Archive for the ‘Luther Adler’ Category

D.O.A. [1950]

09 Mar

D.O.A. [1950] — directed by Rudolph Maté. Crime Drama. A businessman finds himself poisoned, and he has only a short to find out why and by whom. 83 minutes Black and White 1950.


Two world famous photographers made this, and made it well. Ernest Laszlo actually shot it, while Maté directed it. So it’s well worth seeing. Not noir, but shot as though it were, of course, for that was cheap and fun. It’s star, the poisoned, is played by Edmund O’Brien. It’s not easy to think of him as a leading actor. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Charles Laughton version, he is young, slim, handsome, and luscious as the poet Villon. But that’s not how we remember him. We remember him like he is here, as a guy with a cockeyed face, stout, jowly, pompadoured, and never-could have-been-handsome. And yet here he is, as he often was, in a leading role and eventually to win an Oscar. You have to ask yourself how this could have come to pass. But then all you have to do is to place him next to Pamela Britton as his gal Friday. What do you get? He is a born film actor. She is not a film actor at all. And it’s true she was actually a road company touring actress in Broadway musicals, and her technique is exactly that. Which is to say infuriating. Always over-extended, falsely vulnerable, routine. Always counting on the role rather than the character. You wonder how O’Brien could have endured long scenes with her, but he plays them as a human sacrifice. For, while the story is marvelous, the screenplay is over-written, and so we have, for instance, a long, wordy love-scene that would make you rather die of poison than marry the girl. But the story itself is well told, though it should have been cut by those European directors. When you think what makes a top director, you must turn to those who rewrote what they darn well pleased the morning of the shoot: Hawks, Walsh, Stevens. That’s what pushes them over into greatness. Something emerges on the sound stage that day that is more real than what is on paper. Dimitri Tiomkin scored it with his usual slow marches and swells, so we are never left in doubt as to what we are to feel. If you see it, tell me this: in the scenes where O’Brien learns he is poisoned, would he not better have played it completely the opposite to the way he does? You see, instead of watching him, I watched the doctors who are watching him, and they are doing nothing but watching him. Suppose O’Brien had gotten much stiller. A drinker and a philanderer, I think he might have become baffled or thoughtful, or very quiet somehow. Just a thought. The actors’ choices…mmm… particularly in a script where the emotion is extended over long passages of dialogue. Is the first qualification for a screen actor the ability to be a quick study? I wish someone would do a quick study of the matter. Quick studies: Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Henry Fonda. Slow study: Jimmy Stewart. Help me, someone! Anyhow, D.O.A. is not a waste of time, and if you’ve run out of noir, take a gander, why doncha?

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