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