This is a classic movie, iconic L.A. locations, a twisted noir plot, amazing San Francisco street footage, a crazy bebop Jazz sequence and Neville Brand. Where to begin? Well I had a friend in town visiting frome Rome, Italy that is, Trevi Fountain, Cinecitta. Anyway I wanted to show him around downtown L.A. and one of our stops was the amazing Bradbury building. Most people recognize it as the location in Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford fights Rutger Hauer but I think equally as important a use for this location was in D.O.A.
I recommended to my Italian friend that he watch D.O.A. and see how the building we just visited was used in that film. I wound up watching it again and I realized that Russel Rouse was one of the writers and Harry Popkin was the producer.
These guys were responsible for some of the hippest 50’s noir to hit the silver screen of your local drive in. I did not know they were part of the D.O.A. team. Popkin and Rouse worked on The Well, a searing indictment of racism, ahead of it’s time and The Thief. Rouse made Wicked Woman, a film I recently wrote about. So that got me re-interested in D.O.A. , Let me just vsay it right out front I am not a big fan of Edmund O’Brien, but his scene chewing style works pretty well at times in this film and he runs like no one in Cinema! His frenzied run for your life performance on the streets of San Francisco, crashing into innocent bystanders is a highlight of the film.
Other wonderful elements include an incredible sequence aboard a city bus, where the gangsters that want to kill O’Brien are following the bus he’s on and you can see them out the window of the bus at night as they stalk him. A beautiful nightmarish sequence. Actually the nighttime photography of downtown L.A. is particularly great, Neville Brand taking O’Brien for a ride especially.
There is a great wild man jazz sequence that has frenetic performances of Black Jazz musicians that is outstanding. I love musical sequences and this one is a doozy.
I think it would be educational to compare this sequence to some that Robert Siodmak did, like the crazy jazz jam session in Phantom Lady or the dance scene in Criss Cross. The D.O.A. scene is really great performances, great shots and great editing, Siodmak’s reveal a planned out sequence that works beautifully, it was created in the director’s mind while the D.O.A. scene was put together in the editing room.
Rudolph Mate’ the director of D.O.A. started as a camerman in Europe, shooting such masterpieces as Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, this is the movie that Anna Karina watches in Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie. Mate’ also directed a film that was a location on another stop of my downtown tour, Union Station, a noir that takes place at perhaps the most iconic downtown L.A. location.
Rudy at the camera films Dietrich
Mate’ was director of photography on many, many classic Hollywood films, Pride Of The Yankees, Dante’s Inferno, Foriegn Correspondent, Stella Dallas, Sahara, Gilda and The Lady From Shanghai, to name just a few. He delivers a fast paced ( 83 minute) gem that never let’s up and has many especially well directed scenes, take for example the final confrontation, at The Bradbury Building. It is shot just like a classic shootout from a Western, incredible.
Whenever a director can put another subtext or layer of meaning onto a scene and it is harmonius with the action not obtrusive, it’s a wonderful thing. Watch it for yourself, a film class in 2 minutes. Then there’s Neville Brand, so over the top as Chester the thug or maybe goon is better, Sadistic, simple minded, evil but with a lot of personality.
Chester doesn’t like Bigelow. He’s soft in the belly!
I like Neville Brand, check him out in the underrated Eaten Alive by Tobe Hooper. And as Quentin Tarantino once told me, the second most decorated soldier of WWII after Audie Murphy. So check out D.O.A. then go down and visit the Bradbury building, you can park across the street at the Grand Central Market and have lunch.
P.S. Here it is on YouTube.
Here is a very informative documentary about early German Cinema in general and Metropolis in particular. Fritz Lang said he never paid any attention to the critics, maybe he had something there, Metropolis was panned when it came out. I read somewhere that Lang was still editing the last reels of Metropolis while the first reels were being projected at the Premier, a motorcycle messenger would race with the reels to the theater as Lang finished them! This outdoes Michael Mann for editorial craziness and gives credence to the old saying “Films aren’t finished they’re abandoned”. Anyway if you are interested in the great Expressionist heritage of German Cinema check it out.
Here is a great documentary about German film director F.W. Murnau and the making of his early masterpiece, Nosferatu. Recently Murnau’s grave was broken into and his head was taken, authorities reported finding melted wax at the location and a possible “occult” connection was made.
