Directed by Rudolph Maté, ‘D.O.A.’ is a 1950 film noir written by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene. Though released with United Arts, the movie lapsed into the public domain after a filing error. As such, you can find for free on several major streaming platforms.
Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) wanders into a Los Angeles Police Station where he reports his own murder. He tells how he owns a small accounting and notary business in a small California town where his girlfriend Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton) works as his secretary. He heads to San Francisco for a vacation and gets caught up with a group of salesmen who are celebrating in the hotel. Whisked away to a Jazz club, he does not notice his drink being swapped. The next morning, stomach pains find him at a hospital where he is told he has been poisoned and only has days to live. He soon realizes that it has something to do with a bill he notarized for a man named Eugene Philips, but he is informed the man has committed suicide. Frank desperately tries to find clues to find out who has poisoned him and what it has to do with Philips.
As noirs go, this one is a tragedy. It follows a man who is living on borrowed time to find out why he was killed and from that perspective, it knocks it out of the park. The story pulls you in as you watch Frank grow increasingly desperate for answers and you see his frustration as he sees other people able to live their lives.
This would not have been possible without the performance of Edmond O’Brien. He masters the role and truly delivers on every level. You can see his emotion not just in his dialogue, but also in his body language and expressions. The rest of the cast did a good job as well, but he was in every scene, so O’Brien had to carry the film and he did.
Now the movie is not perfect. There is a subplot where his investigation involves him with some criminals and I do not think this was necessary. It should have been replaced with a story giving Pamela Britton more screen time so we can see a bit more of their relationship.
That being said, it is a pretty tight movie. It has an 80-minute runtime, but that was all that was required. It didn’t need long monologues where the characters talk about the virtue or a thirty-minute backstory. You get to know Frank through his actions in the movie and it developed the plot in a satisfying way where you truly root for him to figure out what happened to him. It is amazing that films in the 1950s, particularly, noir, relied on subtly, not a spectacle to deliver. Sometimes “spectacle” works, but in this case, the movie earns its place in cinema by its sheer force of will.
Bottom line, D.O.A. is a fine example of classic film noir and one that aspiring filmmakers should take notes from. It has a dynamite lead and a thrilling story that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence
FAVORITE QUOTE: Well, what I want to say is that there’s nothing you can do that you ever have to feel guilty about.
Check out the trailer below:
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