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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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Very powerful first scene. Long, winding hallways underscored by the music and the back of a man, walking non-stop towards his destination.

 

-- 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?

 

There is a parallel as was said in this last dose about loss of freedom. But also, a parallel in the way that each scene opens. It's a look to the distance and to the isolation of the characters. The contrast is clear when it comes to gender, as the men, even those who claim to have been "murdered" are more in control. However, that is not to make an assumption that things won't get out of hand for every character.
 

 

-- 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 length of th walk, the solitutde of that walk, his stained clothes, himself surrounded by cops but only one he's actually communicating with. The rest are interested in him as one would be to an animal in a cage. He's trapped and this journey has only taken him farther into his cage.

 

Very interesting. I look forward to watching it today.

 

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1.)   In comparing the opening scene of D.O.A. with the other three scenes from this weeks Daily Doses many parallels do emerge.  One aspect which runs like a thread through all four scenes is that in keeping with the style and tradition of films nor,  is that all four films open very strongly. The unsuspecting viewer instantly and dragged into the action without no hope of looking back, These films waste not even a second of screen time with extraneous storyline  In Caged, we immediately driven to a prison and dragged into the prison without hope of escape; in The Hitch hiker the mysterious individual which the two men grant a ride pulls a gun on them and there is not going back; in Kiss Me Deadly we are only minutes into the film when an lone driver picks up a mysterious woman running on a highway; and in D.O.A. the viewer (and the police ) can't believe their ears when a man wanders into a policed station at night to report his own murder.

 

2.) The opening of D.O.A. shows elements and motifs of film noir in that the film is about desperation, paranoia, and desolation. A man comes to the police in the dead of night to report that he has been murdered while he's still alive is bizarre and in keeping with noir a concept loaded with darkness and hopelessness.

 

3.)  The style of the opening of D.O.A shows a lonely man in a dark suit walking down long dimly lit corridors almost as if he were walking to his death or to the electric chair. The whole time he is walking towards the "man in charges" office, we do not see his face.  He is lonesome and tragic figure

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The opening sequence reinforces the helplessness of Frank Bigelow through the actor's mannerisms and overall demeanor. He recites his lines as if he is out of breath. The look on his face says that he is exhausted and tired of whatever he is involved in. You get the sense that the murder he is reporting in this scene is the straw that broke the camel's back. Like the sequences this week, we open up solely focused don one character who is in danger or is dangerous themselves. In this sequence, we follow Bigelow as he is walking through the department in order to eventually report the murder. Naturally, you'd assume that if someone had witnessed a murder and wanted to report it, they'd be more hurried and frantic. Not Frank Bigelow. He is tired and exhausted and senses the end.

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The first thing I see is a tall building which makes the man look extremely small. He enters the building with a purposeful stride, which means his business must be urgent. Nothing new there. The hallways of the Police Department look like a labyrinth. Bigelow could be a rat in a maze. The "man in charge" is illuminated, similar to the way the interrogated people have bright lights shone in their faces. As Bigelow speaks, the captain doesn't hesitate to believe his outlandish tale, which makes no sense. The final image, the water, I take to mean either everything going down the drain or that the viewer is about to go right down the rabbit hole.

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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?

-- 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.

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

 

I guess the similar parallels are drama unfolding before us often very slowly but giving us just enough to get the feeling that this might not end well.

 

​As Alfred Appel has noted in his book Nabokov's Dark Cinema: "What unites the seemingly disparate kinds of film noirs, then, is their dark visual style and their black vision of despair, loneliness and dread".

 

 

The long walk and the tone of Franks voice.  He's not in any hurry it seems hes come to terms. 

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All four of these films open in medias res, with someone with a dark past stepping out of the darkness. We are immediately interested in knowing how things got to this point.

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Like the other three Daily Doses this week, this movie starts with movement.  "Kiss Me, Deadly" began with a running woman through the night, "The Hitchhiker" clip began with men driving through the night, "Caged" began with a darkened police van lumbering to a prison, and "D.O.A." begins with a man taking a long, deliberate night walk into and through what could be a literal "last mile" of a police station. The movement in all these clips reinforce the existential notion that we are all dealing with a world that makes no sense, and the best we can do is try to move ourselves in a position where we may get some semblance of control or at least order.

 

The man plods relentlessly on through the silent, shadowed, top lit hallway; a small dark figure in an imposing official building.  We can't tell what his demeanor is; throughout his long trek his gait is heavy and he is shot exclusively from the back.  All these visual elements reinforce a sense of bleak despair.