Could a group of Satanists or Magick practitioners have made off with Murnau’s head? and why? Probably because he is the man that created Nosferatu, those indelible images of the bald, animalistic vampire.
In this great documentary an expert on the occult, Wolfgang Kistermann testifies that the producer of Nosferatu and founder of Prana films, Albin Grau, was a leader in German occult societies and had dealings with the O.T.O. , the group led by Aliester Crowley.
Perhaps this secret society is still active in Germany? Perhaps they are responsible for the violation of Murnau’s grave and the theft of his kopf? I read an interview with Murnau’s brother, he travelled to Tahiti, where Murnau had made his last film, Tabu. The Tahitians told him Murnau had offended their Gods by building a mansion on a tabu site, a place the Tahitians shunned, and the Gods had caused his untimely death in an automobile accident.
This is a great restoration of a seminal film. Masters Of Cinema has done it again. They release high quality material. The Cabinet Of Dr. Calgari went through a rigorous restoration by the F.W. Murnau Siftung. The original camera negative was used whenever possible, I believe for most of the film except the first reel. You can see so many details that were lost, like the chalk lines on Cesare the somnambulist’s black outfit and the painted sets, costumes, and characters faces have never looked so good, so full of expression.
Ceasare, the sensative somnambulist
It is fascinating to watch a film that takes place in such an unrealistic setting, almost all scenes were photographed in front of painted backgrounds and yet is so effective. A miraculous achievement. This film was a huge commercial hit as well. Perhaps owing to it’s unorthodox “You Must Become Calgari” ad campaign.
A still from The Blackguard, a film Hitcock worked on at Ufa in Berlin in 1925
Tony Perkins does resemble Cesare, Cesare (Conrad Veidt) later played Maj. Strasser in Casablanca, the Nazi Bogey shoots at the airport. He was also in The Thief Of Baghdad with Sabu.
Cesare in Hollywood, transformed into evil Nazi Maj. Strasser
There’s a story that Fritz Lang wanted to direct Calgari but wasn’t able to do so because of other commitments, I believe it, Lang later went on to direct the DR. Mabuse films and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse shares a similar theme with Calgari, the head of an insane asylum is an evil maniac, spreading mayhem and murder.Lang was not above borrowing from his peers, in Murnau’s Faust, a fantasy sequence shows rising rings of energy surrounding the transforming Faust, this same imagery was used by Lang in Metropolis during the creation of the robot Maria.
Such an incredibly rich period of German Filmmaking! They really set the stage for fantastic, dark, atmospheric, dreamlike Cinema. Then they fled Hitler came to the USA and created Film Noir, a great legacy.
UPDATE: I recently read that Murnau’s grave had been broken into and his head was stolen. They found melted wax at the scene from candles, suggesting an occult angle. Satanists wanted the skull of the man that made Nosferatu and Faust?
Here’s a tasty noir treat from 1953, Wicked Woman. Written by filmmaking team Russel Rouse and Clarence Greene, directed by Rouse, produced by Greene on a shoestring, the movie works despite of our maybe partly due to it’s limitations.
Here’s a lesson to low budget filmmakers, keep your locations to a minimum. Wicked Woman basically has two, a bar and a cheap rooming house. The sets are pretty bad but that’s what makes them good, at one point Billie (the Wiced Woman) throws her sleazy neighbor out and slams the door, the wall of the set shakes, but I think that’s cool, it’s like Fellini said the magician must show the audience he has a card up his sleeve so when he does trick them it’s even more astonishing. This movie works on an iconic level, the Blonde Bombshell travelling from town to town leaving a trail of decimated men and women.
The Main Title Theme is sung by Herb Jeffries, The Bronze Buckaroo, a black singing cowboy star. Beverly Michaels is great as the Wicked Woman, too bad she retired after only a few more films, maybe she was too real, too ahead of her time to be appreciated. I think she’s great. Russel Rouse must have thought so too, he married her. They had a son Christopher Rouse, he’s a film editor that’s won an Academy Award.
The filmmaking is top notch, beautful images , great lighting, great sets. The wonderfully evil Dr. Cyclops, Albert Dekker.( I’ve got some great stories about him but I’ll save them for a later post) William Conrad and Charles McGraw are the amoral Killers of the title and they are bad news.
