Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mystery History - D.O.A. Released 65 Years Ago Today

It was April 30, 1950 when moviegoers got their first look at the classic noir film D.O.A. It's opening scene was one of the most original in motion picture history. An exhausted man walks into a police station to report a murder.

"Who was murdered?" the detective asks.

"I was," Frank Bigelow declares.

This begins the story, told in flashback, of Frank Bigelow. An accountant and notary public, he learns from a doctor that he's been poisoned with a slow acting chemical for which there is no andidote. He spends the next 24 hours trying to learn why he was poisoned. Along the way he runs into an assortment of crooks and killers as he seeks to learn who has murdered him.

Bigelow was played by Edmund O'Brien, a skilled actor who was a fixture in the 40s and 50s on film. He appeared in several crime dramas, including The Killers, White Heat and The Hitch-Hiker. His performance in D.O.A. got good reviews, with one critic commenting that Frank Bigelow was more engaged in his life during his frantic search for the truth than at anytime in his life. In adddition to the plot, the dark lighting and scenery lent the film its noir mood.

One of the movie's chase scenes gained part of it's realism from the fact that the film crew failed to get the necessary permits to shoot the scene. The bewildered crowd wasn't acting...they genuinely had no idea what was going on as Edmund O'Brien crashed through the streets.

The suspenseful soundtrack was written by Dimitri Tiomkin, who also produced the music for Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder and The Thing From Another World.

The film has fallen into the public domain, and can be readily accessed on several websites, including Youtube.

"I seldom get very far away from crime. I've found it pays . . . I tried non-crime films like Another Part of the Forest . . . good picture, good cast, but no good at the box office . . . But you just put a gun in your hands and run through the streets during cops and robbers and you're all set."

                                                                                         - Edmund O'Brien

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Little Men Creep Up On You When Night Comes

Megan Abbott has already proven herself to be a skilled mistress of the crime novel, winning the Edgar and Barry Awards for Queenpin and garnering numerous nominations for her growing body of work. But her talent extends to the short story as well, where every word counts. The Little Men won the Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story, and it's easy to see why once you start reading. If Megan were a baseball player, she'd be a switch hitter, and on the field, she'd play the infield from first to third with the same golden glove talent.

In The Little Men, she creates a portrait of Hollywood in the 1950s that peeks behind the glamour and shows us the world of would be stars and starlets who never quite make the cut. It's a sad story, but more than that, it's a scary story. No, strike's terrifying.

Penny followed her dreams to Hollywood, and now survives as a makeup artist. It's not the same as being in front of the camera, but it keeps her in the game. When she finds a beautiful bungalow nestled in a small canyon, she immediately falls in love with it. But a secret is waiting. It emerges in the quiet hours, when she sees the little men, and hears the tap, tap, tap of their feet. She thinks it must be mice, but these mice walk upright.

Her neighbors, two elderly men, entertain her with stories of the previous tenant, a bookseller named Larry who captured the heart of the landlady, and who, with his death, haunts her dreams. Soon, Penny is caught in the same dreams, dreams that take a nightmarish turn and she awakes some nights gasping for breath. Did Larry really gas himself in the oven, driven mad by his tiny visitors, or did the landlady seek revenge for a failed love affair? The little men continue to stalk her, and she dives deeper into a dangerous mystery whose answers elude the reader until the very last sentence.

In a different era Megan Abbott would be writing scripts for The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, frightening small children and sensitive adults. In their beds, they'd pull the covers up to their necks and listen in terror for the patter of tiny feet in the dark corners. But Serling and Hitchcock are gone, and we've got her on our team. No trades allowed.

Eat your heart out, Alfred.