Frank Bigelow does not like the Fishermen, the house band of the Fisherman jazz club in DOA (1950). Frank's a small-town accountant who's trying to get a little space between him and Paula, his secretary, a suffocatingly clingy and manipulative girl who he's regretting having promised to marry. So he's taken himself off for a few days' holiday in San Francisco, a conurbation large enough to give him a decent chance of picking up a loose woman or two who won't badger him constantly about marriage, and far enough away to reduce the likelihood of, say, bumping into Paula's mother as he leaves a "bachelor bar".
But he's overextended himself somewhat and has ended up in this scuzzy, nautically themed jazz club where he is discovering that he absolutely cannot stand jazz music, jazz musicians or jazz fans.
A few of the jazz fans get Frank's goat most especially. First, there's this desperate, attention-seeking schoolteacher type:
She shouts, "Cool, cool! Really cool!" as she sways from side to side, but her heart isn't in it and she quickly sits down again, as if it's occurred to her just how horrifyingly white she sounds.
Then there's the rather affected beatnik character at her table, the one she's trying to impress:
She's out of luck, though, as he has eyes only for the band. "Blow it! Blow up a storm, fisherman!" he mutters feverishly. Probably high on pot.
Across the way, there's an unpleasant young man in a vulgar sports coat:
He's ignoring his girl, too, prattling away to himself with his eyes closed, "Stay with it, Fishermen! That's it! Go on, go on, go on! Get it, get it, Fishermen!"
What a bunch of phoneys! Nobody can like this music! Perhaps most of all, though, Frank hates the depressing crowd of hopeless out-of-town salesmen and local department store buyers he's ended up with. Embarrassingly, one of the salesmen tries out a bit of slang he's picked up, announcing, "Man, am I hip!" In return, a buyer embarrasses herself as well, replying, "You're from nowhere! Nowhere!"
And the wife of one of the salesmen is coming on to Frank really strong, right in front of her husband. This evening couldn't get any more sleazy if it tried. Dammit! If a guy's got to sit in this crummy dive, he should at least be sitting with some of those potentially easy San Francisco beatnik chicks. At last, after being bashed into by a guy who's dancing like he's having an epileptic fit while screaming, bizarrely, "I got eyes! I got eyes!", he makes for the bar, where he's bashed into again, this time by some jazz creep with a Mexican moustache:
"Don't buy me, man! I'm being enlightened!" the degenerate says when the barman tells him to "come down".
There's no way Frank's leaving this place without hooking up with someone, though. He's only got a few days in town before it's back home to Paula and her complicated, passive-aggressive emotional blackmailing. Frank spies a lone blonde down the end of the bar. She's a cut above the punks and potheads in the place. She's got class. That's a fur stole she's wearing, and swanky jewellery, too:
She's his last hope. He hustles over to her and buys her a drink. However, with a dreamy gaze towards the band, she says, "Dig the Fishermen. That's really silk, isn't it?"
Dig? Silk? What are you talking about? The honking, screeching, sweating negroes up there on the stage? Frank should give up and get out while he can. But he doesn't, so desperate is he for non-Paula sex. Instead, he presses on, unwittingly inviting swift and dire retribution from B-movie justice, which has arranged for his bourbon to be spiked with what we later discover to be a "luminous poison", which will inevitably kill him in a matter of days. As the film progresses, we learn that he's been poisoned as part of an unlikely conspiracy involving assorted gangsters and hoodlums as yet unknown to him, but the audience is well aware of the truth of the matter: in the movies, in 1950, contemplating cheating on your fiance was a crime punishable by death.
Anyway, that's Frank out of the way. How about the Fishermen?
First up, on the saxophone, we have James Von Streeter:
Just as Lars von Trier was to do many years later, James added the "von" to his name as a homage to his favourite director, Erich von Stroheim. (What's with these von Stroheim fans?) He was the band leader of Von Streeter and his Wig Poppers, from which came most of the other Fishermen. His heroin addiction killed him in 1960.
On trumpet, we have Mr Teddy Buckner:
Known as Mr Horn "throughout Europe and the Orient, as well as the United States", according to his publicity material, Teddy Buckner toured with great success until picking up a regular gig playing in the Dixieland band in Disneyland's New Orleans Square from 1965 to 1981. His lack of a heroin addiction meant that he didn't die until he'd reached the age of 85. Look and learn, Von Streeter.
On bass, Shifty Henry:
Shifty played double bass, saxophone, oboe and trumpet and wrote songs under a variety of pseudonyms, including -- again with the "von" -- Baron von Shifte, Esq. He was a well-known musician in Los Angeles in the 50s and gets a mention in Jailhouse Rock: "Shifty Henry said to Bugs, for heaven's sake/ No one's looking, now's a chance to make a break." He died at the age of 37, but I can't find out what he died from. Perhaps he had impure thoughts while engaged to be married; I hear that's fatal.
On drums, we have Mr Cake Witchard and, on piano, Ray Laurie:
Unfortunately, information is pretty light on these two. Presumably, they were members of the Wig Poppers at some time. Can you make out the object at the bottom left of Ray's picture? That's the sole of his shoe. That's how he played piano, with his leg sticking out at right angles to his body.
Teddy Buckner played the trumpet in four or five other films, but DOA is the only film that any of the other Fishermen appeared in. It would be nice, in that case, if the music we hear in the jazz club were actually played by them but, sadly, another band was brought in to record the songs when it was discovered that, for some reason, the Fishermen's sound track was unusable. Man, that's from nowhere! Nowhere!
Here's a clip of the Fishermen blowing up a storm:
Sources -- imdb.com, batesmeyer.com/shiftyhenry/idex.html; Stills from DOA, public domain.