 

As Bigelow arrives at the Detective division, he enters a lit room.  As he sits to speak with the detective, his face at last shown, he is slack jawed and exhausted.  Hopelessness is written in the way he struggles to keep his body from collapsing, and in the wounded eyes of the actor Edmond O'Brien - a tough guy with a layer of insecurity in his makeup.

 

Again existentially, the character is shown to be a fragile, puzzled soul dealing with a senseless death sentence he, standing in for all of us, has been handed. 

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I have enjoyed the daily doses of darkness this week. Each clip showing a desperation, fear and terror.  I read some of the posts on the message board and agree with the observations. However I would like to comment on "The Stranger on the third floor".  I would have never known about this film if you (Richard Edwards) hadn't suggested the articles by John and Stephanie Blaser.  I agree that it has the elements of a noir film (without the hard boiled detective hero). There was more emotion from the main character than from the controlled detectives of film noir, but the shadows ,camera angles, guilt, loneliness, and flashbacks were all present.  The dream sequence is interesting and as Picasso once stated: "good artist copy, great artist steal". I understand the inspiration and evolution of FILM NOIR.

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 A lot of discussion this week about the philosophical and psychological influences on film noir, as well there must be. I have a different interpretation of existential fatalism as described in the lecture and podcast.

 

It seems to me (having had several years of Freudian analysis and now well over a decade of daily recovery from addictions perhaps nudged by having read Sartre's "Being and Nothingness" while in high school) that an absence of God would be depicted by chaos, rather than the neatness of "fate" catching up in the end with characters like the "Swede." Fate in these films is a de facto God, evidencing karma or perfect justice. Albeit at odds with studio censors of the period, an amoral atheistic landscape would have the wicked prosper, at least in the immediate lifetime. 

 

I think also that in the shared experience of movie-going at the time, the collective audience sits on the throne as God, watching the actions of humankind as did the audiences of Greek tragedy and comedy or the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare's time ("the world's a stage, its people merely players"). In economic terms, certainly the audience was the source of bread for the studios and art imitating life. If there is a prevailing fatalism, it would be a view that God has, at least in part, abandoned mankind, the view that God's role ended with creation and now the Creator merely sits back and observes, exactly the role of the film audience. 

 

If there is an American spin on the films of the period in terms of religion and philosophy, it might be the rise of the ticket buying public as a cynical consumer version of a material God, Dwight Eisenhower in the 50's adding the phrase, "In God We Trust" to money and fostering the view of the "ugly American" to the rest of the world, despite our help defeating the Axis powers.

 

Finally, I think it worth noting that the French, as mentioned in the readings, were far from the only existential perspectives of the period. I think many of the films noir are a psychological exorcizing of guilt for not having done more earlier, disbelieving the horrors of the concentration camps and refusing entry to refugees, Jews and non-Jews alike, adrift on ships, particularly by the many Jewish studio executives who gained wealth and prominence during the period.

 

The best example of a contemporary existential writer who did not share the God abandonment view was Viktor Frankel, whose book, "Man's Search for Meaning" was a personal response to his internment in the Nazi camps and from which many, many sufferers of despair and existential angst found and continue to find comfort and ultimate meaning and peace, despite the seeming senselessness of existence and in the face of man's inhumanity to man.

 

Just thought I'd add these thoughts to our discussion. As always, grateful for the opportunity to learn with others and engage in discussion and dialogue.

 

Thanks!

 

richard

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When I examine the beginning of D.O.A., I see the first two minutes as positive. Yes, it's dark and the halls seem endless. The music and O'Brien's movements are so positive. He moves quickly, with a mission. It isn't until he comes into the light to report the murder that you realize this is film noir. His clothing is dirty. He looks exhausted. He's reporting his murder. He knows he has very little time. The only thing he wants to do is tell his story. Rather than having your life flash before your eyes the moments before death, he needs to tell the story of his last 24 hours before his eyes and mind goes black.

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Marching to his death

From the credits to the end of the scene with the image of water circling down a drain, Frank Bigelow is marching to his death.  The strong cadence of Dimitri TIokin's score accompanies Frank as he walks deep in the the heart of the building through many hallways that act like a snaking tunnel to the center of the earth or his own crypt.  The viewer knows his fate is sealed when Frank open the door to the homicide division; the viewer knows that someone has been killed and now it is just a matter of finding out who and how.  Once Frank is shown into the head of the homicide division, he states that he wants to report his own murder. The homicide chief does not seem surprised but find the paperwork on Frank's case.  Frank says that he does not have much time to tell his story; the viewer knows that Frank's life is a matter of mere minutes.

