blue their lives are in  great danger, Parker's look of disbelief and dread once the van door is opened, and O'Brien's look of weariness, hopelessness and resignation as he starts to tell the story of his murder.  They form a time line of a sort tracing  the changes taking place in the American film noir view of life. 

 

I thought of Porfirio's article when I watched the DOA clip.  Here's the man sentenced to death, telling his story through voiceover and flashbacks.......

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The clips we have seen this week all share the common bond of having the viewer be completely disoriented by what is going on and he/she must catch up quickly.

 

The clips also use lighting techniques of different sorts to frame the opening moments of the film. this framing sets an air of mystery, desperation and tension in the opening moments that are essential to the movies.

 

Each one features the main character in a state of shabbiness or unkeptness related to the state of their affairs.

 

The filming of the lead character from behind. the walking into trouble and the use of music to set tension are all vital components. The themes of disillusion, fear, murder, mayhem and being on the run are utilized here as well.

 

By the time we see Frank's face we know he is in one hell of a pickle. he is really in it over his head. The perplexing fact that he wants to report his own murder adds a new twist to the genre but also show's that Bigelow is in dire straights. In this scene he looks absolutely deflated.

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Like all the daily doses this week we're presented with protagonists whow have had the noir world thrust upon them. To a certain extent, the private ****, gangsters, femme fatales and other archetype back alley miscreants know the cards fate has delta them. However, this week it's the unknowing citizen suddenly thrust into the dark little world of noir's turn. I think k these movies resonate with we, the viewers more, because it's easier for us to accept the verisimilitude of the protagonists plight. It could be us.

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I've seen Mate's D.O.A. before but this time with a different outlook -- Frank Bigelow striding purposefully down the long hallways with the powerful, striding orchestral sounds in time with his gait, the camera following closely behind. And yet his message, his story, is revealed within 3 minutes --soon to be over. Looking forward to watching again!

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Each of this week's opening scenes shows a single person moving (three of them walking), each of them desperate for some reason unknown to us until a minute or so into the film.  All of them are moving through darkness, with light as their destination.  We don't see their faces for the first minute or so; we don't know who these characters are or what is driving them through the darkness.

 

We see from Bigelow's driven walk down the long hallway that he is determined to reach his destination.  Notice that the rhythmic, driving music matches the timing of his footsteps.  He walks in darkness until he sees the lighted "Police Dept." sign, then continues until he reaches the central desk.  Not only is it well-lit through the windows, but the policeman whom Bigelow asks for direction is standing directly under brighter lighting.  Walk further down the hallway, which seems to grow darker after the lighting at the desk.  There are no signs, doorways all look the same - just keep walking - until we see the door marked "Homicide Dept."  Homicide - the end of a life.  

 

Bigelow's desperation isn't apparent to us until we see his face and he starts speaking.  He's tired, he's sweating, he's out of breath.  He's just about reached the end of his rope and seems relieved to be able to sit and tell someone his story.  

 

I haven't seen this film in its entirety, so I don't have a lot of insight as to motif.  But I did notice two possibilities in the opening:   

  1. Alienation and loneliness – Bigelow is walking alone.  He is reporting the murder of himself, which so far has been classified as a missing person case.  (Note that the papers are buried in a pile to the side of the detective's desk.)
  2. The absurd - Homicides are typically reported through a phone call.  Who just walks into the homicide department to report a murder?  This guy - the supposed corpse!  Wow - way to grab our attention. 
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All the opening scenes introduce someone(s) in trouble, that fear and anxiety surround the characters in the scene, and a feeling that they are on the edge of a precipice and can fall off of it into madness. Also, feelings of resignation, malaise, loneliness and nothingness abound.

 

In D.O.A., the noir theme of realism via documentary technique using on location shooting; to get the law to resolve the problem. A noir motif or Existential one of hopelessness when Frank Bigelow (Edmund O'Brien) is reporting his own murder; feelings of resignation and malaise that death is inevitable.

 

Frank Bigelow (Edmund O'Brien) has a long way to travel for someone who is about to die. Its absurd how far he has to walk before he arrives at the Homicide squad's door. The feeling of pessimism is reinforced by a person Frank asks directions from. This person hardly answers, points in the general direction while continuing a conversation with someone else.

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One interesting thought that I had while the credits were rolling was this: What does the man say to the police officer who points him in the direction toward the Homicide Division?

 

It may be that the man, later said to be Frank Bigelow, says exactly what he tells the Head of the Homicide Division: "I'd like to report a murder."

 

But....what if he actually said something else like, "I was murdered."  My thought is that the police officer would have generated a larger reaction, but I could be wrong.

 

What we see here in film noir, like many of the existential and hard-boiled stories that the lecture and readings reference, is a sense of nothingness or at least ambiguity.  In not knowing exactly what is said, we are not only unsure, but also made to think it may not be important.  This, to me, further signifies the striking relationship between existentialism and noir as well as hard-boiled fiction and noir.

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The opening shots are definitely from the main character's perspective. His silhouette is dwarfed by the severe angles of the police building in the first shot. He continues on alone through the corridors of the police station, in perspective, all angles, no straight lines (this seems to be an obsession with me!).

Once in the Homicide Dept., the angles become "normal" as he interacts with the detectives in the two rooms. He goes into the office of "the man in charge" nearly alone also, but watch how the shots open up as he introduces himself (from two-shot, then medium close-up as we see his face for the first time, then medium long-shot, and so on), and more and more people join in on the scene.

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