D.O.A.

DOAD.O.A.
Director: Rudolph Maté
Screenplay: Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene
Starring: Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow, Pamela Britton as Paula Gibson, Luther Adler as Majak
Production company: Cardinal Pictures
Date of release: 1950

‘I want to report a murder.’
‘Who was murdered?’
*deep breath* ‘I was!’ *music*

So opens D.O.A., the 1950 crime classic in which a guy investigates his own murder.

I knew the film by repute and I was delighted when it appeared in the TV schedules a couple of weeks ago. I was expecting to use words like ‘noir’, ‘tense’ and ‘gritty’ in this review. I wasn’t expecting to be referencing Carry On and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but that’s what’s going to be happening.

Our hero is Frank Bigelow, an accountant from the small town of Banning, California. Bigelow escapes from the clutches of his rather full-on secretary Paula for a one-man lads’ weekend in San Francisco.

As soon as he arrives in his San Francisco hotel, Bigelow is invited to a party in the room across the hall and then carried along by the revellers to a hep jazz club called ‘The Fisherman’. It is there, while he’s hitting on a girl at the bar, a mysterious and hugely suspicious stranger slips something in his drink.

Frank wakes up feeling very ill, much more than hungover. Two sets of doctors tell him straight: he has been given a fatal dose of poison and may only have a few days to live.

‘You don’t understand, Mr Bigelow. You’ve been murdered.’

After his initial panic and despair, Bigelow gets mad. He’s going to hunt down his killer if it’s the last thing he does. Cue lots of tough-guy stuff.

Meanwhile, Paula the secretary keeps calling – a mysterious Eugene Phillips from LA is trying to get in touch. It doesn’t take long for Bigelow to connect Phillips to his predicament.

In true hardboiled fashion, Bigelow keeps rattling cages until he finds the truth. Eventually that noir standard – walking into a room full of waiting gunmen – leads Bigelow to his nemesis.

So what’s Carry On about D.O.A.?

Every time Bigelow checks out a lady (and he does a lot of appraising once he’s out from under Paula) there’s a weird kind of wolf-whistle sound effect that sounds like it should be accompanying Sid James on a tour of a nudist beach. The first time we heard it, we had to rewind to make sure it was actually on the soundtrack.

The Rocky Horror moment? Bigelow is poisoned with something called luminous toxin (I’m not ruling out that they’re not saying ‘illluminous’, I just couldn’t make it out). To demonstrate, one of his doctors shows him a test tube full of around half a pint of white liquid which, once the lights have been turned off, glows like a neon tube. Almost exactly like a neon tube. He looks like a proper mad scientist.

Overall, D.O.A. is worth watching for its premise alone. Admittedly, the tension in the first act is somewhat defused by the wolf-whistles and the tube of poison, but it still builds effectively to its desperate conclusion.


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Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Classic mystery book review, Film/movie, Hardboiled, Noir, Suspense, TV, Witness Statements and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to D.O.A.

  1. Great review Rich, really made me chortle because you are so right about that stupid wolf whistle sound effect – I may be in a minority on this but I actually prefer the 1988 remake starring Dennis Quaid

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  2. Rich – A terrific review, for which thanks. The premise here is just so well-done that as you say, it’s worth watching even with that sound effect (why??). And I do like that sense of desperation; it adds a real layer of suspense.

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  3. Bill says:

    The movie has an on-screen footnote which might have been deleted from a TV version which states that “luminous toxin” is a name they made up because they didn’t want to give anyone ideas as to how to poison someone. We can assume, however, that it is some form of radioactive poison like radium, the effects of which, once ingested, cannot be cured.

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  4. TracyK says:

    This sounds very interesting, and Sergio’s comment makes interested in the remake also. I am sure I must have heard of this, the plot sounds familiar, but my husband is more knowledgeable in this area. Nice review and you have made me curious to look into this movie more.

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  5. Bill says:

    It is suspected that Yasser Arafat was murdered by means of polonium poisoning. Polonium is a radioactive element. Radioactive elements will, of course, exhibit radioluminescence, so I think the sequence with the doctor and the glowing tube is fully justified.

    I don’t see anything wrong with having some wolf whistle humor in the middle of a tragedy; see, for instance the humorous scenes with the gravediggers in Hamlet or the porter in Macbeth, both of which are tragedies.

    I have also seen the 1988 remake of D. O. A., and I thought it was very well done, but not as good as the original.

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  6. Col says:

    Never heard of this film, but I’m not a film buff. The mere mention of Sid James brings a smile to my face though. He had a properly infectious laugh. You’ve got to love a Carry On film and Bless This House!

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