While idly reading up on depictions of “beatniks” in movies*, I came across a classic film noir called D.O.A. (1950), which is now in the public domain and freely available to download… albeit in a slightly fuzzy, cropped format. This film has one of the greatest opening scenes in cinema history, with a long tracking shot following a mysterious suited fella striding purposefully into a police station, working his way up to the homicide division, and desperately declaring that he’s there to report a murder… HIS OWN!!! The story then flashes back to explain how he got himself into this sticky situation… though sadly, the I.Q. of the film drops severely after jumping that particular shark.
D.O.A. belongs to a peculiar sub-genre of mystery-thrillers, in which the douchey “hero” travels to a strange city/country, finds himself caught up in a confusing conspiracy, and then tries to extricate himself by stomping around and being as obnoxious as possible to everyone he meets, friend or foe, in the hope that the sheer force of his dickishness will set everything right again!** In this case, Edmond O’Brien plays ‘Frank Bigelow’, a small-town accountant who decides to travel to San Francisco to cheat on his devoted girlfriend/secretary ‘Paula’ (Pamela Britton). As soon as he sets foot in the hotel, he starts scoping out dames… and every time a woman passes by, he trails after them for a few steps, hypnotised, while a slide-whistle plays on the soundtrack, like something out of a Marx Brothers comedy! As I say, I downloaded my copy from the internets, so I began to wonder if some prankster had added this sound effect after the fact… but that still wouldn’t explain the idiotic expression on his face, and the way he keeps sleep-walking after random women like a zombie smelling fresh meat. After a very serious and suspenseful start, these “wacky” hotel scenes were so jarring, that I had a hard time getting back into the story, or caring about its immature a-hole of a “hero”… in fact, I’m glad he got fatally poisoned! Glad, I tells ya! At least it made him finally appreciate Paula’s love and support a little more!
* There aren’t really any significant beatnik characters in D.O.A.… just a scene where Bigelow visits a “jive” bar, and sneers at a bunch of slang-talking whites watching an energetic black jazz band play.
** I’d include Valley of Eagles (1951) and The Third Man (1949) in this category.