The 90s Canadian Sanda Oh starrer, Last Night, was about the last night on earth, as an apocalyptic scenario (unexplained), descended on the world and played out in our hometown (Toronto). That one put a time limit on a question that has bugged everyone from the Stoics to Nietzsche and beyond, “how is life best lived?,” — especially when it’s about to come to an abrupt end. In D.O.A., the question is a simple one — it’s becoming your own detective as your last breath draws closer and closer.

Frank Bigelow, an accountant, is on a business trip to San Francisco. While on the coast, he hits a bebop club, The Fisherman, featuring the most frenetic jazz band ever depicted in celluloid. There, his drink is swapped for another one, and gradually, Frank finds himself becoming increasingly ill.

Docs point out that he’s been poisoned, like he’s a Ukrainian politician. Lab tests reveal he’s ingested a substance for which there’s no antidote. Who would’ve/could’ve done such a thing?

Frank has dwindling time to effectively solve his own murder, and it’s in the film’s stunning tracking shot opener that he saunters into a police precinct to make such a proclamation.

From there, twists and turns aplenty, as Frank finds out there is a distant associate, Eugene, who’d been desperate to contact him before he died, apparently from a suicide. The trail then leads to Eugene’s window, and a mysterious bill of sale that Frank had notarized for the deceased, involving a suspicious substance.

What keeps D.O.A. in motion is essentially an inversion of Kant’s categorical imperative: Frank has to treat people as a means to an end he can’t behave otherwise as the clock is ticking away. As a result, what we get is a character removed from the conventions of how someone might ordinarily act. It’s unsettling, and realistic.

D.O.A. fell into the public domain, but do yourself a favor and track down a high quality print. After all, it’s film noir, and you need the blacks as black as they can be (thanks, guys in Spinal Tap).

Director Rudolph Maté cut his teeth working for Hitch (Foreign Correspondent) among others, and the Master’s influence is pretty apparent in the pupil.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast of DOA here!]


Creature from the Black Lagoon

Any time any some monster hunts down eggheads, Jack Arnold’s estate should get a royalty check.

The flick he directed, Creature from the Black Lagoon casts as many shadows as its Florida everglade locale. It’s almost inescapable/inestimable how influential this movie is.

Whether it’s drek like Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, or fan favorite Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, it doesn’t matter. You put researchers on board a vessel investigating something weird, things go haywire, and it all goes back to Creature. Hell, the underwater swimming shots here are totally Jaws and the good ship Rita is the bigger boat.

Creature from the Black Lagoon has simple, effective storytelling that found its way into the above, and hundreds of other films both sci fi and natural horror/animal attack: strange find, experts called in, search party sent out, warning signs ignored, or some variation thereof.

A geologist discovers a strange fossil sticking out of a sandbank along the Amazon.

With very little care for its preservation, he hacks it loose with a pickax and hoofs it over to the lab.

His colleagues don’t know what to make of it, but in the interest of science, champ at the bit to go looking for its origins downriver. They hire a sleazy sea captain to pilot a dilapidated vessel down river, Joseph Conrad-style.

And what do you suppose they find?

Creature was Stephen King’s earliest movie memory. Audiences in the 50s must’ve been wowed by the effects, which were undoubtedly cool for their time.

And it’s a riot to think a silly film like this came out of Citizen Kane, of all things. CK’s producer William Alland was at a dinner party for Kane, and overheard a…guess you could say “fishy” tale about some odd fish/human hybrid. Hence, Creature was born.

Incidentally, if readers would like to hear us talk about that very thing, check out our podcast discussion of Creatures from the Abyss and Island of the Fishmen!

Creature from the Black Lagoon is a joy. Its sequel, Revenge of the Creature, featured Clint “the Squint Eastwood” in his film debut as a lab geek.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[Readers, do check out our podcast discussion of Creature from the Black Lagoon!]