Out of the Past: “D.O.A” (1950)

This movie isn’t a contender for one of the classic films of all time, but it provides viewers with a damn good time. The simple concept of D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival) is straightforward. Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’ Brien) is a public accountant who travels to San Francisco where he is fatally poisoned by a mysterious figure. He is given only a few days to live and spends them hunting down his killers. The film is not perfect, but it is a fast-paced thriller that does not disappoint on its central concept.

The movie begins as the camera tracks the back of a man as he makes his way to the homicide department. He sits down and says:

Frank Bigelow: I want to report a murder.

Homicide Captain: Sit down. Where was this murder committed?

Frank Bigelow: San Francisco, last night.

Homicide Captain: Who was murdered?

Frank Bigelow: I was.


He then begins to tell his story. Bigelow, like most film-noir heroes or anti-heroes, displays characteristics which are difficult to which to relate. He leaves his doting girlfriend and immediately starts to hit on women while away on a trip in San Francisco. It helps that Bigelow is played by the pudgy likeable Edmond O’ Brien (The Wild Bunch) to counter-balance the character’s misogyny, and later in the film, his brutality. D.O.A. relies heavily on O’Brien’s performance.  He is able to transform his character, during which as he stands on a street corner after being given the deadly diagnosis and turns from the sleazy chubby accountant to cynical vigilante. O’ Brien’s physical and convincing transformation from prey to predator makes the remaining hour and half of film believable.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is jazzy, melodramatic, and at times comical (a slide whistle plays every time a woman catches Bigelow’s eyes). D.O.A. features more implausible twists than The Big Sleep.  The climax of the film ends in the always recognizable Bradley Building. D.O.A. is a fun, if surprisingly dark film-noir.

Paul Gilbert is a 23 year old recent graduate student of the University of Rhode Island from which he received a BA double major in history and film studies. Originally from Philadelphia. Paul now lives in Washington D.C. He first found his passion for film in VHS stores when he was younger and has been studying, examining, and analyzing film and the history of film ever since. Paul has a second interest in the world of comics, video games and books. He is an avid connoisseur and frequent attendee at Comic Con and Wizard World events at sites around the country. His interest in those particular genres stem from the ways in which popular culture utilizes a variety of medium to convey stories, ideas, and messages.