'D.O.A.' in Classic Cool Context

This Saturday at 9 p.m. , KCET brings you Rudolph Maté's tense and tightly crafted 1950 noir drama, "D.O.A.," which stars Edmond O'Brien as a man recanting the details of his poisoning to a police detective moments before death. This is the latest entry in KCET's "Classic, Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received "D.O.A." on April 30, 1950.

"DOA" opens with a brilliant early example of what has now become a trademark of auteur directors worldwide: the tracking shot. "Goodfellas" has one of the most iconic tracking shots in film history, and like the one in "D.O.A.," it too follows the protagonist from behind. Director Darren Aronofsky frequently uses tracking shots from behind to follow his characters as well, with notable examples found in his two most recent films - "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler." Here's director Martin Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus' famous creation:

Scorsese once said the shot resonates with viewers because Ray Liotta's Henry Hill character has his whole life ahead of him. In the case of "D.O.A.", however, the impact of the shot is for the opposite reason. Frank Bigelow's whole life is behind him, and he's walking the last steps he'll ever take.

The strong visuals of "D.O.A." are due in large part to the strong eye and steady hand of the film's director of photography Ernest Laszlo. The Hungarian-born cinematographer was nominated for eight academy awards between 1961 and 1976, but only won the Oscar once for his work on 1965's "Ship of Fools," directed by Stanley Kramer, and starring Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin.

Take a Closer Look Back

In D.O.A., Bigelow travels to San Francisco and meets up with a group of salesman for a night of carousing at a jazz club called "The Fisherman." While at the club, Bigelow is put off by a group of drunken young people engrossed in the musical performance, one of whom tells Bigelow that he's "just trying to get enlightened." The bartender explains to Bigelow that the group is simply "jive crazy."

The scene is an early cinematic portrayal of the "beat generation," popularized by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. The enlightenment reference alludes to the group's fascination with eastern religions such as Buddhism, and their manic personas suggest to the audience that they are probably on drugs in order to heighten the sensory experience of the music.

In 1950, Eric "Big Daddy Nord" was one of the leaders of the beat movement in San Francisco after starting the underground club "hungry i" in the city's famed North Beach district. Eight years later, Nord had opened a new club called "Party Pad," and San Francisco police arrested him for operating without a permit. So, he moved to Venice Beach and opened a café called "The Gas House," which was a haven for beat poets and artists in the city.

Here's a picture of "Big Daddy" in 1959 with Julie Meredith:

And this is a short clip from the part one of the documentary, "Swinging in the Shadows," which documents the Beat scene of the era in Venice Beach:



If Eric Nord represented one end of California history in 1950, Richard Nixon occupied the other. It was in that year the future President was elected to the Senate after serving as a Congressman for four years. This is a picture of Nixon and five other Republican candidates for the House of Representatives filing their candidacy papers in 1946:

D.O.A. also features Pamela Britton and Luther Adler. Touchstone Pictures remade the film in 1988. It starred Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan.


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