We can sense that universal of meaninglessness when the homicide chief is not shocked by Frank's revelation of his own murder, but the viewer is shocked.  How can Frank Bigelow sit in the chair and claim to tell of his own murder.  Does he have a stab wound he is about to keel over from?  We as viewers sense that malaise from Frank's bold statement and we want to hide from the fear it brings up, but even in the police station we do not have a safe place to hide.  Just by hearing Frank's confession, we feel compelled to stay the course of the film to discover the reality of Frank's murder.  We are trapped with no exit; we have to endure the torture of Frank's story.

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Like Edwards' intro says, there is a feeling of pessimism in the way the scene is staged, the long walk, the dark, empty corridors (is he as "caged" as the women in the previous DD?)... even the body language in most people, from the officer in the beginning that directs Bigelow, to the way the detectives at Homicide react, or not react, to his arrival.

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The never ending corridor gives the impression that no matter how far you go, you'll never escape. That ties in nicely with the Noir theme of fate and consequence.

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Frank Bigelow himself walks (forever!) to the homicide office to report himself murdered, and the LA Police report that "they *found* Bigelow"? That's some crack police work there, son.

 

DOA has one of the very best conceits in all film noir: the main character is already dead, murdered in fact. The main character recalls his experiences over the last day, solving the crime that was a result of something so random as notarizing a paper for a stranger. How's that for the fickle finger of fate. In terms of our learnings this week there is nothing more existential than a movie where the hero is already dead. 

 

Awesome.

 

Of note, we often see the LA police department building from the outside, representing law and order. It is an imposing edifice seen in every Perry Mason episode and many film noirs. This is the first time we have seen that same building as a rabbit warren of hopelessness; long dark corridors with dirty little offices full of men who seems to be sheltering in place and exhausted after that long walk from the front door.

 

 

 

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Running down long backstreets, driving down long desolate highways, long dark drives in paddy wagons and walks down long deserted corridors, all these things cause the audience to think, "Where are we going?" "What has happened to this character?". When will we discover what has gone wrong?". The building of questions and suspense, as well as the feeling that we are shadows of the people we are following, creates a feeling of dread and anxiety.  We want the film to start and to find the answers, to solve or figure out what has gone wrong and hopefully have it fixed, although in the back of our minds there is the niggling reality that there may not be a solution.

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Daily Dose of Darkness #20: The Man in Charge

(Opening Scene from D.O.A.)

 

—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?

All four Daily Doses deal with themes of isolation and fear. What I find remarkable about D.O.A. is the detail I notice each time I see the movie. For example, in this opening scene, Frank Bigelow seems trapped by long empty corridors that emphasize his solitary existence and situation. I noticed for the first time that he is often completely alone in the corridors of a working police station. I also noticed that the homicide detectives in the police station already know who Frank Bigelow is, which baffles him.

—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 because he references the film D.O.A. several times in his essay.

I have not yet read Profirio’s essay, but both the meaning and meaninglessness of existence seem to be prominent themes in D.O.A. I am reminded of many other art forms portraying the same themes in the 1950s: the theater of the absurd, the later writings by Albert Camus. Throughout all these art forms (literature, theater, and film), it seems that the only response to a world recovering from world war and facing nuclear annihilation is to create meaning for oneself.

—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 empty corridors emphasize the fact that Frank Bigelow feels isolated and alone. I also wonder if American culture is beginning to investigate the pitfalls of bureaucracy. I remember hearing the expression bureaucratic red tape a lot more often than I do now. But I thought of it again when the camera follows Bigelow from one hallway to the next in the police station.

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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?

     

What makes them similar is that the characters are going to something or someone, also the musical score has a very dramatic and threatening tone.

 

 

 

  • 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.

     

Some of the themes are the race against time the character knows that he was poisoned with a deadly substance that has no known antidote and he must tell his story to the police. He becomes a human with no hope of survival and impending doom.

 

 

 

  • 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 the scene opens we, the viewer walk along with Frank Bigelow in his quest to find someone to listen to him, he knows there is no hope for his grave situation.

 

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This is the first of the Daily Doses that takes place inside. But it does continue the theme of moving and not knowing where you're going or why. When we end at the Homicide division we feel the fear and bleakness or the other daily doses. We should feel security and safe that the main character is in the presence of police, yet they seem to be against him. They already expect him, we don't know why, and they don't seem the least bit shocked that Frank is coming in to announce that he was murdered, a charge which shocks the audience. Something tells us that the police can't be trusted. Then who can?

