Friday Night Film Noir: D.O.A. (1950)

D.O.A. opens with a series of long tracking shots of a man navigating the corridors of the Los Angeles Police Department, accompanied by a dynamite Dmitri Tiomkin score. When he gets to the Homicide Division, he tells the Captain he wants to report a murder: his own. 

"A literal whirlpool appears on screen to denote a flashback while Bigelow starts relating the final twenty-four hours of his torturous existence to a room of transfixed homicide dicks."

All of the quoted text for tonight's entry comes from Alan Rode's insightful review for Film Monthly. Hope you don't mind, but why re-invent the wheel? 

Screencaps, as always, harvested by hand right here in the U.S.A.

By way of these chaps.

"Frank Bigelow (Edmund O'Brien) is a CPA from the backwater desert town of Banning, California." 

"He is in love with his girl Friday, Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton) who is pressing him for a serious commitment, but Frank has the restlessness of a sailor who hasn’t hit a good liberty port."

"At length, he decides a solo vacation to San Francisco is the ticket. Bigelow tells Paula that his objective is relaxation, but after checking in at the Hotel St. Francis, he immediately hooks up with a group of hard-drinking traveling salesmen." 

"Frank concludes the evening making an unsuccessful play for a milieu-obsessed blonde in an Embarcadero juke joint."
"Seated with his back towards the bar, a mysterious stranger wearing a scarf is shown switching the glass containing Bigelow’s drink."

When Bigelow wakes up the next morning and feels ill, he goes for a check-up and discovers he's dying from a slow-acting poison. Distraught, he gets a second opinion at the hospital. 

When the doctor confirms that he has only a week to live at most, Bigelow panics and runs through the streets.

This sequence is notable not just for its frenzied representation of Bigelow's frame of mind or its vintage San Francisco location shooting. In the one-day-to-come tradition of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, no permits were obtained for the sequence, so the confusion and irritation of the pedestrians O'Brien barrels through is very real.

The street scenes of 1950 San Francisco are fantastic, in general.

"Paula phones him at his hotel room and casually relates that a Mr. Eugene Phillips from Los Angeles, who was trying to get ahold of him repeatedly the day before has unexpectedly died. Bigelow is immediately off to L. A.; frantically pursuing the only lead to his murderer before time runs out. The complex trail of clues and red herrings rapidly multiply in the City of Angels." 

And it is in the City of Angels I leave the rest of the story. After all, the hook of the movie is finding out what happened. 

If I had a complaint with how it all unfolds, I'd probably spoil the mystery for the greater pursuit of dissecting my dissatisfaction with it.
But as I do not, I'm fine leaving it unspoiled.

Suffice it to say, - it's all very complicated, surprising, and certainly worthy of the whodunit tradition. 

"The film debut of Neville Brand as the vicious Chester is also notable. Brand, one of WW II’s most decorated combat soldiers, parlayed his primitive visage and simmering rage into a successful film career of nut-jobs, heavies and he-men." 

"A true craftsman, Luther Adler’s portrayal of Majak is the personification of understated evil."

Seen here with Laurette Luez.
All I did was notarize a bill of sale...

Notable for its structure, its score - 

- its beautiful location shooting, and its fine film noir tradition of an innocent but flawed man receiving his anguished comeuppance far in excess of any transgressions he actually committed, D.O.A. justifies its appearance on just about everyone's short list of film noir classics. 


The sequence where Bigelow goes to the Fisherman, by the way, is superb. The drunken arousal and abandon of the crowd as catalyzed by the jazz ensemble and the quick cross-cuts, all leading up to his getting that fatal mickey Mom always warned you about if you indulge in any of the above, is as of-its-time yet way-ahead-of-its-time as it gets. 


  1. I've always been curious about this one. Luckily, I've managed to remain unspoiled, so whenever I get around to seeing it, its twists will surprise me.

    I always approve of seeing Dimitri Tiomkin's name in a movie's credits. He was a great film composer.

    1. Agreed on Tiomkin. Does he have a box set? I'll google it, but if not, he should.

  2. I can remember a great many things from this film since the first time I saw it. I remember the creeping presence of Scarf Guy, and the fact that it features an evil mobster makes me ask did this come out before or after Maltese Falcon?

    However, what I remember most are the chase sequences. In fact, I think this film ought to go down as one of the great chase movies ever committed to screen (and naturally, this being the age of Millennials, most will never know it exists, or else dismiss it for being old). In particular I remember Neville Brand as Chester. I saw it with an audience of others, and he was keeping them in stitches, however I don't know if that was the intended effect.

    I do recall thinking as Brand is driving O'Brien to his death and bragging all the while thinking, you're very new at this game, aren't you? Then again, it's only fitting, because let's face, the movies in general were new to it in a way.


    1. The chase and shootout sequences are dynamite in this film. Everytime I tried to 'cap something from them, it was too blurry, alas. My kung-fu was unable to overcome the less-than-stellar transfer.

      Neville Brand is great! I can see audiences enjoying his performance in other ways than how it would have come across at the time. Or in a shall-we-say Shatner method of appreciation.

      That's a good point about Brand's j.v. play, there, and how we're seeing it over a much greater distance of genre accumulation.