Wednesday, January 18, 2006

D.O.A.: DVD Review

D.O.A. (1949) is a film noir whose gimmick--a man has taken a slow-acting poison and attempts to solve his own murder--doesn't seem enough to carry a whole movie.

In addition, the plot device of removing the character from his usual surroundings at the beginning of the film--he's on vacation in San Francisco--is a double-edged sword. It heightens the sense of displacement, paranoia and uncertainty once he discovers he's been poisoned, but it also decreases our attachment to the story: everyone the main character meets and questions is a stranger. We know the murderer isn't someone he knows so we don't have the opportunity to guess or contemplate: we just have to watch the mystery unfold on screen.

The film isn't helped by the fact that the main character isn't that likeable either. He's taking a bachelor's vacation in San Francisco away from his steady girlfriend. As he walks around SF, the soundtrack plays a jokey wolf-whistle everytime he passes a pretty girl. His subsequent change, realizing the value of his girlfriend after being poisoned, isn't moving or convincing. How sad for the "girl at home," too: the only way she can get a man who's faithful and loving is when he's a few hours from being dead.

Things do pick up about midway through when the locale changes from San Francisco to LA, and the main character runs manically back and forth, piecing the mystery together, popping into new locales, with new bits of information about who knew what when. But ultimatey, the film depends on just how exciting the audience finds the far-fetched conceipt of a man solving his own murder. It's not helped that the 'luminous poison' supposedly responsible for the main character's poisoning is pretty ridiculous: a doctor proves that he's taken it by switching off the light so his urine sample glows in the dark.

FilmStocker Rating: D for dead on arrival

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