We see the theme of alienation and loneliness. Frank is surrounded by men and yet by saying that he was murdered he immediately sets himself apart from the police. He is completely alone in this tale. This scene also shows a man under the sentence of death. Here it is almost literal. Frank states he has been murdered, though he is living and breathing and explaining his tale.  

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What I like about the opening of D.O.A., as I did with Caged, is that the camera forces us to become the protagonist by shooting from that particular point of view. By forcing us to become participants, we--the audience members--are automatically placed into the scene. I think that's why we don't see too many, if any, establishing shots in films noir. These films are for the common, everyday people. This isn't Gone with the Wind, or An American in Paris, or Ben-Hur. These films, no matter how bleak they are, are easy to relate to. Not so much as we all encounter such danger and intrigue in our everyday lives, but because we can in some way identify with these characters. Sure, we might be able to relate to Scarlett O'Hara, but she lives in a world that is separate from us (not only in time, but in high society with many men fawning over her). Films noir get to the nitty gritty, the people who may be swept up into certain circumstances without necessarily meaning to. It's kind of difficult to articulate--even in writing--but those films I've mentioned seem much more of an escape from our daily lives, unlike films noir. It's kind of like how people would go to see Sondheim's Company expecting to be solidly entertained, but end up encountering and facing themselves as characters upon the stage.

 

Like the previous films this week, we see themes of isolation and danger in D.O.A. We, as the central character, head into the unknown; we know that we must, but we don't know the outcome of our actions. Here, Frank Bigelow is reporting his own murder, so we know we'll have to untangle the mess of how this all happened (in a flashback, no less!), and how we can rise up, if there's any hope at all, out of all of this. At this point in the film, there isn't much hope at all, though there appears to be some sort of glimmer as Frank walks into the bright room after briskly walking through the shadowy corridors.

 

We don't see much of Dutch angles here--a staple of films noir--but we instantly know that this world is on his head once Frank reports his own murder. This film was released five years prior to Kiss Me Deadly, and I think Ernest Laszlo does a much better job in Kiss Me Deadly in illustrating how chaotic that world is. Nevertheless, we do get a focused, film noir style here, and D.O.A. surely fits into the realm of film noir.

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Edmund O’Brien’s character, Frank Bigelow, in Rudolph Mate’s D.O.A. (Cardinal Pictures, United Artists, 1950) is a good example of the “Man Under Sentence of Death” category cited by Robert G. Porfirio in his 1976 essay, “No Way Out: Existential Motifs in the Film Noir.”

 

Although still alive and capable of narrating the entire film in flashback, Bigelow describes himself as already having been murdered, the night before, to waiting police officials who are aware of his case.  In this opening scene, Bigelow establishes the first plot point as well as creating a twist on the line, “I’d like to report a murder.”  The other three films from this week, Kiss Me Deadly, The Hitch-Hiker and Caged also quickly establish the central story problem.

 

At this point in the film, we know that Bigelow will die soon and he resigned to the fact that there’s nothing he can do about it.  Not being able to control, alter or affect the outcome of the film’s central story problem and or fate of the protagonist is, in part, why Bigelow may be considered by some to fall into Porfirio’s “Non-Heroic Hero” category, but placing Bigelow in this category would be misplaced due to Bigelow’s non-passive and active efforts over the course of the film.  Bigelow’s heroic, non-heroic, or anti-heroic status shouldn’t be completely tied to his resignation of his own death at the outset of the film.  While, over the duration of the flashback, we will learn that Bigelow, assuming the role of an amateur detective, will bring to justice those involved in his “luminous poisoning.”  Bigelow is a protagonist that actively tries to solve his problem, despite the fact that he fails in his efforts to save himself.

 

Bigelow’s problems fall closely to the problems that the characters Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowan face in Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker.  Bigelow, Collins and Bowan are all “victims” of a near random death sentence.  Bigelow finds himself being poisoned for notarizing a piece of paper and Collins and Bowan face murder at the hands of a serial killer who dupes them into believing he is a motorist who ran out of gas.  These seemingly innocent actions create a world where the threat of death comes unexpectedly in nearly every form of daily life.

 

In D.O.A., The Hitch-Hiker, Caged and Kiss Me Deadly, we find major and minor characters that are under psychological as well as physical trauma, are in worlds of random and meaningless violence, and face loneliness and isolation.  These external conflicts create intense internal conflicts as well as potentially unanswerable existential questions.

 

-Mark

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The entrance of the main character is soaked in darkness and shadows accentuated by the dramatic music score of doom. The way he walks, the way he talks announces the end, the non relation to a life of hope and opportunities. What choice and opportunity do a lonely man doomed to death have? The only order, only choice, is marching through those bleak corridors to the inevitable clarfifcation of the end. As a viewer I am very curious to get to know what is going to be revealed, but at the same time very much aware of that i do not, really.