This movie besides being beautifully made by a master craftsman at the height of his powers is a very influential film. The Killers terrorizing ordinary citizens in a lunch box diner, a scene we have seen many times since , the guy from the Past recognizing his prey at an out of the way gas station, a lot like Out Of The Past. The intricate flashback structure, effortlessly pulled off.Miklos Rosza’s score, introducing the theme from Dragnet.
A seminal film! One of the first Film Noirs! Then we get Don Siegel’s The Killers with John Cassavettes, Angie Dickinson, The amazing Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager and in his last role Ronnie Reagen! As a bad guy no less, wow!
The sets are pretty amazingly fake looking, especially in BluRay, you can see the blown up photograph backgrounds and rear screen projection a mile away. But in spite of that the movie works, a tribute to good acting and directing. Reagen is great as an evil prick, he even takes part in a heist! I had never seen this gem before and I’m glad I did. I am a big fan of Siegel. This movie is a bit wack but it doesn’t disappoint.
We also get as an adeded bonus, Andrei Tarkovsky’s student film version of The Killers and it’s great. It’s great to hear this dialog in Russian! Super Noir american gangster speak in Russian, how cool is that. They throw in a radio play version acted by Burt, Shelly Winters, and I think William Conrad, it’s cool but the coolest thing is to here Robert Siodmak speak! He’s on the show nd they’re trying to spin that he was born in Memphis Tennessee, a bull story to make him American and not a German! WWII was just over. He sounds very funny! The guy was a genius, he got his US directing break by amusing Preston Sturges and making him laugh. Also we get a recorded interview with Siegel, man can he talk fast! All in all, alot of bang for your buck. Get one today!
I went down to the New Beverly to check out The Sand Pebbles, a 1966 film starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborogh, Candace Bergen, Richard Crenna, Mako, and featuring my pal James Hong.
The print was striped with 4 track magnetic sound, and it did sound great, a lot of dynamics, and an extended frequency range. The score sounded incredible, (Jerry Goldsmith) and there was a lot of music in this film. The print was pretty faded so it was kind of like watching a Black and White film with pink overtones, every once in a while a bit of color would appear but after a minute back to pinkville.
The Great James Hong as Shu
I had never seen the film before and this 3 hour and 15 minute version (complete with intermission) is longer than the regular release. A Road Show Print was usually longer or had mag tracks or maybe was struck from the original negative. These were screened at big venues, NYC, Chicago, LA. before the film went into wide release. Now I am not sure what scenes were included in this version that were left out of the regular release but I have a feeling that there was more engine room footage in this long version. Why? Because there is a 20 minute sequence of Steve McQueen lovingly working on the steam powered ship’s engine and it is great!
McQueen was a motor nut, racing cars, motorcycles and amassing a huge collection of both. I think he really identified with Jake Holman, the character he’s portraying. One of the best scenes in the movie is a tense sequence of repairing the massive engine, a tour de force of suspense. McQueen’s company, Solar Productions co-produced the film and I think he had a lot of say as to what went into the final product. It feels like a personal film for McQueen. Maybe the fascination with machines, with the mechanics of things says something about McQueen’s world view.
There is also a great battle scene as the ship (The San Pablo) runs a barricade in the Yangtze River. Great stuff.
I relly liked a scene in a chapel where Richard Attenborogh marries his Chinese girlfriend Maily while McQueen and Candace Bergen look on. Something about that scene, the way it’s staged, it just feels like a movie scene from another era, but in a good classical way.
Robert Wise does a great job directing this film. He directed classics in so many genres, a great filmmaker. William Reynolds, a super editor cut it. I met him once at Genghis Cohen, an L.A. Chinese restaurant, having lunch with his crew. A good friend of mine, another great editor Bud Smith, worked with McQueen on the television show Wanted:Dead or Alive. He and McQueen bonded, both were avid motorcyclists and car racers. They spent time riding in the SoCal desert. And if you ever find yourself at Casa Bianca, waiting for a tomato pie, look on the wall. There amidst the many celebrity 8X10’s is a picture of Steve McQueen from Wanted:Dead or Alive. I guess he was a fan of their pizza too.
Here’s a noir bombshell from1949. Byron Haskin directed it, he was a special effects guy at Warner Bros. and later directed The War Of The Worlds for George Pal. He also directed some of the best episode of The Outer Limits, Demon with A Glass Hand, and The Architects of Fear. Hunt Stromberg produced this “cookie full of Arsenic”. He had a long run as a successful producer at MGM, he came up under Thalberg and worked with Selznick, then he got into a beef with Louis B. Mayer and went independent. This is one of his independent creations. The script was by Roy Huggins, based on his novel and it’s a winner, great characters, excellent dialog, everything top notch except the very end, oh well. Huggins went on to be a giant among TV creators/Producers with such shows as The Fugitive, Run For Your Life and The Rockford Files.
