Friday, June 22, 2012
After the radical portraits of The Passion of Joan of Arc and the Romantic drizzle of Foreign Correspondent, it's no surprise to see cinematographer Rudolph Maté bring the same sturdy expressionism to his directorial work. The surprise is how black DOA is, not mean like Ulmer or sleazy like Aldrich but deathly weary. I mean, the hero spends the film pumping invincible poison through his body. This isn't a film of hope.
The web is engrossing, and the Bradbury building makes a typically disgusting hive of scum and villainy, but this is no white elephant. There's certainly room between Wyler's teacher's-pettery and Welles' razzle dazzle, but Maté is nevertheless more calibrated. The quiet medium office or home shots are compelled by his intelligence, shadowing around the edges or constricted by the ceiling. But Maté saves his punches for the big moments, like the following-shot opener screaming how we're already too late and the climactic chase taunting us with perspective.
DOA is your basic film noir narrative of some poor schmuck getting sucked down the drain, on his knees and shouting "Why?" into the empty night, but the specific version of this story shines generalized existentialism through a magnifying glass onto the Faustian conformity of America's middle managers. It's not that Edmond O'Brien deserves what he gets so much as he's being made an example of. After all, his only crime is rubber-stamping. It's hardly the all-out '50s assault of something like Kiss Me Deadly, but DOA is nonetheless compelled by its society, giving time to the black jazz musicians, the beats at the club, and all those consumers minding their own business in the middle of a shootout. In a certain light, it isn't even a tragedy.
Posted by Brandon Nowalk at 11:38 PM