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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 clips from Kiss Me Deadly & The Hitch-Hiker, like D.O.A., open showing only a single solitary person.  Caged evokes that feeling by giving the audience a shot making the viewer the single solitary person.

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.

- One man (Bigelow) against the world (the large bldg & the group of men in the homicide office).  Bigelow makes a long lonely trek through corridor after corridor in the bldg.  This (his impending death) is a critical event for Frank Bigelow, yet he must ask, do you want to hear it or not?

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

- He pauses before heading up the steps to L.A. City Hall, he pauses before going into the homicide division, pauses before starting his story.  Bigelow is dusty, tired, disheveled, perhaps feeling somewhat distraught while everyone else is clean, relaxed, going about business as usual—and to top it all off, they already know something about him.

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The three openings all show a person on the move. Three are on foot at the opening, three end up in vehicles driven by others, the man in D.O.A. is on foot and is in charge of his destiny, seemingly at first, but once we keep following, it occurs that he is being propelled into an unknown world the same as the other three. The woman in Kiss Me Deadly is escaping the police and killers. The man in the Hitch-Hiker is escaping recapture by police. The woman in Caged has been captured by police and is riding to her uncertain future in jail. The man in D.O.A. is hurrying to police, but the indications from his interminable walk down the long dark, forbidding hallways symbolizes the lack of help they are likely to offer. Getting to the police station to get help would usually signify a feeling of relief - of getting help. Instead, you feel he has just entered a world full of bureaucratic red tape, order but in the order a sort of controlled chaos that offers no solutions.

The themes of alienation, fear, paranoia, lack of control are brought out by the motifs of the dark city with only the lights of the buildings showing - deep darkness, sounds of traffic, honking and the point of view of the man walking, and walking, and walking. The long hallways shots show him walking deeper and deeper into the belly of the beast, if you will. He is making progress, but the visual feeling is that the hallway is getting longer and longer with the point of view of his destination getting smaller (like the hall in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). It is claustrophobic and anxiety producing.

The character of Frank Bigelow is feeling trapped and even though he is reaching out for help and in walking, is propelling himself forward, there is the sense that, as Porfirio pointed out, "he is the disoriented individual facing a confused world with stubborn perseverance despite the absurdity of existence."

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All four of the opening scenes that we saw this week thrust the viewer into the middle of the action.  While Kiss Me Deadly is probably the most disorienting, we begin each with someone on a journey, with no idea of his or her destination.  Each creates a sense of danger or dread right from the start, as well. 

 

In D.O.A. in particular, all through the credits we follow an outline of a man who is headed towards a very specific destination.  The viewer is left to wonder where this man is going and what he will do when he gets there.  The music contributes to a sense of anxiety and amplifies this seemingly never-ending march towards…something. 

 

It is here that we see many of the existential motifs mentioned in Porfirio’s monograph emerging.  All through this scene, Frank stands apart from the other people.  He is often alone in walk, but even when he encounters others, they are often with someone else or a part of a group.  We see their faces, but Frank remains a mystery.  Even when he is taken to “the man in charge,” He is on the opposite side of the desk from the two detectives.  It is clear that he is a very isolated man.

 

When he tells the detectives that he has been murdered, we see the “man under sentence of death.”  Frank does not seem emotional about this fact; he seems to have accepted that he is a dead man.  Even this early n the film we get a sense of Frank having made a bit of the existential choice that Porfirio describes, as he his now clearly living in world that is not conventional, even if he did not choose to enter it.

 

This opening scene also brings home the absurdity of the world.  A man walks into the police station and tells the man in charge of the homicide department that he was murdered last night.  To the audience, this is shocking.  The detective, however, takes this news in stride; he is prepared for Frank’s story and simply finds the appropriate paperwork to notify San Francisco.  Despite the absurdity of the situation, both he detectives and Frank seem to be trying to create some kind of order and reason out of what seems to be a completely unnatural situation.

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I felt confined in all of these clips.  In Kiss Me Deadly, the woman broke free of a place confining her, but had to get into a car that rolled through a road block looking for her.  Hitch Hiker the men were confined in the car with a killer.  Caged had the women confined in a paddy wagon, going to be more confined in the prison.  Finally DOA felt confining because of the walking of the long hallways that led deeper and deeper in to police station.  I also felt like each of these had people who needed help in some way to gain their freedom from the confines that held them. 

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