But the real heroes of this opus are Lisabeth Scott as the one of the coldest killers ever to grace the silver screen and Dan Duryea, the slime king. Best known for slapping women onscreen, the poster for this film is Dan slapping Lisabeth! They marketed the film on his woman beater appeal.
I have a theory about noir, WWII is over, soldiers are returning home, a lot of G.I.s got Dear John letters, their wives left them while they were at war. Tokyo Rose would broadcast stories of infidelity by Statebound brides to the soldiers overseas. This led to the creation of the Noir Femme Fatale, the false female, who’ll smile , seduce, and kill without missing a beat, sure they can turn on the waterworks, shed tears at the drop of a hat, but underneath, all business. So here is the returning soldier’s nightmare come true. What’s the one thing a desperate soldier, far from home could think about to give himself some relief from killing, mayhem, explosions? Little Sally Jean, the girl he left swinging on the garden gate. What if Tokyo rose was right? She’s evil, corrupted. His dreams are all Lies! Well, here she is, the beautiful blonde with the morals of a scorpion. Lisabeth Scott is amazing in this film. She turns from a bitchy but seemingly happily married woman in an instant all because of money, the old do re mi, a lot of it that drops in her lap. I don’t want to ruin the story but there are some depraved scenes of her and Dan Duryea getting it on just because he can make her do it, they hate each other! It’s deliciously perverse! According to Eddie Muller, the czar of noir, almost all of the budget went to the two big stars, they were worth it!
It was later re-released under this title
So the production of the film was low budget, a lot of the action takes place in Scott’s apartment but it makes the film psycologically more real in a way. You feel trapped in that nest of evil. There are some scenes in Dan Duryea’s flop, it’s perfect as the dump a small time creepy crook would hang his hat in. Another couple of great locations are Union Station, maybe the most beautiful building still left in L.A. and the lake at McArthur Park, called WestLake Park in the movie. A one time high rent district that’s now kind of funky. Silent Film director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in his bungalow just around the corner. Anyway the film is in poor shape, Eddie’s Noir Foundation did a restoration with UCLA but I don’t think that’s out on video yet so you have to make do with what’s available. But next time it screens at the Noir Festival, I will be there.
Here’s the best looking Youtube version I could find.
OK here’s a weird one for you fans of Film Forno. Charlie Chan At Treasure Island, actually a pretty cool movie, directed by the super genius of genre filmmaking Norman Foster. Foster directed the amazing Mr. Moto films with Peter Lorre, also Zorro Tv show for Disney, episodes of Batman, and was greatly admired by boy genius Orson Welles , who brought him to RKO to work on some projects. Anyway it turns out that this film was a favorite of the infamous Zodiac killer of San Francisco. According to a book on Zodiac by Robert Graysmith, Leigh Allen (Graysmith has pegged him as Zodiac) loved this film as a boy. It takes place in San Francisco, it features a villan named Dr. Zodiac, who answers the phone ” This is Zodiac speaking.”
And Chan says of him” is not ordinary criminal. He is a man of great ego. Criminal egoist find pleasure in laughing at police.” Words that fit the later Zodiac exactly! The Treasure Island in the title was a man made island north of Yerba Buena Island, constructed for the 1939 S.F. World’s Fair.
But even without the strange Zodiac connection the film is worth checking out. Very atmospheric and featuring Ceasar Romero who would later play the Joker on TV’s Batman, maybe re-uniting with Norman Foster as well.
Here is the trailer for a documentary I saw on Netflix. It examines the relationship between Truffaut and Godard and places it in a historical context. It’s very informative and worth watching. It ends without touching on a very interesting point though, late in life after these two geniuses were on the outs, hadn’t spoken in years, Godard wrote to Truffaut. He need to sell Breathless, his breakthrough film, to raise money for a new project. The only problem was Truffaut had written the scenario and was therefore a part owner of the film. Godard needed him to sign off on the sale which Truffaut did, helping out the former friend that he now “hated”. If you are interested in the New Wave of 50+ years ago, check it out.